Project

The Petitions Committee in the UK Parliament: developing a new style of public engagement?

Goal: Public engagement is a recent activity for parliaments. Whilst this has expanded rapidly within the last decade, there is still very little understanding of what constitutes effective public engagement; e.g. do public engagement activities actually engage the public? And do they change the public’s attitudes towards the institution? The newly created Petitions Committee in the House of Commons provides an excellent opportunity to explore this issue. This Fellowship aims to support the new Petitions Committee in developing an understanding of what constitutes an effective petitions system and to establishing criteria to evaluate its public engagement potential.
Building up on her extensive previous research in this area, Leston-Bandeira will shadow the work of the Petitions Committee for one day a week for a period of six months to observe proceedings and carry out interviews with staff, MPs and petitioners. The extended period of six months will enable her to observe the Committee in action in a variety of contexts over a parliamentary year.
Since June 2015 the Petitions Committee has had a challenging agenda. It has had to deal with thousands of petitions, which have in turn attracted over a million signatures. In parallel with this, it has had to set up its own working methods from scratch. With no prior experience in dealing with such a large volume of petitions and with limited staff, this has been a challenging time for the committee. Still the committee has experimented with different and innovative public engagement methods, but has limited capacity to evaluate the effectiveness of these methods. Leston-Bandeira has a track record of research on petitions and public engagement and this Fellowship will provide the Committee with valuable evidence based advice, which will help it to develop a more effective system and to set specific criteria to evaluate ongoing public engagement activity. This will also be of benefit to other public engagement activities within Parliament.

Methods: Interview Techniques, Documentation, Observational Study

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Project log

Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added a research item
Legislatures around the world are experimenting with online petitions as a means of enabling the public to express policy preferences. In many 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 action, they nevertheless play an important role. Some have performed campaigning or scrutiny roles, but their primary effect has been to facilitate public engagement.
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
I wrote this article in the context of the Article 50 e-petition to the UK Parliament, which reached over 6 Million signatures. Definitely the largest petition ever to the UK Parliament (including bearing in mind the 19c mass petitions), and I think likely to be largest ever parliament petition anywhere in the world (would love to know of any that larger, if you know of any):
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
This is a blog post on my latest article (which can be accessed below) on parliamentary debates of e-petitions, in Policy & Internet, with Molly Asher and Viktoria Spaiser:
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added a research item
The UK Parliament introduced an e-petitions system in 2015 with the aim of significantly enhancing its relationship with the public. We explore whether this aim is being met through the analysis of Twitter data from conversations on e-petitions debated in Parliament. We use natural language processing, machine learning and social network analysis of Twitter data to explore what it shows about the extent of people’s engagement, the contents of Twitter e-petition conversations, who is taking part and how they interact. Our findings provide interesting insights into how people perceive the e-petition procedures in terms of fairness and responsiveness, suggesting that petition parliamentary debates should be more inclusive of the original petitions’ aims. The results also point to homophily tendencies present in the Twitter e-petition discussions.
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
This is not specifically about petitions, but it is about the same principles that underlying petitions to parliament: how to engage the public into a parliamentary procedure; for what purpose and with what effect.
This blog post, written with Louise Thompson, for the LSE British Politics and Policy blog series, is a summary of our article that came out recently in the Journal of Legislative Studies (which you can find here on my ResearchGate profile): http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/engaging-the-public-with-the-scrutiny-of-legislation-requires-more-than-just-asking-for-their-views/
Our study demonstrated how public engagement initiatives may sometimes be seen as a success from some measures (in terms of volume of comments for instance), but how they may in fact have little impact on parliamentary activity if not duly integrated with parliamentary business.
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
This is just another blog post I had published last week, following on from a presentation I did at the PSA parliaments specialist group annual conference, Edinburgh, November 2017: https://parliamentsandlegislatures.wordpress.com/2018/02/14/petitions-to-parliament/
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
This is a blog post for the Constitution Unit. It is based on the paper I did at the Wroxton workshop in July. It is focused on a review of the multiple roles played by petitions to Parliament and it includes an overview of the e-petitions system in the 2015-17 Parliament (the first parliament of the UK Parliament's new e-petitions system). The blog can be accessed here:
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
This is my latest draft article on petitions. It is a reflection about the role of petitions, exploring the role of petitions over history and across different systems, to establish the different roles performed by petitions, identifying also different types of petitions, to then do an overall analysis of the 2015-17 Parliament e-petitions system.
This paper was prepared to be presented at the Thirteenth Workshop of Parliamentary Scholars and Parliamentarians in Wroxton, 29-30 July (http://wroxtonworkshop.org/). It is a rough first draft, by no means finished, with analysis to add and refine and a Conclusion to add. Any comments would therefore be much appreciated, as I develop it. Please send them directly to C.Leston-Bandeira@leeds.ac.uk - thank you.
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
Paper with Viktoria Spaiser presented at the April 2017 Political Studies Association (UK) annual conference, about what Twitter conversations can tell us about petitioning.
Currently revising it for publication, any feedback welcome.
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
My latest blog on petitions - written during the week of the hype about the latest Trump petition. Trying to identify the purpose of petitions, linked to a categorisation of different types of petitions:
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
Blog post about the first year of the UK House of Commons Petitions Committee: https://constitution-unit.com/2016/07/20/a-year-on-the-new-petitions-committee-has-much-to-celebrate/
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added an update
Blog post about the decision to create a Petitions Committee in the UK House of Commons: https://www.psa.ac.uk/psa-communities/specialist-groups/parliaments-and-legislatures/blog/petitions-committee-most
 
Cristina Leston-Bandeira
added a project goal
Public engagement is a recent activity for parliaments. Whilst this has expanded rapidly within the last decade, there is still very little understanding of what constitutes effective public engagement; e.g. do public engagement activities actually engage the public? And do they change the public’s attitudes towards the institution? The newly created Petitions Committee in the House of Commons provides an excellent opportunity to explore this issue. This Fellowship aims to support the new Petitions Committee in developing an understanding of what constitutes an effective petitions system and to establishing criteria to evaluate its public engagement potential.
Building up on her extensive previous research in this area, Leston-Bandeira will shadow the work of the Petitions Committee for one day a week for a period of six months to observe proceedings and carry out interviews with staff, MPs and petitioners. The extended period of six months will enable her to observe the Committee in action in a variety of contexts over a parliamentary year.
Since June 2015 the Petitions Committee has had a challenging agenda. It has had to deal with thousands of petitions, which have in turn attracted over a million signatures. In parallel with this, it has had to set up its own working methods from scratch. With no prior experience in dealing with such a large volume of petitions and with limited staff, this has been a challenging time for the committee. Still the committee has experimented with different and innovative public engagement methods, but has limited capacity to evaluate the effectiveness of these methods. Leston-Bandeira has a track record of research on petitions and public engagement and this Fellowship will provide the Committee with valuable evidence based advice, which will help it to develop a more effective system and to set specific criteria to evaluate ongoing public engagement activity. This will also be of benefit to other public engagement activities within Parliament.