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Petitions

Propose, Promote and Improve: Citizens Create and Endorse Petitions to Drive Political Change

The Petitions DemTool Powers Citizen Input and Transparency in Policymaking

Propose, Promote and Improve government policies with Petitions, an online platform where citizens can easily publish their ideas for change, share them with their community, and gather signatures for the issues they care about. Petitions also educates citizens on how government policy works and how citizens can participate. Public officials can see open petitions and respond at any time, engaging citizens throughout the policymaking process. The first article of the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution ends with the ability of the people “to petition the government for a redress of grievances”; citizens petitioning their governments has been a tradition since ancient China and Egypt. With the Petitions DemTool, any government agency can bring this building block of democracy into the modern era.

Petitions is based on We the People, a creation of the White House Office of Science and Technology.  We the People has been used by over 19 million Americans, triggering official government responses on many serious issues and a few fun ones.

Petitions provides an easy-to-use channel for citizen ideas and government responses. Individuals can submit their ideas for critical issues that need to be addressed; their fellow citizens can formally sign the petition to endorse the issues which they support. Once the number of signers crosses a predetermined threshold, the government or managing organization is obligated to either adopt the proposal or provide a substantive response as to why not.

Not only can Petitions drive citizen engagement and provide policymakers with views into what people’s concerns are - it gives the people a view into the governmental policymaking process. When appropriately implemented, Petitions will provide transparency into political processes and help citizens learn about the individuals and groups who deliberate and decide on governmental directions.

Why Would You Use Petitions?

Government Bodies

Government organizations - whether executive or legislative, at the national, provincial or local level - can benefit from citizens organizing and advocating around priority issues. If a government organization has the desire to better learn what citizens want, the will to push popular ideas, and the power to force other parts of the bureaucracy to implement change, Petitions can be a powerful tool to increase public trust in institutions and promote citizen understanding of government processes. Because of these dependencies, the Petitions tool thrives under conditions where leaders are motivated to connect with constituents. The governing body should also be capable of promoting the tool and adjusting its use according to local needs. Using the Petitions Demtool would not be recommended in a repressive or authoritarian environment. If the administrative powers do not act on petitions and provide thoughtful responses, citizen disillusionment with government is likely to be made worse, not better.

Civic Organizations

A civic group focused on putting ideas into practice in government can use Petitions as a way to collect citizen priorities and, using data on signatories, to pressure institutions to be more responsive to popular will. Change.org is a common example in the United States; by channeling hundreds of thousands of signatures to citizen causes, they have been able to push some important policy changes with governments, corporations, and other entities. To be effective and prevent increasing disaffection with political leaders, in most cases it would be important that the civic group has a strong partnership with government entities and a plausible avenue to actually make change happen.

As has been seen in the United States, users of the platform will not necessarily support petitions that are representative of the majority of citizens; petitions tend to measure depth of enthusiasm rather than breadth of support.

Past Use Cases

The White House’s We the People platform has served over 19 million Americans and led to policy changes on issues such as the FCC voting in strong favor of net neutrality, greater emphasis on body-worn cameras for police, and government inquiries into the banning of LGBTI conversion therapy, among others. We the People has also created a community of concerned citizens and cultivated an unprecedented sense of openness and engagement with the administration. Another system based on We the People has been deployed in the nation of Georgia. Change.org, a system aimed at presenting citizen concerns to the government, has proven to be a tremendously powerful, popular petitions platform with over 100 million global users.