Why are there so many e-petition platforms?

This post by Rich Watts originally appeared on his blog Arbitrary Constant.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve noted what I think are pretty interesting examples of markets developing in the public services space – one in social care comparison sites, another in crowdfunding platforms.

To these two examples there’s a third to add: platforms for e-petitions. A traipse through the tweets of the Generally Annoyed of Twitter quickly reveals the different petition platforms that people use, as follows:

I’ve been pretty selective in what e-petition sites are included above. For example, they don’t include US petition sites (such as MoveOn.org orCauses.com); nor does the list include businesses that offer petition platforms for public bodies, or the dedicated petition sites that local councils and others themselves have.

Of course, I haven’t just discovered that such “competition” exists, but I do find it fascinating there are so many e-petition platforms.

When it comes to an e-petition, I’d have thought the point would be to (a) get as many signatures as possible; and (b) have something happen as a result of the amount of support. To increase the number of e-petition platforms people can use is to potentially divide the number of signatures any one e-petition could get by the number of platforms. And to not use the e-petition platform which guarantees debate by elected politicians if an e-petition does get the required number of signatures seems bizarre.

So why are there so many e-petition platforms? Here are 3 reasons to start the discussion:

  1. Ego: someone or some organisation sets up a new e-petition platform because they think they can do it better (see also the amount of duplication generally in the voluntary and community sector)
  2. Money: someone or some organisation spots a business opportunity to make some cash, and so pursues it
  3. Conspiracy: why would any government promote their e-petition platform when people do such a good job and dividing and conquering themselves?

*This post isn’t intended to worry about the effectiveness of online petitions. I modestly direct you to some recent analysis on this to draw your own conclusion.

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Published by Anthony Zacharzewski

Anthony Zacharzewski was one of the founders of Demsoc in 2006. Before starting work for Demsoc in 2010, he was a Whitehall civil servant and a local government officer.

3 replies on “Why are there so many e-petition platforms?”

  1. We looked at an open source product, but given our lack of php/MySQL resource opted to go with an in-house .NET solution built on the back of existing webforms.

    We had no idea how many petitions/signatures we would attract, but were inclined towards low numbers given previous experience. So, we were not going to throw any capital resource at this.

    It’s not pretty but does the job and has gathered a few online petitions and several hundred signatures.

  2. At least part of the problem (in my opinion) falls to the fact that the current UK government took down the original gov petition site as soon as they came into power. The argument was they were rebuilding it (which is fair enough) but it meant that all the outcry around the changes the coalition bought in (effectively the Austerity agenda) needed somewhere else to go – hence all the other petition platforms spotted an opportunity.

  3. According to the House of Commons Clerk of Public Petitions there is no requirement for a petition to be on the government petition site to qualify for a ‘100k debate’.

    Campaigners may wish to avoid using the government petition site on the basis that signers cannot opt-in to their campaign when signing; and targeting is restricted to UK government departments only.

    All of the petition platforms mentioned above also suffer from:
    1) No authentication of the signer’s home address
    2) Inclusion of signers from outside the affected constituency or even country
    3) Not showing signature data by UK political area / constituency

    I recently launched Voice Register.com (www.voiceregister.com) to solve all of the above problems – making UK petitioning more like voting.

    Any voter can petition any of their elected representatives (MP, council, MEP, assembly members, regional governments, UK government); and media or campaign organisations can choose a branded or white label solution.

    Did I do it for ego / money / conspiracy reasons? If I can earn a living by doing some good then I’ll be a happy man 🙂

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