Number 10’s e-petitions can be better

We all know and love the Number 10 petitions site. The technology works and the experience is well thought through, as one would expect given that it’s a mySociety project.

It’s not perfect, though, and as usual, it’s the human element that’s problematic. It’s the responses to petitions that don’t hit the mark, and don’t give any opportunity for people to engage further. It’s the top-down, message-driven, one-way broadcasting at people, instead of the collaborative, mutually respectful conversation that we should be having with Government.

Having real, two-way conversations is hard. It requires time, patience, money, and a wholesale change in attitude — but Government say they’re up for it. Digital Engagement is the mantra du jour. And things are definitely moving in the right direction.

So — given this background of steady and positive change — why are Number 10 still stuck in the mud? Why do we get responses to petitions that range from the dishonest to the obtuse, and only the occasional gem, when it really should be the other way around?

And why, when someone makes an extremely sensible suggestion for a way to make this a bit better, does it get dismissed out of hand?

All who are currently procuring e-petition software should beware: it’ll be an expensive waste of time unless you use it to substantively engage with citizens.

The last thing the Web needs is another place for people to shout into a hole.