What we learned from ePetitions

New Government e-petitions site

Back in November 2006 we launched Number 10’s petitions website. We were pretty proud of the usability-centred site we built – we can still lay a pretty good claim to it being one of the biggest democracy sites (measured in terms of people transacting) that the world’s ever seen.

Over 12 million signatures had been added to petitions by the time the site was switched off after the 2010 general election. We were particularly proud of developing a system that was highly load-tolerant: we once survived over 20,000 people signing within a single hour, all whilst running on a pair of cheap little servers. That performance on so little hardware was down to the raw brilliance represented by a coding team made up of Francis Irving, Matthew Somerville, and the late, great Chris Lightfoot.

We’re also pleased that the popularity of the site led to the irresistible rise of the belief that the public should be able to petition the government via the internet. So even though our site was mothballed, Parliament and DirectGov have taken over the idea, and the commitment has been upped a notch, from ‘we’ll send a reply’ to ‘we’ll talk about it’. To be clear, we are not, nor have ever been a community interested in replacing representative democracy with direct democracy, but anything that can squeeze any drop of change from Parliament is worth a small celebration.

What’s most pleasing, though, is that we’ve been able to take the open source code built for Number 10, improve and expand upon it to develop a hosted petitions service for local councils around the country, or the rest of the world. And this is where we found the most important lesson for us: local petitions can be awesome, and despite the much smaller numbers of signatories involved, we’ve been more widely and frequently impressed by local petitions and responses than at the more glamorous national level. We’re particular fans of Hounslow Borough Council who have given positive and detailed feedback on all sorts of genuine local issues, as well as working hard to let local residents know that the service exists.

Just recently we launched a site to make it really easy to find local council petition websites, because there are hundreds hidden away (we built some; most are supplied by other vendors). If we could see anything result from today’s huge explosion of interest in online petitions, it would be that people might start to look local, and explore what petitions in their community could mean.


  1. Doesn’t anyone see a worrying theme in the attitudes being displayed in the e-petitions? Some examples being: returning to the death penalty and leaving the Court of Human Rights. Given the problems that society has in the UK – its excessive use of alcohol, teenage pregnancies etc, doesn’t it seem more suitable to be improving the way our society operates instead of reverting to a time gone by which, most of Europe left behind decades ago? Or do we wish to be seen as a society which lives in the past and can not move forward to a more modern society?

  2. If you give everyone a voice, you are at the mercy of the apathetic uninformed majority.
    Democracy. Suddenly it doesn’t look so great, does it?

  3. When it is the Councils causing the problem setting people up as vexatious litigants telling them to complain was only way of raising issues .Why are you sending back to those that ignore ,neglect & harrass. How come ones had rejected here taken to USA where not so dicriminatory and unreasonable& doing well.Who is in charge in this deregulated country the unreasonable admin or the elected rep ?

  4. Have spent months trying to address this including another 2 hrs this morning having originally tried Fix My Transport who sent it to the Tube ??!!!You will bet this will not get signed so have to suffer yet again.There is a law against this why are councils & Government & PM getting away with breaking it? Deregulation as can be seen from PM Petition site that was a waste of time as never directed.

    We the undersigned petition Islington Council to monitor, check Scootability Camden & Islington is accessible to all Blue Badge & Shopmobility users from Islington

    Submitted by Julie Shrive – Deadline to sign up by: 27 December 2011

    Category: Government, politics and public administration

    More details:

    It appears nobody in administration at Islington Council is checking that the money used to fund this is giving fair access as it appears that a call centre with no discretion is telling Camden Councillors & MPs including J Corbyn & Frank Dobson and those on on Exec & Disability how to discriminate and they are allowing this to happen having aligned Social Services with the Housing department.