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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

ePetitions: 5 million signatories per year, run on a modest budget. An eGovernment success story?

Not every FOI request reveals a costly waste of taxpayer's cash.

I requested some statistics on the government's ePetitions service epetitions.direct.gov.uk and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

I was - still am - quite concerned that a deal of effort seems to go into moderating what petitions are allowed, with some petitions rejected e.g. for duplication when the text is substantially different to the nearest similar petition.

I'm a bit of a purist. I believe a petition is a petition and it's not up to the government to decide which are valid and which are not.  Duplication is a fact of life with user-generated content and the online crowd seems to deal with it in its own way.

Some petitions will get forgotten and others will rise to prominence on some trend or other.

Anyhow, that aside I was pleasantly surprised to find the epetitions service runs on a relative shoestring of £25,680 per annum in the last financial year.

Between April 2011 and March 2012 it serviced 5.1 million signatories, created around 15,000 new petitions and was relatively popular with 13.4 million visits (55.2 million page views).

In my opinion this service provides good value.

Whereas online popularity, signatory counts, etc are notoriously easy to game; the government's own service requires a UK address one assumes is validated in some way.  If not correlated with the electoral role, storing a physical address should make it easier to detect all but the most modest anomaly.

It's logical to assume the government trusts the signatory count on its own service far more than it would a. n. other ePetition service.

Assuming the Cabinet Office uses the feedback on this service when developing government policy I'm more than happy to have public funds spent in this way.

Full details here, with thanks as always to MySociety.org's FOI tool WhatDoTheyKnow.com.

@JamesFirth

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