Over the last 3 years we’ve seen a growing appetite for a more participatory democracy emerging in Northern Ireland, but never has the desire for change been stronger than now. People want to be part of something more, and participatory budgeting seems to be at least part of the answer.
We’re part of a group called Participatory Budgeting Works who are trying to encourage people to use participatory budgeting in Northern Ireland. We’re out and about across the country delivering events to help people find out more: all welcome!
Participatory Budgeting is a process of people making decisions on how money is spent. It’s about more than budgets: it’s an engagement opportunity to empower people by bringing them into the decision-making process to have a say in the world around them. The beauty of PB is that citizen input (ideas or votes) are directly translated into reality: there is a tangible output as a result, which has immediate impact. This makes it a great tool to bring people and decision-makers closer together.
From Scotland to Northern Ireland: What can we learning from our Scottish experience of PB?
Our team have been working on participatory budgeting in Scotland for 3 years, and have worked to help it grow from initial small grants to million pound transformational processes – with citizens all over Scotland being engaged, activated and empowered to have a say in decisions about the world around them.
Our role in Scotland has been primarily on digital aspect: doing PB online. Doing PB online gives you a way to involve more people and new audiences in your project. Digital tools and platforms can be used to create spaces online for gathering ideas or voting for example. This gives people a chance to take part who might struggle to make it to an in-person event, or in more rural communities. Digital engagement has been used across the globe to support participatory budgeting processes we have been working in Scotland doing PB online for the last few years. That means we’ve been working with people in planning and delivering their end-to-end participatory budgeting process from start to finish. From deciding the criteria for ideas, voting rules and outreach and engagement – we’ve seen it all!
What impact has digital had?
Some numbers to give you an idea of the impact in Scotland and potential of digital:
- Digital has been used in remote areas by councils like Shetland and Argyll and Bute. In Argyll & Bute, they wanted to generate ideas and discussion online. In the space of 6 weeks they generated 150 ideas, discussed by over 1300 people.
- An online voting site helped Ruchill in Glasgow to increase the number of people taking part. Ruchill has a population of 8,000 and they managed to get over 1,000 people participating in space of 3 weeks.
- In other larger scale decision making participatory processes, Dundee Decides is asking people to how they should spend £1.2million on infrastructure in the city. In this more transformational engagement process, they are aiming for 12,000 votes and are currently at 7,000 with 2 weeks to go till voting ends.
We’ve learnt an awful lot…
…And we’re ready to share the successes and failures for learning in Northern Ireland.
We want to talk about what hasn’t worked well in a Scottish context and work with local partners in NI to see how these might be overcome or done differently in the unique Northern Irish context.
This is a valuable contribution as we see the impact that PB has had in Scotland on communities – and the damage it could do if we don’t get it right. We’ve experimented in Scotland, and while experimenting is something we should ALWAYS encourage, it’s worth building on the experiments that have already taken place. We don’t want to make the same mistakes twice: we’ve spent some time reflecting on the landscape and activity over the last few years. Some of the key points are as follows:
Key lessons from our experience:
- Digital is not magic – digital won’t guarantee huge of numbers of people taking part automatically as there is work needed around outreach and promotion. But digital engagement can be incorporated to your wider work on digital and an important step in bringing public services up to speed and into the 21st Century.
- Online relationships and communities can be just a valid, strong, active and meaningful as offline communities. It might not be the way you engage with the world around you, but that doesn’t mean it has any less value as a way of people getting together around PB.
- It’s possible to find something to suit everyone: there are so many different ways and means that once you articulate your needs and aims, you can find the right tool for you and your organisation.
Participatory budgeting incredibly exciting, and it’s amazing to see how much interest there is already in Northern Ireland from communities, local governments and organisations to finding out more. They can already see the benefit that carrying out this engagement might bring them: closer to their communities and making better decisions on already tight resources.
So! Whats the plan in Northern Ireland?
- Public information workshops: 4 events across Northern Ireland to raise awareness of PB and tell people a bit about it. Sign up now!
- Training (4 day’s worth of training bespoke support tailor-made to your needs) to 5 pilot projects. (applications open soon!)
- Themed PB workshops (to be announced)
This programme emerged as a way of creating a legacy following on from other projects funded by the Building Change Trust , on re-invigorating democracy (such as the Civic Activism Programme which we worked on), so that the energy and momentum that gathered during those projects did not fall by the wayside, and so that these conversations and progress in developing a more participatory democracy could continue. Alongside this participatory budgeting group, born out of the same momentum, there’s a group working on Northern Ireland’s first Citizen Assembly.