Petitions DemTools Manual

Women reviewing papers


Petitions is an online platform where citizens can easily publish their ideas for change, share them with their community, and gather signatures for the issues they care about. Petitions also educates citizens on how government policy works and how citizens can participate. Public officials can see open petitions and respond at any time, engaging citizens throughout the policymaking process.

For more information about Petitions and the rest of the DemTools 2.0 family, please visit

This manual will walk you through the content management functions of the Petitions tool and how a typical user should be able to use the tool in practice.  This manual is not designed to help with sophisticated systems administration tasks. For the more routine management of Drupal, the content management system that underpins Petitions, please consult the Drupal documentation.

Account Management#

Managing Your Account#

Your content manager account gives you access to user account management, petition management, and petition response creation functionalities.

To begin, log in with your account information by clicking the “Sign In” link in the upper right-hand corner of the site.

Sign in page
Sign in page

Enter the email address and password for the content manager account, answer the CAPTCHA spam-catching question, and click the “Log in” button.

Once you log in, you should be able to see a thin black Menu Bar at the top of the site.  Clicking on different buttons on the Menu Bar will give you access to different pages that will allow you to manage site content.  Depending on what site privileges your account has been granted, what you see on the Menu Bar may differ from the screenshots featured in this manual.

You can change your account’s basic settings, such as username, password, and time zone by clicking on the phrase “Hello user name” on the Menu Bar in the upper right-hand corner, and then clicking the tab labeled “Edit”.

User page
User page

After you make any changes, you must press the Save button at the bottom of the page for any changes you make to be applied to your account.  

Managing User Accounts#

For users to create content for the site, they must register for a user account.  If your account has “media content boss” account privileges, you can control users’ access to the site and their content creation privileges.  This is an important capability when managing a Petitions site, as it allows you to combat abusive content at its source by blocking users, help users who require additional assistance with the details of their account, and change site privileges for other content manager accounts.  It also gives you access to sensitive account information that should be treated respectfully.

Each user has a site role that grants them a particular set of privileges that dictates whether or not they can modify the site and site content.  Site roles include a role for users without accounts (“Anonymous User”), a role for all users with accounts (“Registered User”), a role for someone who will only be creating content (“Media Content Creator”) and someone with additional privileges to block and edit submitted content and content-creating accounts (“Media Content Boss”). Other site roles will vary according to how Administrator users have set up the site. To keep the site secure, you should ensure each person’s role allows them to do only the things they need to do, and change people’s roles when the need to access different features of the site changes.  Petitioning citizens will use “Anonymous User” and “Registered User” accounts, while site content managers will use accounts with greater privileges.

To manage different accounts, click the word People on the Menu Bar.

People page
People page

Here, you can view information about all accounts registered and what roles they have on the site.  

To edit different accounts’ usernames, passwords, and role on the site, click on the word edit on the left-hand side of the screen in the same row as the user name.  This will take you to a page for that account that resembles your own account management page.  

In addition to assigning different roles to people, you can also block accounts on this page.  This stops the account user from being able to log in without permanently deleting their account information. You can do this by scrolling down to the section marked Status and clicking the button next to the word “Blocked” before saving your changes.

You can also permanently disable or delete the account by clicking the Cancel Account button at the bottom of the account’s Edit page.  This will produce the following menu item, which allows you to just temporarily disable the account instead of deleting it.  

Cancel account page
Cancel account page

Cancelling an account is permanent and should only be done in conjunction with violations of a published acceptable use policy. More temporary solutions such as disabling accounts may be more useful as it prevents a user from re-enrolling with the same email address.  Even if a user is abusing the site, you may wish to only disable or delete their abusive content, or only disable their account, to preserve information about them for future reference.  For more on this subject, see the “How to Manage Public Content” section later on in this manual.

To block, unblock, or change site roles for multiple user accounts simultaneously, navigate back to the People panel.

User actions section
User actions section

You can filter users and only show certain user accounts by using the drop-down menus to select different conditions and clicking Filter.  You can also sort user accounts by clicking on the top of the menu bar.  

Multiple accounts can be selected and changed simultaneously by clicking on the check-boxes on the rows of the accounts you want to change, selecting the action you want to perform from the drop-down menu under “Update Options”, and clicking Update.  Make sure you’ve only selected the accounts you want to change!

Finally, you can also create a accounts for other users yourself and customize their user name, password, and site role by clicking on the “+ Add User” link at the top of the People page, filling out the form, and clicking the Save button at the bottom of the page.

Managing Public Content#

Petitions are, as one might guess, the heart of the Petitions DemTool. Petitions are also the  main source of incoming public content for the tool. They should be monitored to ensure they meet community guidelines for appropriateness and are responded to in a timely fashion.

Managing and Moderating Petitions#

All petition material can be viewed by clicking on the Petitions button on the Menu Bar.  Here, like in the Accounts panel, you can search and filter petitions based on a number of factors, edit petitions, and view information about signatures.

Manage petitions page
Manage petitions page

Like user accounts, you can search for and filter out petitions based on certain criteria.  You can select the criteria for the group of petitions you want to view by selecting the relevant criteria under “Filters” and then clicking the Apply button.

Petition filters
Petition filters

To temporarily remove petitions from public view on the site, you can “hide” petitions by clicking the checkbox next to each petition, selecting Hide from the drop-down Operations menu on the Petitions page, and clicking the Execute button.  These petitions are not removed from your content management system, and can be restored to public view by clicking the checkbox next to them, selecting Petitions Restore, and again clicking the Execute button.  As with user accounts, you may perform these operations on multiple items simultaneously by clicking on the checkmark boxes for all those items before selecting an operation and clicking Execute.

To view, edit, and permanently delete petition information, click on the blue “Edit” link on the right-hand side of the screen, under the “Options” column. Here, you can view and change any aspect of a petition, such as its title and body text.

Edit petition page
Edit petition page

Scrolling down, you can also view more detailed information about it such as the time it was published, the time it reached the necessary signature threshold, whether or not the petition has received a response, and whether or not the petition has been flagged for abusive content.

To permanently delete petitions from the site and the system, click the “delete” link next to the petition on the Petitions page, or click the Delete button at the bottom of the petition’s Edit page.  It is not possible to delete many petitions simultaneously.  

Signature count and timestamp
Signature count and timestamp
Review timeframe and abuse flags
Review timeframe and abuse flags
Save and delete options
Save and delete options

Ideally the editing and deletion of all petitions are done with the consent or knowledge of the petitioner.  It should be clear that any changes made were to align the content with specific and publicly available site rules.  Petitioners should be able to clearly find and understand rules regarding what kind of content is permissible on the site.  To create Information Pages where users might be able to find these rules and other kinds of information about the site, see the “Creating Content” section of this manual.

Editing petitions that have already been published and signed by users should also be avoided unless these edits are extremely minor.  Users who request substantial edits to petitions after others have already signed them should be advised to create a new petition entirely.  

In the upper right corner of the Petitions page, the “Settings” button links to the Petitions Settings panel, which allows you to decide whether or not you want to require someone log in with a registered user account in order to sign a petition. The alternative, “Simplified signing,” allows someone to sign a petition just by leaving their personal information, making the site even easier to use by someone who wants to express their opinion.  Simplified signing is turned on by default.

Managing and Creating Responses#

Petitions are created, shared, and signed with the intention of receiving meaningful responses to their petition by the authorities in a timely fashion.  Ensuring that well-written responses are quickly issued is vital to the success of any content manager and at the heart of the political change the Petitions system is designed to facilitate.

To post responses to the site, log in with your content manager account and click on the Content link on the upper-left of the Menu Bar.

The Content panel displays all content on the site, including petitions, responses, and information pages.

Find content page
Find content page

To create a new response, click on the “Add content” link at the top of the Content panel.

If you have account privileges to create multiple kinds of content, you may see the following list where you can select from different kinds of content.  Here, select “Response”.

Add content page
Add content page

If you are only allowed to create responses, clicking “Add content” will automatically direct you to the following content creation form for creating petition responses.

Create response, step 1
Create response, step 1

While a response to a petition may be provided for you by an official or office, you may also need to write a response to a petition yourself based on information provided by an office or official.  Responses should be regarded as official correspondence, and will be read by the petitioner and many of those who signed the petition.  As such, it is important to be easy to understand.  For more on this issue, see the “Creating Good Content” section of this manual.

A response may also be offered as a video or audio file, which can be uploaded elsewhere and linked to by putting the link in the “Audio Embed” or “Video Embed” text field.

The body text of the response can be composed in the text editor in the section of the form labeled “Body”.

Create response, step 2
Create response, step 2

At the very bottom of the response page, all content manager accounts have access to the “Response Notifications” panel.  Once a response has been issued, everyone who signed the petition, including the site creator, are automatically notified by email that their petition has gotten a response so they can go read it.  The Response Notifications panel allows you to draft the email that will be sent out once the petition has been issued.  You may need to follow a pre-drafted template so that this email is the same for all petitions. You may also want to draft a  more personalized response that includes excerpts from or the entirety of the response.

Create response, step 3
Create response, step 3

The “Petitions” panel at the bottom of the response page allows you to enter the title of the petition(s) you want to be associated with your response. Type in the title of a petition you want the response to apply to.  If you want the response to respond to more than one petition, click the “Add Another Item” button, and then type in a new petition.  Signers of all of those petitions will be notified that a relevant response has been made.

Create response, step 4
Create response, step 4

Those with additional content management privileges may also change the settings on whether or not users with the relevant privileges will be able to post comments to the response (by modifying the settings in the “Comment settings” panel), what author name and date and time will be displayed with the petition (by modifying the settings in the “Authoring information” panel) and whether or not the petition response should be specially highlighted by being placed on the front page of the website or stickied at the top of lists (by modifying the settings in the “Publishing options” panel).

To finalize the response, click the “Save” button at the bottom of the page.

Information Pages (“How & Why”)#

All users will want to be able to understand the site and how their petitions are handled and responded to.  It’s important that the site clearly communicates this information as soon as someone accesses the site, with basic information ideally available right on the site’s homepage.

Information pages are pages where those who run the site can communicate information to the public, whether it’s about frequently asked questions, the petition handling process, or about site news and updates.  This content will be placed on the “How & Why” page.  The button to access the “How & Why” page can be found next to any petition, or by clicking the menu button in the upper right-hand corner of the site.

How and why sidebar
How and why sidebar

To write information pages, navigate to the Content panel accessible on the Menu Bar, click “Add Content”, and then click “Page”.

Like the other content creation pages, “Create Page” page has a text box to put a title, a rich text editor for you to type the body text, and a series of options and settings to adjust authoring and publishing settings.

To preview the content, click on the “Preview” button on the bottom of the page.  

Once you’re ready to post the information, click on the “Save” button on the bottom of the page.

The End User Experience#

One of the easiest ways to make sure the site functions properly for all users is to go through the steps a normal user would if they were using the site for the first time. This can also help you understand how users view your content and submit the content you manage, and view the content you create.

Creating an Account#

If you’re already logged in to your content manager account, log out by clicking the “log out” button in the upper-right hand corner.

To create an account, first click the “Start A Petition” button in the upper right-hand corner.  Then, click the “Create an Account” button.

Then, go to the homepage of the site and click the “create an account” link in the upper right-hand corner.

After filling out the form and clicking “Create new account,” you should soon get an email with a link that will allow you to set your account password.

If any step fails during the account creation process, try that step again.  Persistent failures should be referred to a site administrator.

Creating a Petition#

Now that you have an account, you click the “Start a Petition” button and get started.

Step One: Creating a Headline and Categorizing Your Petition

At this stage, you can write a short headline that summarizes what you want your petition to do, and check the boxes next to the different groups of issues that your petition falls under.  Click “Continue” when you’re done.

Create petition, step 1
Create petition, step 1

Step Two: Consider Similar Petitions

The site will recommend petitions with similar content to you, so you can consider signing one petition on the same subject with many petitions instead of creating many petitions on the same subject that won’t get a lot of support individually.

If you think that these suggested petitions aren’t similar enough to your petition, scroll down and click “Continue”.

Step 3: Creating the petition description

Users then create a description of their position for their petition within the 800 character limit.  Enter your description and click Continue.

Create petition, step 3
Create petition, step 3

Step 4: Review your petition and prepare it for publication!

At the final step, you can look over your petition, edit any remaining content, and either save it for publication later, delete it, or publish it to the site. You will also be reminded of the number of signatures (if any) required in order for a response to be issued. If a user decides to save their petition and go back to it later for additional editing, publication, or deletion, they can access their draft petitions by clicking on the “My Petitions” link on the top-left of the site.

Upon publication, the user should receive a link to the petition they can easily share with others. You may wish to verify that the link correctly directs to the relevant petition. Depending on the site rules and settings, petitions might not appear on the public site until the petition has gotten a certain number of signatures.  While testing the site, you may wish to temporarily disable this limit to ensure that petitions are being publicly published to the site. Check with your site administrator, or the administrator manual, for more information.

Once a petition has been submitted, users cannot edit it without content manager boss privileges. Petitioners requesting substantial edits should be strongly encouraged to create a new petition.

Create petition, step 4
Create petition, step 4

Searching for Petitions#

Users should be able to easily find and sign petitions they agree with.

You can search and filter petitions by clicking on “Open Petitions” in the upper-right hand corner and then navigating to the “Filter by Issue” and “Search” boxes directly above the list of petitions.

To only view certain categories of petitions, click on “Filter by Issue,” click the checkboxes next to the issues you’re interested in, and click the orange “Filter” button.

To only view petitions with certain words in their headline or description, click on “Search,” type your search terms into the pop-up box, and click the orange forward arrow button.

You can also only view petitions that have been recently published by clicking the “Recent Petitions” button on the right-hand side of the screen, and only view petitions with many signatures by clicking the word “Popular” next to the Filter by Issue and Search buttons.

Signing Petitions#

Signing a petition acts as an endorsement of the petition’s sentiment and a desire to receive a response from the government being petitioned.  As a key part of the site’s functionality, you should include signing a petition as part of testing the site experience.

To sign a petition, navigate to any petition’s page and click on the “Sign this Petition” button on the right-hand side of the page or at the bottom of the page.  This will open a form where you must fill out your personal information, including your name, email address, country, and city, before clicking the “Sign Now” button at the bottom of the form.  

Whether or not signing a petition requires an account or not depends on the site settings selected by your site administrator.

The box underneath the petition’s description keeps an ongoing counter of total signatures and the number of signatures still required to meet an designated signature threshold required by the site rules to receive a response.  

After you sign a petition and refresh the page, the number of signatures on the petition should go up by one, and the number of signatures still required should decrease by one.  If this does not occur, please alert a site administrator.

Viewing Responses#

To view responses, click on the word “Responses” at the top of any site page.

Sharing Feedback#

Users can provide feedback on the site by clicking on the “Share Feedback” button next to all petitions and then filling out the message form.

Creating Good Content#

As a content manager, part of your role will be to create content like petition responses, news updates, information pages, and other forms of public communication. Good content helps the Petitions tool connect more people to their governing institutions.  While what content is “good” will be different for every situation, here are some guidelines to consider while creating content.

Good Content is Accessible#

Good content addresses your audience by taking their needs into account, helping you communicate to everyone in your audience.  Some things you may wish to consider include:

  • Readability: To make your content more readable, make sure it uses words and phrases that everyone in your audience will be able to understand.
  • Conciseness: Not everyone will have the time to consume extremely long pieces of content.  Make sure that your content gets to the point without sacrificing any important details.
  • Language and Culture: If your audience includes people who speak different languages, make sure your content is in that language as well.  Parts of your audience might also be from different cultures and backgrounds that can also have different ways of understanding ideas and concepts. By taking these differences into account, you can help prevent miscommunication.
  • Appropriateness For the Medium: Different content categories may be different in tone or form depending on what they are.  For example, a blog post about the site might be more casual and shorter than a petition response.

Good Content is Responsive#

Good content genuinely and meaningfully communicates with your audience.  Some things you may wish to consider include:

  • Relevance: Content should be relevant to its context.  For instance, a petition response should directly respond to the petition.  Getting off track, or speaking vaguely, could make your audience feel your content isn’t relevant or interesting.
  • Timeliness: Content should be created in a timely fashion.  Your audience is less likely to be interested in content that’s old or doesn’t address what’s happening now, and may stop using the site altogether if they feel it’s been “abandoned”.

Good Content is Professional#

Content reflects on the organization hosting the Petitions site, and how that organization wants to be seen. Because of this, some things you may wish to consider include:

  • Politeness: If content is always polite and respectful, then content can communicate with your audience better, and your audience will be more likely to be respectful and polite too.
  • Accuracy: Good content isn’t misleading or inaccurate.  Otherwise, your audience might not feel as though content is actually important or trustworthy.  Situations also change, and keeping content up-to-date makes it more accurate and more timely.