The London borough of Harrow's local council opened up their budget to public consultation regarding how resources should be allocated in 2006/7. To engage the public in the democratic process, they implemented an open assembly of local residents and an ongoing monitoring panel.
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Problems and Purpose
The Harrow Open Budget initiative was started by key officials in the London Borough of Harrow to open up the process of developing the 2006/7 Council budget. The local authority used a form of participatory budgeting whereby elements of the budget were opened up to public debate around local priorities. The mechanisms used to engage the public were a day long Open Assembly of local residents, together with an ongoing panel of residents to monitor the process. The process was inspired by the findings of the recently completed Power Inquiry, which made a wide number of recommendations for stimulating democracy in the UK. The Open Budget was initiated at a time when there had been a lot of public consultation that had not been successful in reaching large numbers of residents.
The stated aims of the project were:
- To rebuild public confidence in the local council decision making.
- To engage the most vociferous and dissatisfied elements of the community in considered deliberations.
- To provide a popular sense of ownership of the final budget priorities.
- To help residents understand the issues facing officers.
- To help elected officers understand the concerns of residents.
- To offer opportunities to engage the local media.
- To rebuild democratic engagement and dialogue.
- To take community engagement seriously.
- To increase the profile and importance of local Councillors by allowing them to engage in dialogue with Harrow residents about decisions facing the local authority.
Background History and Context
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Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
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Participant Recruitment and Selection
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Methods and Tools Used
This initiative uses participatory budgeting, an increasingly common method of democratic innovation broadly described as "a decision-making process through which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources." There are many benefits associated with participatory budgeting including increased civic and democratic education; increased government transparency; and an increased opportunity for participation by historically marginalized populations . The Harrow case in particular engaged the public using both a day long Open Assembly of local residents as well as an ongoing panel of residents to monitor the process.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Over 300 Harrow residents attended an open assembly in October 2003 to discuss and vote on key priorities across the council’s budget. The process allowed participants to give broad preferences for what the council should deliver.
The Open Budget Panel members were elected by participants during the Open Assembly to monitor the council’s spending and to map whether priorities identified had been addressed. The Panel then ensured that implementation of the budget was monitored and that there was some accountability to the participants of the Assembly.
There was a willingness by the council to invest in the PB process.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Some of the effects of the project include:
- Increasing understanding of local government.
- Developing a framework for engagement. During half day workshops officers developed scenarios which could be used with the local residents of the area.
- Getting a sense of what the key strategic options were prior to the Open Assembly day was key. This provided a framework for public engagement which had boundaries and was absolutely clear.
- Increasing understanding of budgets and the council’s work.
For those involved in the Open Budget day itself, the process received a 94% satisfaction rating as good or very good and 74% suggested that the process should be repeated.
The political balance has changed in Harrow Council and the process has not been repeated. Also the budget panel has found it difficult to maintain links with the participates of the wider assembly.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
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 Originial Source: https://www.participatorybudgeting.org.uk/case-studies/harrow-open-budget/
This case study was originally submitted to the Participatory Budgeting Unit by the organisers of the project, using a template supplied by the PB Unit.
Lead Image: Open Budget/Harrow Council https://goo.gl/uTtwkc