Participatory Budgeting Works Network
Giving people a direct say over how public money is spent
The Participatory Budgeting Works Project is a collaborative effort to raise awareness of and advocate for Participatory Budgeting (PB) across the region. The project is co-ordinated by Community Places and includes a range of organisations from the public, community and voluntary sectors working together to create an enabling and supportive environment for PB. The project was initially funded by the Big Lottery Fund through The Building Change Trust.
With the aim of empowering local communities and creating genuine opportunities to strengthen community connections and influence local decision-making and resource allocation the PB Works project shared and promoted PB knowledge and skills and supported the development of local examples of PB practice.
Participatory Budgeting is a deliberative democratic process which can be described as “local people deciding how to allocate part of a public budget.” It is a way for citizens to have a direct say in how public funds are used to address local needs. However, PB is much more than just deciding how resources are allocated. It provides opportunities to engage in non-traditional ways that reach out to people who don’t often have a voice and it can become a celebration of positive action in the community. PB is practised in over 3,000 cities worldwide and has been identified as good practice by the World Bank; UNESCO; OECD; UN and the Department for International Development.
Through 4 regional workshops and 7 thematic PB masterclasses the project set out to increase awareness, interest and knowledge of PB and the values which underpin it across all sectors. The masterclasses explored a range of themes including: digital and online engagement; audit and accountability; housing led PB approaches; PB and Community Planning; PB Champions; Engaging the ‘easy to ignore’; and unlocking the potential of PB. An emphasis was placed on reducing perceived barriers and concerns around the implementation and practice of Participatory Budgeting; sharing international and local good practice; and signposting to practical resources to support PB practice.
In partnership with PB Partners, PB works provided support and guidance to 7 PB projects. Parent Action, Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, Newington Housing Association and Forward South Belfast received tailored support to work with partners to plan a PB process. 4 PB Community decision-making events were successfully completed including: ‘Grugach’s Gold’, led by Rathlin Development and Community Association; ‘Communities Leading Change’ in Kilkeel and ‘Youth Leading Change’ in Newry, led by Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’s Community Planning Partnership (CPP); and ‘Community Cash’ in Lisnaskea, led by Fermanagh and Omagh District Council’s Policing and Community Safety Partnership (PCSP). Examples of winning ideas included: cultural trips; Community Quiz, Therapy Tuesdays; intergenerational drama and art projects; social inclusion projects; Twenty is Plenty speed reduction campaign and a Men’s Shed to name a few. Newry Mourne and Down CPP (2) and Fermanagh and Omagh PCSP (5) have both undertaken repeat PB processes across an additional seven areas and are committed to embedding PB further.
What Worked Well
PB Works has developed the capacity, confidence and competencies of both individuals and communities seeking to implement PB processes across the region. It has helped to grow the enabling environment by sharing relevant examples of PB practice and learning resources via themed PB Masterclass Workshops and the PB Works website. By supporting the delivery of successful local PB events in Rathlin, Lisnaskea, Kilkeel and Newry the project has helped to increase levels of participation and engagement, strengthen community connections and allocate money and resources to community groups and projects that had previously encountered difficulties accessing traditional funding programmes and ultimately empowered local citizens.
The PB Works Network has grown a membership of over 100 individuals and organisations who contribute ideas and share learning to inform and develop PB practice. Lobbying and awareness raising has grown interest in a number of specific thematic areas including community planning; policing and community safety, public health, shared housing schemes and youth.
What Lessons Can Be Learned
Done well PB can empower and enable people to have their voices heard through open and inclusive conversations and to take action to address local issues. PB offers a practical way of co-designing more meaningfully with localities and allocating resources in a more open, transparent and democratic way. Practitioners have praised the flexibility of PB as well as its capacity to source innovative solutions to tackling challenging local issues.
While there is a tangible momentum and enthusiasm building around PB, challenges remain. To date the scale and sums of money have been relatively modest and there had been an emphasis on PB grant-making processes rather than the allocation of mainstream resources. In this regard, a culture change will be required if PB is to reach its full potential and to operate at a scale where it can become truly transformational. Indeed, this was the subject of a recent Strategic Insight Lab sponsored by the Department for Communities.