Why I’ll be pleased to see the end of the No10 petition site

Third Sector PR is reporting on twitter that the No10 petition site might be a casualty of the new administration. The site, was set up in 2006, and is perhaps best remember for the million plus people who signed a petition about road tax. The creators MySociety suggest that over 5 million unique e-mail addresses have used the site since its inception, but  I’d be pleased to see the end of the site.

Why?

One. Because I think it’s encouraged lazy campaigning. I’ve only once been involved in trying to encourage people to sign a No10 petition (and despite a huge effort we got about 2,000 names), but it seems that often it was an easy way to tick the ‘we’ve done something to target No10 box’. Good campaigning needs to be about thinking about the most effective target and then the most innovate way of reaching them. To think creatively about how you could get the issue to the attention of the right people within government. For some campaigning NGOs the petition site seemed to put a stop to that.

While I can understand the argument that when it was launched in 2006 it was a way of enabling and empowering anyone to raise an issue of concern, the sheer volume of petitions suggests that only those with a mechanism for broadcasting their idea succeeded. Campaigning has moved on and I think the recent examples of spontaneous, decentralised campaigns on twitter show that there are other tools for doing this.

I don’t think that many (any) policies were changed thanks to the petition site, and too many of them seemed to be a reaction to what was in the Daily Mail (close the Mega Mosque, save the Red Arrows funding, etc) on a particular day.

Two. Because I think it led to lazy engagement from the government with civil society. I understand that their were some guidelines about when No10 would respond to a petition, i.e. if it got over a certain number of actions, but placing numerical limits that are required to be met before enabling a response are very arbitrary. It felt that too often the site was a place for people with concerns to directed to and then forgotten.

My hope is that any review of the petition site leads to a better solution for how No10 will engage with e-campaigns.  A proper e-mail address for the PM would help those with embedded campaign tools, while  No10 thinking about how it’ll engage with campaigns that appear on a range of platforms (like twitter) would show that they’re following trends in the way people want to communicate with their government.