When ‘ordinary’ people are included in decisions about spending public money, that’s called Participatory Budgeting.
PB is a democratic and inclusive process. It can take many different forms, but it will always be participatory at heart.
A typical PB process will involve a defined community (this may be a geographical ‘community of place’ or a thematic ‘community of interest’) being supported over a period of time to develop ideas which – if funded – will demonstrably deliver public benefit. These beneficial ideas (once they have been developed) are then simply put to the public vote.
PB is a form of direct democracy, where everyone has an equal say directly about the outcome, unmediated. It is a form of deliberative democracy, where the people making voting decisions are encouraged to discuss the options put before them with each other – so that when their votes are cast they are quite certain that they are expressing their considered view.
Some examples in Edinburgh include EVOC’s Canny wi’ Cash, and two examples where Neighbourhood Partnerships use part of their Community Grants Fund to deliver PB. You may have heard of £eith Decides or the students in the community PB approach in the South Central neighbourhood. An overview report was very well received by the City of Edinburgh Council’s Communities and Neighbourhoods Committee.
While Scotland is increasingly interested in the use of PB to encourage deeper democracy, examples have been relatively small-scale, using small grants funding as the ‘pot’ to be disbursed. In Brazil (the home of PB) citizens routinely vote on how to spend significant municipal budgets, and (closer to home) the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, has made a commitment to spending 5% of the investment budget available (that was €20m in 2014/15) using Participatory Budgeting.
Canny wi’ Cash
EVOC ran a unique distributed PB project with the city’s community of older people, seeking their views on which projects would meet ‘Reshaping Care for Older People Change Fund’ outcomes.
Led by Milind Kolhatkar and Dianne Morrison, the project took a creative approach, going out to where voters already gathered – rather than expecting them to come to a pre-arranged venue at a certain date and time in order to vote.
A full report outlining the Canny wi’ Cash process from start to finish was published, taking its title from a comment made by one of the older people involved ‘Our Voice is Being Heard at Last’.
In order to reach out to a wider audience, the team has now produced a graphic novel which provides an easy, accessible introduction to the Canny wi’ Cash PB project. The Joint Improvement Team has published a resource which includes this section on Canny wi’ Cash.
EVOC is of the view that the time is right to develop PB further in Scotland, and to deliver such projects at scale.