Learning from Innovation in Public Sector Environments

Blogpost

15 september 2015 - Maria Svidronova (Matej Bel University, Banska Bystrica, Slovakia)

Blog: How to empower co-creation: participatory budgeting

In my previous post I pointed out that active citizenship in Slovakia is still rather at a toddler stage; citizens are still not used to taking part in expressing their ideas on policymaking after the communism era. Yet, the third sector has developed quite well and its voice can be heard behind many social causes and helping to solve many issues including delivering public services in alternative ways. But at the end of the day, it seems that it is always the same NGOs who are working very similar causes in the Slovakian third sector (especially considering that Slovakia is a small country with a population of less than 5.5 million). The question we are interested in now is how can we invite more citizens into the public domain? How can we support citizens in co-creation? And how can we especially involve citizens typically marginalized from society?

A good impulse for co-creation might be participatory budgeting, a mechanism through which the population decides on the destination of all or part of the available public resources at the local level. Participatory budgeting has been one of the most successful participatory instruments of the past 20 years. It was introduced for the first time in Porto Alegre in Brazil in 1989. This method of public funding management came after Brazil’s experience with many years of military dictatorship, which caused a dramatic decrease in trust in government. Budgetary spending was associated with widespread money-wasting and corruption. The starting point for participatory budgeting was a discussion on the previous budget implementation and the priorities for the next financial plan. The key part of these meetings was electing delegates from 16 neighbourhoods in Porto Alegre for district plenary assemblies where the proposals submitted by the representatives of each neighbourhood were evaluated. Proposals with the highest evaluation were implemented as projects by citizens themselves.

Participatory budgeting model (source: http://www.pbchicago.org/uploads/1/3/5/3/13535542/8004078_orig.jpg)

Participatory budgeting model

Nowadays, participatory budgeting is becoming more and more popular in Europe as well. It is being introduced by local governments in many countries, such as the UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. Participatory budgeting is now estimated to be used in thousands of locations worldwide. These include large cities (Seville), individual city districts (e.g. in London, Paris, Berlin, Rome), medium-sized towns, and small municipalities. Many of them prepare their own models of participatory budgeting adapted to the local conditions.

Participation gives local authorities the possibility to gain useful knowledge about the community’s needs so they can make informed and more accurate decisions. Participatory budgeting allows the residents of a municipality, city district, village or housing estate to participate in planning local public spending. The authorities hand over a part of the budget to citizens who decide by themselves how to allocate the money. To do this, they identify the most urgent spending needs, make their own proposals and take a bigger role in controlling public spending.

Participatory budgeting can also be seen as a tool for increasing the trust in public institutions and for increasing customer (citizen) satisfaction. In Slovakia, the first city that implemented participatory budgeting in 2011 was the capital, Bratislava. It was followed in 2013 by the town of Ruzomberok and the latest town to adopt it is Banská Bystrica in 2014 (is the slow uptake also shows how long it takes for the concept of participation to diffuse here). In all cases, thematic communities for funding were established, e.g. culture, community life and active citizenship, youth, greenery in town, sport and health. These are all from the fields of public services, i.e. all projects involve citizens as co-creators of public services.

The size of municipalities that implemented participatory budgeting varies from 27,000 to 420,000 inhabitants in Slovakia. But taking into account citizen involvement in comparison to the size of the municipality, the results vary. The citizen involvement is less than 1 per cent. For example, in Banska Bystrica there were 382 voting participants, which is only half a per cent from total town population. In Bratislava it was almost 8.5% of participating citizens.

The amount of money allocated for participatory budgeting is between 0.01% – 0.27% of the municipal budget. While the budgeting impact seems little, even 0.01% of the total municipal budget has a significant symbolic impact; the process has brought more minority and low-income people, as well as young people, who usually are not interested in politics, into the democratic process.

Of course these are rather mild results for the implementing period of participatory budgeting in Slovakia but our analysis has shown that participatory budgeting enables better allocation of public sources according to citizens’ actual needs. It enables citizens to vote for projects that provide necessary public services and also treats them as important members of democracy. On the whole, participatory budgeting can be seen as an innovative tool for the effective management of public service provision following the trend of public co-creation.

What do you think about participatory budgeting? Can it really impulse co-creation? What other tools can help improve co-creation?

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*Dr. Maria Svidronova is affiliated to the department of Public Economics and Regional Deparment, Matej Bel University. With her colleagues (prof. Juraj Nemec and prof. Beata Mikusova Merickova) she participated in the research on co-creation and social innovation in Project Learning from Innovation in Public Sector Environments (more at www.lipse.org).

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