Parliamentary petitions and public engagement: an empirical analysis of the role of e-petitions
Legislatures around the world are experimenting with online petitions as a means of enabling the public to express policy preferences. In some countries they have attracted an extraordinarily large number of signatories, but it is often unclear what, if anything, they achieve. This article addresses this important question through an analysis of the UK parliament’s e-petitions system. Drawing on a review of historical and comparative research, it develops a new analytical framework which identifies four potential types of roles – linkage, campaigning, scrutiny and policy. Our study shows that although a large proportion of e-petitions to the UK parliament are rejected and only a very small number lead to specific action, they nevertheless play important roles. Some have performed campaigning or scrutiny roles, but their primary effect has been to facilitate public engagement.
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