Recently my Delib colleague Craig posted a fascinating blog about meeting John Miri, and the opinion they shared that ‘emerging technologies should be embraced as a way to realise the original intent and goals of government – to represent, serve and involve citizens.’
We at Delib obviously have a strong affinity with John’s words and it got me thinking about Participatory Budgeting and what our apps can do to support its future.
What does Participatory Budgeting look like in practice?
The term Participatory Budgeting (frequently shortened to PB) broadly means direct involvement of a community in deciding priorities for budget allocation, followed by a voting process to decide how a real pot of public money is spent in their area.
The People’s budget describes how tricky it is to define the process of PB as it shifts depending on the needs of the community. Instead the definition is better made by looking at the results of the process;
‘Transparent: Did the process improve local knowledge about public budgets?
Accessible: Was it easy for people to get and stay involved?
Deliberative: Could people debate different ideas and then could they agree?
Empowering: Did participants feel they were in control of a real budget?
Locally Owned: Are local people taking on greater responsibility for their community?
Involving: Did it help build a sense of partnership and common purpose?
Democratic: Was the process fair and build greater trust in local politicians?
Shared Responsibility: Did it build a sense of common purpose?’
Who is using Participatory Budgeting?
The United Nations named PB as a best practice of democratic governance. It has increased in popularity across America since Chicago became the first U.S. state to try it in 2009; Alderman Moore allocated $1.3 million to residents who voted to spend it on repairing sidewalks and installing new street lights.
‘Moore credits the popularity of his PB experiment for reviving his political fortunes. After barely beating his opponent in a 2007 runoff, he handily won re-election last year.’ governing.com
A bit closer to home, 2009 also saw the London borough of Tower Hamlets try PB with its ‘You Decide!’ project. 8 events were run in the first 4 months;
‘The events were split into three sections; inform, deliberate, decide.’
The threefold aim of these community events really highlights that the success of PB depends on a real investment in people, supporting them to make educated spending decisions. For this reason, PB generally involves a year-long cycle of public meetings and can be perceived as time and cost heavy.
How can Delib support the future of Participatory Budgeting?
Norfolk County Council are one of our customers who have embraced technology to consult, share proposals and inform residents about budget allocation making the process quicker and more accessible. A two phased consultation initially saw their Budget Simulator present spending areas and gauge public priorities for spending.
‘We were looking for a simple and engaging way to help our residents understand the issues we faced setting our budget and to find out what their priorities were. Delib’s Budget Simulator was the perfect solution.’
Anne Tansley Thomas, Norfolk County Council
The second phase of the consultation used Citizen Space to present full proposals and engage residents in the next stage of budget setting – responding to proposals. The results from both phases will then be used in the final budget setting process in 2014.
Although this example from Norfolk is just a consultative process, to influence spending decisions rather than actually voting to allocate, the approach is a definite step in the right direction. If we refer back to that list of results of a PB process; ‘transparent’ ‘accessible’ ‘involving,’ Norfolk’s approach to a multi app, phased consultation is really inspiring.
Here at Delib we are really excited to see how the future of Participatory Budgeting develops with the help of technology. Looking at how our apps can be packaged together to facilitate the educating, deliberating and voting process is something we can do to support more organisations venture into the wonderful world of PB.