PoliCAT - Multilingual Petitions

What is Policat.org?

Policat.org is a platform for multilingual petitions and email-actions. It is a service for anyone who'd like to start a petition or email-action, but wants full control over content and data. It is designed with small and medium-sized NGOs in mind, that cannot afford other, usually more costly e-campaigning products on the market.

What can I do with Policat.org?

What makes Policat.org better than other e-action service providers?

Our current system has a proof-record for handling peak load of at least 50000 complete sign-ups per hour. The software is open source, published on git.hub, and your very welcome to contribute.

How to start an e-action?

  1. Log in or create a personal account
  2. Create or Join a campaign
  3. Create an action (within the selected campaign)
  4. Add translations (= your petition or email-action texts)
  5. Create an action widget and embed it into your website

How much does it cost?

As of May 2015 we introduced a pricing model, which serves the needs of typical NGOs and campaigners. Please refer to the pricing-page. Anyway, we encourage you to use the service for your campaigns disregarding of your financial abilities as we will try to find a fitting solution in any case. However, we expect you to contribute to the fixed costs of PoliCAT to run the service as well as to our continuous software and security improvements.

What's the story of PoliCAT?

In 2009, I was working as campaigner for the European office of the environmental network Friends of the Earth (FoEE), I had to run three different petitions for each one broad civil society coalition. They had to be set up in various languages, and feature on the websites of FoEE's partners. I had little budget and time, and no existing infrastructure.

So I asked German software company Webvariants GmbH & Co KG for help. Together, we developed a simple, intuitive petition builder: PoliCAT. "Poli" for political, and for greek: 'the many', "CAT" for 'cyber action tool', and because kittens are fun. Since then, it became a powerful, feature-rich platform for online campaigning. The software is open source, the project hosted on Git.hub.

What makes PoliCAT so special?

The key feature is that petitions can go literally viral on the web. Anyone with a blog or website can simply generate their own widget and host a petition on their own websites. We call it: “to embed an e-action widget”. Why is that?

You can bring the whole e-action onto your own website, by “embedding” it like a youtube video. The e-action comes in a box, like a little gadget in a window, in short, a widget. It will be your own little widget, very much unlike a banner or a link.

The whole e-action workflow will happen inside your widget: it will display a e-action text, a background text and links to the privacy policy, facebook and twitter; and there will be the sign-on form, once an online activist filled it in, it will say “thanks for taking part in the action” and offer to send a tell-a-friend email. Your online-activists will stay on your site.

Policat is multilingual. One e-action can be addressed to diverse political targets at various international and/or national policy targets. People will sign on to the same key message – however you may decide to target your national head of state or finance minister. In fact you should adapt the narrative of our joint e-action to your national and cultural context.

When creating your widget and embedding it into your website, you may change almost all texts that will be displayed in your widget (the title, a by-line, the background text…). You may even add specific demands to our main message that have specific relevance to your policy target or that make sense otherwise in your national context. Only the “core” e-action text stays the same to ensure conformity.

Also, you can adapt the appearance of your widget to the look and feel of your website. Thus, you can integrate it seamlessly into your web-pages. By adapting language, text and design and making sure it fits into your messaging and targets your specific policy target, you can make it your own e-action whilst at the same time being part of our joint e-action. The signature-counter in your widget will always display the over-all count of all signatures collected world-wide.

Activists will take part in the e-action on your very website, in which you embed your widget. Thus, the system allows us to run our joint e-action with maximum flexibility and without the need for a joint dedicated campaign website.

Now, start an e-action and embed it into your website!

Why widgets? Why not the same text, look and feel for all?

A campaign is most effective when it is tailor-made for very specific target groups. For instance, our joint e-action is interesting for both social, environmental and aid organisations. We obviously would like to use different stories to link the issue to our specific campaign narratives and emphasise the urgency to tackle our specific issues. The same accounts for organisations in different countries: there are different stories to tell in e.g. the UK and Greece.

As civil society , we have plenty of policy targets on all national, regional and international levels. We have different specific demands to these various policy targets. A wider audience, the supporters and constituents of our causes, are as diverse in language, culture and motivation.

There’s need and good reason to join forces via a joint global e-action: only that will make a really impressive number of signatures possible. Thus, NGO coalitions and individuals need to be able to join forces in one e-action, while adapting its content, tone and design to their specific audiences and policy targets.

With the widgets, every campaign partner can set up his own widgets and integrate it into his different website.

How to create a widget?

Find any widget published that is part of your e-action. For featured actions, you can find widgets on the homepage of policat.org. Click on “Embed this” underneath the petition text (or the according translation of this if you see a widget in another language).

(If this is your first widget, select your action on the "Actions" overwiev in the Policat administration, open the "translation" tab and click "create widget" next to the respective translation.)

Choose your widget language, change the title and by-line (“target”) according to your campaigns needs, modify or add specific demands to the e-action text. You may change all content but the main ("body") petition text. Thus, you can add specific demands to the petition whilst endorsing the main part. We encourage you to do this as it allows you to tailor the e-action to your audience and address your specific policy targets.

You can also adapt the appearance of your widget to make it look part of your website. A widget type “embed” should be your preferred choice. Choose the width available in your website. If you have less than 440 pixel width available, the widget would look too cluttered. Thus, you would need to choose the widget type “popup”. It will display a small banner-style box that adapts to the space available. When clicking on it, the full widget will appear in the middle of your page like a popup.

Insert your name (or your organisations name) and email address. You will later receive a confirmation email with a link to edit the widget at later stage, if needed (See below).

Click “generate widget”. Wait for the “embed”-code to appear in the field below. Copy and paste it into your website where-ever it should appear. As a web-editor, you must have the right to add “html/javascript” code. Your web-admin will know what that means and be able to help you.

Can I change my settings after I have generated a widget code?

Yes. You will receive an email with an “edit” link to your widget. This allows you to make changes at any later time, i.e. after you have embedded your widget into your site. Wait for this email (don’t click on the button again, as it will just create another widget).

How to embed a widget into my website / blog?

Every website is different. Whilst some use still good-old html code to build their websites, you are most likely using a “content-management-system” (CMS) to update your website. Usually, you can simply place the code between other texts – simply paste it into a page or new article.

Note: Your CMS system must allow you to use html/javascript. If it doesn’t work in the first place, ask your web administrator to change settings of your CMS system.

In some CMS systems, such as WORDPRESS, you simply add a “HTML-box” from your plug-in repository. Then go into “Options” or “Settings” or “Content” of this HTML-box and paste your widget code there. Once done, you can place the HTML-box where-ever your widget should appear on your website.

Can I embed my widget on my Facebook page?

+++Currently not. Facebook changed the way tabs can be integrated into pages. We have to update our code accordingly.+++

//outdated: Create a widget, embed-type. Go to https://www.policat.org/fb_tab. Click on "Add page tab to your facebook page". Select your Facebook page. Go to your Facebook page. You will find a new tab-item “*** ACTION ***” in the left column. Click on it. Add the number of your widget (this is the 4-digit number within your widget code). Done.

You can add more widgets for different languages. Facebook will automatically display the widget in the language of the facebook user settings. If no widget in this language is available, the English widget will be shown.

Note: the admin-menu will still appear as long as you are logged-in as page-admin. Use another login to see how it will look like to your facebook friends/fans.

Note: you can modify the tab-item label (“*** ACTION ***”) in your page settings. Click on “Apps” in your settings and click “Edit settings” of the App “Policat E-Actions”. Also, you can make this tab-item with your widget appear first once facebook users visit your page.

Can I access the data of the signees who took part in the e-action via my widget?


You can request access and ownership over the data generated via your widget: that is the email addresses and other individual data of the activists who sign onto your action via your widget. It is the right of the coordinator of your action to approve or deny your request.

To request data ownership, you need to click the link in your widget confirmation email (check your inbox). You will have to log into our e-action platform first. Create a new user account, if you have none yet (you will receive a validation email, check your inbox). Once you are logged in, press the button "Connect widget with account". Then, click "List all widgets". You will see a list of all widgets, connected to your account. Click "Become Data-owner" next to the widget. Your campaign admin will be notified. Come back in a few hours or days. If your campaign admin has granted your request, you will be able to access and download the data.

Note: Data ownership comes with responsibilities: only you will have access; you will be the guardian and protector of the data; you are only allowed to use the data in ways clearly stated in the privacy policy of your action (online activists agree to our privacy policy when signing-on our e-action - respect it); you will be legally liable for the handing of the data according to data protection legislation of the European Union, Germany (this is where we this platform is hosted) and your country. It is the right of the coordinator of your action to approve or deny your request.

Can I securely deduplicate my list of participants with another list

Yes. There's a secure way. The participant list exports contain hashes to compare or deduplicate signings with other lists. Input: e-mail address, utf-8 encoded, white spaces removed front and tail, all letters converted to lowercase. Function: bcrypt, parameters cost=10 and salt='POLICAT1234567890ABCDE'

What' that number of the counter in my widget?

The counter bar in your widget shows the overall count of the global e-action, adding the numbers of signatures collected via all widgets throughout the world.

How does the API to exchange and sync (counter) stats work?

Display or sync the count of your action (in total, by country, by time period, by widget) and ge more statistical information via the PoliCAT API. Find the technical information about the API here: https://www.policat.org/api/v2 (older, more simple version for individual widgets: https://www.policat.org/api)

Help! The e-action texts seem not to be properly displayed in the Embed-this form.

The texts are displayed in single-line fields, but they are usually longer. To better see and adapt texts, we recommend to select (Ctrl+A, Ctrl+C) the text in a field and paste it (Ctrl+V) into your text editor. Once you are done, copy your modified text back into the field.

I want to feature our e-action in more than one language. How do I do this?

Every widget features one language. If you want to feature our e-action in more than one language, simply create one widget per language. After clicking on “Embed this” in any other widget, just use the language selector to select the language in which your widget should appear.

I want to feature the e-action in my language, but it does not appear in the language selector.

If your language is not in that list, the action coordinator has probably not yet added that language to the list of translations of the petition or email-action text. You can help and send her/him a translation! Find her/his contact details in the privacy policy of the action.

Who is responsible for the text in my widget?

You are responsible for the text in your widget. This is why you need to create your own widget and register it in your name.

I found a widget on a dubious website, I don't want my cause to be associated with, or with a text bluntly thwarting our joint e-action. What can I do?

If a widget violates the terms laid out in your privacy policy, or, a widget is bluntly thwarting the main message of the joint e-action, the any action admin can block this widget. Please report abuses to the action coordinator. Find her/his contact details in the privacy policy of the action.

I have embedded my widget on my website, but it seems that nobody uses it. What did I do wrong?

Advertise your e-action! This is – by the way – a great opportunity to bring more people to your website! Your website is a dead drop without you advertising it. Invite people to the page, on which you embedded the widget. Use your email-lists, facebook, twitter, etc.

Place the widget prominently in your website. On a page, place it above the fold so users don’t have to scroll down to find it. Feature it on your front-page. Make sure, you refer to it in your articles and texts. Create a menu-item or add a big banner to your front-page.

Help! I can’t see the widget and/or it doesn’t look right. What's the problem?

You probably need to enable javascript in your browser settings. Or you are using an outdated web-browser. The system is compatible with most browsers, however, it does not support Internet Explorer Version 6 and below. Please update your browser to the newest version. I want another design of the widget, i.e. I want to get rid of this cluttered footer-bar of the widget.

The e-action system is designed for maximum outreach in coalition-campaigns. The social web buttons and the “Embed this” link are an integral part of the idea. They allow “snowballing” our campaign as virtually any organisation and even individuals, particularly bloggers, can embed a “widget” into their websites or link to it or write about it.

However, there is loads that can be done to improve design, usability and features of the system. If you are interested to support this great open source project, drop an email to daniel@policat.org, indicating what change you’d like to see and what budget you could contribute to its further development.

Can I install PoliCAT on my own server?

Policat.org is software as a service. There is no need to install anything on your server. To embed a widget onto your website, you only need to add one single line of code (html/javascript) where the action form should appear.

Policat.org is based on the open-source, non-commercial software PoliCAT. PoliCAT is in beta-stage as it is developed further. Please contact us to obtain the source-code and install it on your server. We are happy to offer installation and maintenance services.

How can I help to improve Policat?

We very much appreciate your help in advancing this exiting open source project.

Please get in contact with us (Christian Metzeler at www.webvariants.de). Please understand that we did not have sufficient resources yet to provide good source-code documentation.

Tech-specs: Policat is a stand-alone tool built on the Symfony framework (PHP/mySQL). It requires an Apache environment, Symfony, an Email-Server and SSL-encryption. It is optimised for heavy peak-load: We’ve managed 13 complete sign-on workflows per second over 45 Minutes on our server (that's 35000 in total).