E-petition systems and political participation: About institutional challenges and democratic opportunities

New paper by Knud Böhle and Ulrich Riehm in First Monday: “The implementation of e–petition systems holds the promise to increase the participative and deliberative potential of petitions. The most ambitious e–petition systems allow for electronic submission, make publicly available the petition text, related documents and the final decision, allow supporting a petition by electronically co–signing it, and provide electronic discussion forums. Based on a comprehensive survey (2010/2011) of parliamentary petition bodies at the national level covering the 27 member states of the European Union (EU) plus Norway and Switzerland, the state of public e–petitioning in the EU is presented, and the relevance of e–petition systems as a means of political participation is discussed….

The most interesting finding is that some petition systems — by leveraging the potential of the Internet — further the involvement of the public considerably. This happens in two ways: first by nudging e–petition systems in the direction of lightweight instruments of direct democracy and second by making the institution itself more open, transparent, accountable, effective, and responsive through the involvement of the public. Both development paths might also lead to expectations that eventually cannot be complied with by the petition body without more substantial transformations of the institution. This or that might happen. Empirically, we ain’t seen almost nothing yet.”

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