Reading: E-petitions

Civic-tech tools transformed the ways advocacy campaigns run – there are numerous available free tools that can help campaigners reach and organise large numbers of people. In this section we will explore how activists incorporated technologies to run their campaigns more effectively and mobilise communities to support their cause. From simple mobile-phone based tools to more complex software applications, these tools are designed to respond to the needs of activists on the ground. 

What are Online Petition Platforms?

E-petitions are citizens’ participatory mechanisms formally institutionalised and fully operational at many government levels, from local communities to the European Parliament [1]. Using these mechanisms, citizens can submit to a government institution a formal request to change its proceedings on a specific policy issue. Not all E-Petitions result in a successful policy change, but very often it is a process that matters even more than the outcome in signature collecting. E-Petitions benefit community and citizen participation in a number of ways: by raising awareness and increasing publicity over an issue/policy; raising a sense of solidarity in the local/national community, creating a feeling of making a difference as well as increasing understanding of government policies amongst the general public etc. For many, signing a petition is a statement and a way of expressing a sense of civic duty.

To speed up the process of collecting signatures online and reaching as many people at once, campaigners globally opted for technology-enabled platforms like or Avaaz. On these platforms, individuals and organisations can launch petitions and mobilise worldwide support around a specific cause. Campaigns supported by these platforms have helped to achieve legislative and policy changes. And numbers are impressive: every week in 2019 more than 1.2 million new people joined's global audience of more than 329 million (as stated in their 2019 Impact Report).  In 2020 only, collected more than 1 billion signatures globally. You can check the list of the top 10 petitions for 2020

But how do online petition platforms work? This infographic by Believe Earth, a program of the Alana Foundation based in Brazil, nicely summarises main features of online petition platforms (click on the image to visualise it better):

A picture containing timeline

Description automatically generated

Source: Believe Earth. 

E-petitioning (just like any other form of online citizen engagement) works best if it blends offline and online activism.  “The petition is the tip of the iceberg and must be accompanied by other parallel action, such as the online and offline work of activists and volunteers,” explains Diego Casaes, coordinator of Avaaz Campaigns in Brazil. This blend can include organization of physical protests, or raising funds for the cause, but more importantly, it should engage with decision makers, reach out to the media, partner with legislative aides on issues related to the petition, identifying allied politicians etc.

Every petition, and actually every campaign that needs to mobilise people, would benefit from having a large number of volunteers to support the implementation of the campaign. But once you secure volunteers, how can you best use their available time and competences to obtain the most out of their support? Even though this is a political-tech that helps organize volunteers for political campaigns ahead of 2020 USA elections – it can be an inspiring example of volunteer management.

The Tech for Campaigns mission is to match volunteers from the tech world — engineers, data scientists, product managers, marketing pros — with Democratic campaigns in need of a winning digital strategy. It counts more than 15.000 tech volunteers that were paired with some 450 campaigns and 680 digital campaign projects. If you plan to organise a campaign, having all your volunteers, their skills and their availability listed in one place could help you better organize all available sources and succeed in your goals. 

Maybe you think online petitions and mobilising volunteers to run campaigns don’t contribute enough to democracy. Indeed, democracy misses its promise when increasingly small numbers of people are able to influence major policy decisions. And the first step there could be increasing voter turnout. Check in the next section to see some examples on how technology can help activists mobilise communities to vote. 


[1] Aichholzer, G., & Rose, G. (2020). Experience with digital tools in different types of e-participation. In European e-democracy in practice (pp. 93-140). Springer, Cham.

Last modified: Wednesday, 15 June 2022, 11:34 AM