What Do the People Think?: E-Petitioning and Policy Decision Making
E-petitioning is a ubiquitous form of online political action that has emerged as a contemporary and potentially effective way for citizens to communicate with their governments about policy issues and that makes public participation in policy discussions more easily accessible. We argue that e-petitioning platforms generate novel types of data and that governments can benefit from the information acquired through various types of analyses. We begin by presenting e-petitioning as a new form of political participation in the context of several different types of national democracies. We suggest that e-petitioning has provided political activists with a new mechanism for collective action. From there we consider four popular national e-petitioning platforms in the countries of Scotland, Great Britain, Germany, and the USA. We discuss the design features and submission processes of the different platforms and how they generate different streams of data that governments can use to better understand e-petitioning behavior. We then suggest and illustrate different analytic tools that can be used to explore the characteristics and dynamics of e-petitioning. We conclude by suggesting that government should actively seek ways to interpret and understand this new form of participation and policy discourse.
KeywordsSocial Network Analysis Political Participation Application Programming Interface Online Social Network Discussion Forum
- Anduiza, P. E., Jensen, D. M. J., and Jorba, D. L. Eds., 2012. Digital media and political engagement worldwide. Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- Bennett, W. L. 2008. Changing citizenship in the digital age. In W. L. Bennett (Ed.), Civic life online: learning how digital media can engage youth. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Bimber, B., Stohl, C., and Flanagin, A. J. 2008. Technological change and the shifting nature of political organization. In A. Chadwick and P.N. Howard (Eds.), Routlegde Handbook of Internet Politics, pp.72–85. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- Bochel, C. 2012. Petitions systems: contributing to representative democracy? Parliamentary Affairs, 1–18.Google Scholar
- Crozier, M., Huntington, S.P. and Watanuki, J., 1975. The crisis of democracy (Vol. 70). New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
- Dalton, R.J., 2013. Citizen politics: Public opinion and political parties in advanced industrial democracies. Cq Press.Google Scholar
- Dumas, C., LaManna, D. Harrison, T.M., Ravi, S.S., Kotfila, C., Gervais, N., Hagen, L., and Chen, F., 2014. Examining political mobilization of online communities through e-petitioning behavior in We The People (extended abstract). Presented at the Social Media & Society Conference, July 27–29, 2014, Toronto, Canada.Google Scholar
- Dumas, C., LaManna, D., Harrison, T. M., Ravi, S. S., Hagen, L., Kotfila, C., and Chen, F., 2015a. E-petitioning as collective political action in We the People. iConference 2015 Proceedings.Google Scholar
- Earl, J., and Kimport, K., 2013. Digitally enabled social change: Activism in the internet age (Reprint edition). Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Earl, J., and Schussman, A., 2008. Contesting cultural control: youth culture and online petitioning. In W. L. Bennett (Ed.), Civic life online: learning how digital media can engage youth (pp. 71–95). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.Google Scholar
- Escher, T., and Riehm, U., 2016. Petitioning the German Bundestag: political equality and the role of the internet. Parliamentary Affairs, gsw009.Google Scholar
- Fountain, J., 2005. Central issues in the political development of the virtual state. In M. Castells and G. Cardoso, eds., The Network Society: From Knowledge to Policy, pp. 149–181. Center for Transatlantic Relations, Washington, DC.Google Scholar
- Goldman, J., 2015. How we’re changing the way we respond to petitions. Available at: https://medium.com/@Goldman44/how-we-re-changing-the-way-we-respond-to-petitions-74ed0ffd1d77#.x8jafxx6f. [Accessed 5 Aug., 2016]
- Goldman, J., 2016. Redesigning We the People: Improving the way you engage with the White House. Available at: https://medium.com/@Goldman44/redesigning-we-the-people-c8ce93f4280#.t6bdhpy09 [Accessed 5 Aug., 2016]
- Hagen, L., Harrison, T.M., Uzuner, Ö., Fake, T., Lamanna, D. and Kotfila, C., 2015a, Introducing textual analysis tools for policy informatics: a case study of e-petitions. In Proceedings of the 16th Annual International Conference on Digital Government Research (pp. 10–19). ACM.Google Scholar
- Hagen, L., Uzuner, Ö., Kotfila, C., Harrison, T.M. and Lamanna, D., 2015b, January. Understanding Citizens’ Direct Policy Suggestions to the Federal Government: A Natural Language Processing and Topic Modeling Approach. In System Sciences (HICSS), 2015 48th Hawaii International Conference on(pp. 2134–2143). IEEE.Google Scholar
- Hale, S.A., Margetts, H. and Yasseri, T., 2013, May. Petition growth and success rates on the UK No. 10 Downing Street website. In Proceedings of the 5th annual ACM web science conference (pp. 132–138). ACM.Google Scholar
- Harrison, T.M. Dumas, C, Kotfila, C., LaManna, D., and Ravi, S.S., 2014. We the People: U.S. E-Petitioning as Technology-Mediated Social Action. Paper presented at the 64th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association (ICA) Seattle, WA.Google Scholar
- Held, D., 1996. Models of democracy (2nd ed.). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Howlett, M., Ramesh, M. and Perl, A., 2009. Studying public policy: Policy cycles and policy subsystems (3rd edition). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- Kelly, R., and Priddy, S., 2015. e-Petitions: Briefing Paper 20 October. House of Commons. Available at: http://www.legco.gov.hk/general/english/library/stay_informed_parliamentary_news/e-petitions.pdf. [Accessed 4 Aug., 2016]
- Lin, Y.R., Margolin, D., Keegan, B., Baronchelli, A. and Lazer, D., 2013.# Bigbirds never die: understanding social dynamics of emergent hashtag. arXiv preprint arXiv:1303.7144.Google Scholar
- Lindner, R. and Riehm, U., 2009. Electronic petitions and institutional modernization. International parliamentary e-petition systems in comparative perspective. JeDEM-eJournal of eDemocracy and Open Government, 1(1), pp. 1–11.Google Scholar
- Macintosh, A., Adams, N., Whyte, A. and Johnston, J., 2008. ePetitioning in the Scottish Parliament. In Digital Government (pp. 487–501). Springer US.Google Scholar
- Mechaber, E., 2014. Here’s How Cell Phone Unlocking Became Legal. Available at: https://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2014/08/15/heres-how-cell-phone-unlocking-became-legal. [Accessed 2 Dec. 2016].
- Muhlberger, P., Stromer-Galley, J. and Webb, N., 2011. Public policy and obstacles to the virtual agora: Insights from the deliberative e-rulemaking project. Information Polity, 16(3), pp. 197–214.Google Scholar
- Newton, A., 2002. Petition overview. Available at: http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/petition-overview. [Accessed 30 Aug. 2016].
- Obama, B., 2009. Transparency and Open Government: Memorandum for the Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies. Available at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/TransparencyandOpenGovernment/. [Accessed 10 Dec. 2016].
- Public Petitions Committee, 2015. Review of the Petitions Process, 2nd Report. Available at: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/CurrentCommittees/94915.aspx [Accessed 3 Aug. 2016].
- Public Petitions Committee, 2016. Legacy Paper, 2nd Report. Available at: http://www.parliament.scot/S4_PublicPetitionsCommittee/Reports/PPCS042016R02.pdf [Accessed 3 Aug. 2016].
- Riehm, U., Böhle, K. and Lindner, R., 2012. Electronic petitioning and modernisation of petitioning systems in Europe. English summary, at http://www.tab-beim-bundestag.de/en/pdf/publications/reports/AB146_Summary.pdf , accessed, 27.
- Schmidt, J.H. and Johnsen, K., 2014. On the use of the e-petition platform of the German Bundestag.Google Scholar
- Smith, S.R. and Ingram, H.M., 1993. Public policy for democracy. Brookings Institution.Google Scholar
- Stoker, G., 2006. Why politics matters: making democracy work. Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
- Van Dijk, J., 2012. The network society. Sage Publications.Google Scholar
- We The People., 2015. Available at: https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/.
- Yasseri, T., Hale, S.A. and Margetts, H., 2013. Modeling the rise in internet-based petitions. arXiv preprint arXiv:1308.0239.Google Scholar