“Undoubtedly, the acid test of participation is budgeting” writes Jenny Stewart in Dilemnas of Engagement in 2009.
While Australia is not the founding home of participatory budgeting, that’s Brazil, nor is there a huge body of work (as is profiled in UK and North America), however I am wondering if some of the best projects are here: notably Randwick and Waverley City Councils in Sydney.
Jenny Stewart goes on to say “While interest in participatory budgeting is growing, overall, governments continue to keep budget processes close to their chests. Local budgets (such as those of councils) might be discussed in community meetings and forums … such settings are rare at other levels of government. At the state and Commonwealth levels….. Finance officers do not go out to communities to ask them what they would like in the budget. The communities would probably die of shock if they did.”
At the local level in Australia, there are some great examples of participatory budgeting. Two of them have won International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) awards.
Waverley Council in NSW won an IAP2 award in 2011 for its consultation that led to community support for the largest ever rate increase approved by their state government (rate increases have to be approved by the state in NSW). The community supported the rate raise to enable a higher level of services to be provided to meet the community’s vision for their city. Check out the awards page of the IAP2 website. www.iap2.org.au
A year earlier Randwick Council engaged their community on the problem that many of their municipal buildings were in need of major renewal or renovation. Under the Council’s meagre annual maintenance budget it would have taken more than 55 years to fix the 150 buildings up to modern day standards. The outcomes was support for finding additional funds for maintenance through a special variation to the rates.
Why the claim for these being great projects…because of their scale. Both these projects related to major aspects of the local authorities budget and lead to an increase in rates, something that is notoriously hard for local authorities to achieve. Many of the UK case studies that I have read are great participatory processes but they only relate to a very small part of the Council budget. For example in Manton, the community was invited to decide on the allocation of 50,000 pounds for small scale community projects (grants).
One of the tests of quality public participation is that the results have influence and participatory budgeting includes the clear promise that the decision maker will implement the decisions of the people in respect of the amount of money that is under consideration. This high level of influence is critical in building trust between communities and their local Councils or government. Sophia Parker from Demos talks about the value of participatory budgeting for building trust and satisfaction in the video clip below.