How to answer
How to answer a petition?
A translation of Hoe antwoorden.
When you receive a petition it is important to realise that citizens expect a substantive answer. What to write?
- Like in a conversation, repeat the points raised. Rephrase in your own words how you understood them to show you have reflected on them. NOT: 'your letter dated...'
- Connect the petition with parliament. For exampleby rephrasing the petition in the words used in the, high threshold, political debate. You then unlock the related policy area because petitioner and signatories can now look up and search through previous debates with accurate keywords. SAY: 'we call this...'
- Position the petition in the policy process. At least give the number of the document in the information system, related dossiers, including an explanation how to get access. The petitioner can then autonomously follow the debate. Add a manual of the system in one page and test if it gives good results.
- Give context. You have a better overview on previous policy and overarching dossier this petition is part of. It is neccesary to share this insight with the citizen new to all this. There is practically always a prehistory the citizen is not familiar with.
- Do not answer defensive, but inclusive. You are familiar with the policy process, the citizen is not. The more the citizen is included, the more the term 'lobbyist' is applicable and the less you need to do. Citizens though, have experiences and emotions you do not have direct access to. This perspective is more important for the citizen than the policy angle. In your answer you translate the angle from the citizen in the policy perspective.
- Explain who you are. Parliament or council member, chair of a committee (what is that?), clerk of a committee? The difference between government and parliament, execution and representation, coalition and opposition... To explain this related to the petition can be very enlightning. Scetch the political powers to explain there is more than just government. How can a majority be found for this petition, perhaps in another form?
- Be clear about the procedure and political agenda. Did the petition arrive just after an important decision? Explain this. When is it more likely to get on the political agenda? What is your role and position in this? You can give the petitioner a concrete action perspective. What to do next.
- Answer negatively if inevitable. A clear explanation why the request in the petition has no chance gives an action perspective. No answer is unsatisfying and will feed political cynicism. In your answer you explain your political position, which interests are at stake and conflict, which interests of minorities perhaps need or have (constitutional) protection, which laws (of nature) are the obstacle, etc. Also if you support the petition in principle, but still make different policy considerations you can point at the importance or price of the alternatives.
- Publish your answer. For example on your own website or blog. The petitioner can refer to that and signatories get to know or can recognise you. Such transparancy increases the connection between citizens and politicians and the support for the system as a whole. The website petities.nl can e-mail your answer to the signatories of petitions on petities.nl. Mail to email@example.com for this.
The petition antwoordop.petities.nl (2013Z24699 in Parlis) to all municipalities in the Netherlands and the disappointing answers were the reason for writing this text.
With your feedback this manual improves. Mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or call +31 20 7854412.