Two different case studies of citizen engagement

In its first week, Estonia’s People’s Assembly citizen petition platform received around 500 proposals, and over 1,000 people registered with their national ID cards to make or comment on proposals. The site is run by a group of volunteers from a number of Estonian NGOs—including the Estonian Cooperation Assembly, the Praxis Center for Policy Studies, the Network of Estonian Nonprofit Organizations (EMSL), the e-Governance Academy and the Open Estonia Foundation. Of the proposals posted in the first week, 248 are aimed at reforming electoral law, 97 deal with party financing, 65 are focused on local participation in politics, 50 seek to amend internal democracy in political parties, 27 concern the politicization of public offices and the rest were categorized under “miscellaneous.” The public proposal and commenting process is the first stage in the initiative and will run through the end of January. Analysts will then review the proposals and group them into bundles in February, and in March, “the proposals that win enough support will be debated at public meetings and presented to Parliament by the president.”

While People’s Assembly uses a sequential petition and response process, the United States’ official public petition platform, We the People, promises an official response from the administration once a petition passes a signature threshold. A recent analysis found that, on average, it took White House officials 54 days to respond to petitions that crossed the 25,000-signature threshold. There has been great variation in response time, however—a December 2011 petition asking the White House to oppose the Stop Online Piracy Act received a response in 23 days, while a January 2012 petition asking the president to nominate new commissioners to the Federal Election Commission did not receive a response until around 10 months later. Currently, petitions that have already crossed the signature threshold but have not yet received a response have been waiting 61 days on average. That includes three petitions—one seeking Palestinian membership in the United Nations, another asking for legal protections for atheists and agnostics in the military and one focused on placing mandatory labels on genetically modified foods—that have been waiting over 15 months, since the week of the platform’s original launch. In the interest of providing “timely and meaningful” responses, the White House raised the signature threshold to 100,000 on January 16. While this higher threshold is likely to lessen the wait time for qualifying petitions, “only a handful of petitions have received more than 100,000 signatures since We the People was first launched in September 2011.”

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