Lithuanian schools adopted participatory budgeting, empowering students to allocate funds and make important decisions. This innovative approach fosters transparency, civic engagement, and financial literacy. To date, over 40 Lithuanian schools have implemented this initiative.
This was a joint project completed for the class ‘Reinventing Democracy: Innovation, Participation and Power’ 2023 at the University of Southampton, by Leonard Koenig, Hazel Williams, Abbie Feike, Amol Takk and Mahsa Ghanbari. This project included also a primary research component conducting interviews.
Problems and Purpose
Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a process in which citizens are directly involved in decision-making processes related to the allocation of public funds. In recent years, PB has been gaining traction in Lithuania, with various cities and municipalities adopting the process as a way to engage citizens in budgetary decisions and ensure efficient allocation of limited financial resources.
In 2019, Transparency International Lithuania (TI Lithuania) launched an initiative to introduce PB to schools across the country. The initiative aimed to involve students in decision-making processes related to their school's budget allocation and improvement projects while developing their financial literacy and civic engagement skills .
The primary purpose of implementing PB in schools is to increase financial literacy and awareness among students . By involving them in discussions about public finances and decision-making processes, students gain a better understanding of how resources are allocated within their communities . This knowledge is expected to contribute to their overall financial competence and responsible decision-making skills.
Another important goal of this initiative is to encourage civic engagement and community involvement among young people. By actively participating in the allocation of their school's budget, students develop a sense of ownership and responsibility towards their educational environment. This involvement is expected to translate into increased engagement in both local community issues and broader democratic processes as they grow older.
Background History and Context
The first PB initiative in Lithuania was implemented in Alytus in 2018 . This marked the beginning of PB adoption in Lithuania as a way to engage citizens directly in budgetary decisions and ensure efficient allocation of limited financial resources. The success of this initial implementation led other cities and municipalities across Lithuania to adopt similar initiatives.
Following the case of PB in Alytus, other Lithuanian municipalities, such as Kaunas District and Klaipėda City [4, p. 55], also adopted similar initiatives. These cities tailored their PB processes to suit their local contexts while maintaining core principles of citizen engagement and transparent decision-making.
In recent years, PB has gained significant traction across Lithuania. As of August 2022, two thirds of municipalities implemented PB at least once, which is three times more than in 2020. Additionally, over four percent of schools have tried PB at least once .
As for participatory budgeting in schools, a municipal entity called EDU Vilnius, in collaboration with the Transparency International Lithuania, serves as an example of successful implementation of participatory budgeting. During their common initiative, 12 schools participated, each receiving €1,500 from Vilnius City Municipality. The participating schools reported positive experiences and recognized the benefits of PB in developing students' abilities to effectively participate in decision-making processes within their community, financial literacy, and project management skills .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The PB initiatives in Lithuanian schools were done by various schools and municipal administrations where Transparency International Lithuania consulted organisers to introduce PB and to measure its impact on transparency, civic engagement, and financial literacy among students .
Various funding sources supported the project during different phases. In 2020-2021, the Active Citizens Fund, the British Council in Lithuania, the French Embassy in Lithuania, the Office of the Nordic Council of Ministers in Lithuania, and the German Embassy in Lithuania contributed to PB initiatives . In 2019, the initiative was part of a pilot project "Educational/Information activities in schools about the EU budget," financed by the European Commission's representative office in Lithuania.
TI Lithuania and schools collaborated through meetings and consultations at different stages of the initiative. They agreed on guidelines for idea submission and formed consultative groups consisting of teachers or administration representatives who could look over the project formalisation process. Schools also decided on methods to engage participants such as presentations to their communities about school budgets and decision-making processes .
Throughout the process, TI Lithuania worked closely with schools where in some cases municipalities provided the funding. This collaboration ensured that all relevant stakeholders were included in the process while providing necessary resources for successful implementation .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools was designed to be inclusive and open to all students within the participating schools. The project aimed to involve students from various age groups, ranging from pre-schoolers to high school students, with a focus on increasing transparency, civic engagement, and financial literacy among the participants.
To commence with the initiative, TI Lithuania and schools keep a direct communication with each other. Participants (students) are included once the introductory meetings among organisers were held. TI Lithuania held meetings with a majority of school students, teachers, and administration staff to discuss the initiative and its objectives. This approach allowed them to reach a wide range of participants within each school community .
There was no specific sampling technique or reliance on local networks for participant recruitment. Instead, the TI Lithuania focused on community outreach within each school to engage as many participants as possible. Students were not offered any stipends or enticements for their involvement in the initiative. However, they had an opportunity to contribute directly to decision-making processes related to their school's budget allocation and improvement projects .
The main motivation for people choosing to participate in this process was likely their interest in having a say in how their school's budget was spent and contributing towards improving their educational environment. In addition to student participation, teachers and school administration were also involved in the process.
By adopting an inclusive approach that encouraged participation from all members of the school community, TI Lithuania and school administrations ensured that diverse perspectives were represented throughout the PB process. This inclusive approach contributed significantly towards achieving the project's goals of fostering civic engagement and financial literacy among young people while promoting transparency within Lithuanian schools.
Methods and Tools Used
Several tools are employed by TI Lithuania and school to make the PB initiative successful and efficient:
- Consultancy Groups: Comprising teachers or staff members who provided guidance and support to students throughout the PB process, e.g. filling out the idea proposal forms, helping to merge similar projects or filter out the ideas, which cannot be impleneted for such reasons as being against the defined rules.
- Online Platforms: Used for voting and information sharing of the PB process when in-person meetings were not possible or when communities were already familiar with their main (internal) communication platforms.
- Regular Meetings with School Representatives: Discussions between school representatives and TI Lithuania on enhancing the PB process in a given school, considering its opportunities, defining goals and expectations, agreeing upon the stages of assistance, etc.
- Public Interaction: Limited public interaction focused on students, parents, staff involved in the PB process; in some instances, connections between municipal PB and school PB were fostered by inviting representatives of municipalities to meetings and events.
The combination of these methods and tools was adapted to suit the specific needs and context of each school, taking into account factors such as the age of the students and the school's internal communication and dynamics. Implementators acknowledged that trade-offs might be involved in using this combination of tools/techniques, such as time management challenges or varying levels of engagement among schools. However, they aimed to create an inclusive and engaging process that would help students develop essential skills while giving them a say in their school's decision-making process .
TI Lithuania also employed a few methods to foster cooperation between schools and other interested parties, such as municipal and governmental entities, local communities, and NGOs. This was made for the purposes of establishing better communication practices, broadening a network of PB implementators, bringing the community together, sharing good examples and talking about challenges. The methods employed by TI Lithuania:
- Workshops: Online sessions with registered teachers and students to help increase childrens' knowledge on topics such as public speaking skills, financial literacy, purchasing products online, etc. Particular topics of the workshops are selected according to the needs of the school communities implementing PB, thus helping to better prepare for the different stages of the process.
- Participatory Budgeting Forum: Annual event bringing municipalities, schools and other interested parties together to share good examples and lessons from participatory budgeting, and to mobilise the community of professionals interested in these topics. Forums are also a platform to share the newest data, spread awareness about PBs, encourage networking among schools and municipalities.
- Train the Trainers Sessions: Additional in-depth sessions for those implementing the initiative in their communities (e.g. teachers or administrative staff) to provide assistance on the different steps of the PB process, the possible challenges and solutions, to execute the inititative independently from TI Lithuania.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools involve a multi-step process that engage students, teachers, and school administration in deliberation, decision-making, and public interaction. The process is designed to be inclusive and foster a sense of ownership within the school community.
- Idea Generation Workshops: For the broader context, school staff (usually the principal) introduces students to the school's budgeting process. TI Lithuania then conducts workshops with students to brainstorm ideas for potential projects. These workshops aim to encouraging students to think critically about their school's needs and priorities.
- Project Proposal Forms Submission: Students are required to submit detailed idea proposals using designated forms. These forms included information on the idea's objectives, budget calculations, visualisation of idea, implementation plans, and potential impact on the school community.
- Voting Procedures: Schools are the ones responsible for deciding upon the voting rules. Most of the time, a plurality voting system is used where each student and staff member has one vote each. Voting could be done online through internal channels or in person, resembling a real election procedure. In the latter case, students are asked to provide their student IDs, sign, and receive a sticker afterwards. The results are then announced and the students are informed when they should expect the idea to be implemented.
- Implementation: School administrations are responsible for implementing the most popular idea with support from teachers, staff members, and sometimes parents or students themselves. In some cases, students take care of the whole process if the nature of the project allows it, e.g. repainting walls, crafting new benches, or refurbishing old desks. This stage allows participants to see their ideas come to fruition and witness the tangible impact of their involvement in the PB process.
Throughout this process, a consultancy group consisting of teachers or staff members provides guidance and support to students as they develop their idea proposals. These groups also help filter out the unimplementable ideas and merge similar ones before they are put up for voting.
Public interaction during the initiative is primarily focused on students, parents, staff involved in the PB process; however, in some cases, connections between municipal PB initiatives and school-based initiatives are fostered by inviting representatives of municipalities to meetings and events.
The PB initiative successfully engages a diverse range of voices within each participating school community. The process is designed to yield a formal decision, with the most popular idea being implemented in the school.
Overall, the PB initiative in Lithuanian schools provides an inclusive and engaging platform for students to participate in decision-making processes related to their school's budget allocation and improvement projects. By involving students in deliberation, decision-making, and public interaction, the initiative aims to foster a sense of ownership and responsibility within the school community while developing essential skills such as critical thinking, financial literacy, and working with peers .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools has had a significant impact on various aspects of the community. The results aligned with the project's theory of change, as it successfully involved students in decision-making processes and improved their understanding of budgeting and financial planning.
- Social fabric of the community: The initiative fostered trust between students and school administration, as well as a sense of community among students, teachers, and administrative staff who collaborated on projects to improve their schools .
- Individual attitudes and behavior: Students gained valuable skills in public speaking, financial planning, teamwork, and decision-making as well as a deeper understanding of the budgeting process through their involvement in the PB. The initiative led to an increase in pupils' understanding of school budgets, with 11.3% of pupils having a very good understanding after the initiative, compared to 1.5% before. Additionally, three times as many pupils knew a great deal about how to get involved in their schools with the administration after the initiative .
- Other actions/activities: The initiative encouraged connections between schools and municipalities, with representatives from municipalities attending meetings to discuss experiences and lessons learned from PB initiatives .
The initiative had a positive impact within individual schools, with an increasing number of schools adopting PB processes. 7 out of 10 pupils expressed a desire to decide on the use of the school budget every year, and 4 out of 5 pupils liked the Participatory Budget Initiative, which they tried for the first time. The number of pupils who knew whether their school received funding from the European Union also increased, with the number of pupils unable to answer this question dropping by one third after the initiative .
Recommendations for future PB initiatives include having a strong methodological framework; being adaptive during implementation; defining goals and success indicators to measure the impact of the inititative and better prepare for them in the future; building a community of PB schools; and connecting municipal PB initiatives with school-based initiatives.
The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools has been largely successful in achieving its intended results. It has increased student engagement in decision-making processes, improved financial literacy, and fostered a sense of community and trust between students and school administration. The initiative has also encouraged connections between schools and municipalities, promoting the sharing of experiences and best practices among different stakeholders.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools has provided valuable insights into the successes and challenges of implementing such programs in an educational setting. The initiative has been successful in increasing financial literacy among students, fostering higher engagement in decision-making processes, and creating a sense of ownership within the school community. However, there were challenges in adapting the process to different schools, age groups, and contexts; addressing language barriers with ethnic minority students; and defining success indicators.
For the analysis, Graham Smith's framework of democratic goods will be used to evaluate the quality and effectiveness of democratic processes. These democratic goods are divided into six categories: inclusion, considered judgement, popular control, transparency, efficiency, and transferability . By examining each of these categories in the context of this PB case study, we can gain insights into how well the process is functioning and promoting democratic values.
The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools is a commendable effort to engage students, teachers, and administrators in the decision-making process. This inclusive approach aims to increase financial literacy, foster a sense of ownership within the community, and ensure that all affected interests are represented. By targeting students from various age groups and ethnic minorities, such as Russian-speaking and Polish-speaking students, the initiative is adaptable to different school contexts and age groups.
The selection mechanisms employed in the PB process are designed to be open and accessible to all students, staff members, and administrators within the participating schools. This adaptability ensures equal opportunities for participation across different school contexts and age groups. The process involves workshops for idea generation, project proposal development, voting on proposals, and implementation of the winning idea. This approach ensures engagement from citizens across social groups and prevents marginalization or exclusion of any particular group.
Equality of voice is a crucial aspect of the PB initiative, as it provides equal opportunities for all participants to express their views and be heard on the issues under consideration. The institution encourages different types of contributions and offers resources to support those who may be intimidated by public speaking or political engagement. The voting procedure, a key aspect of the decision-making process, is designed to give each participant an equal say, with one vote per person.
To ensure inclusivity, the PB initiative provides support and resources to participants with less experience and confidence in political participation. Transparency International offers guidance, methodological guidelines, and assistance to schools throughout the process. They also encourage the involvement of teachers and school administrations, particularly in cases where students may need help with language barriers or other challenges. The initiative aims to integrate the PB process into formal education, making it more sustainable and accessible to students.
The PB initiative has demonstrated a strong commitment to promoting popular control, empowering students to directly influence the decision-making process. By involving students in the selection and definition of issues, the initiative ensures that their voices are heard and their preferences are taken into account. This is achieved through workshops, idea generation sessions, and voting procedures that allow students to suggest ideas, develop project proposals, and vote for their preferred options.
The initiative ensures that the outputs of democratic innovation are given due consideration and weight in future political decisions through the voting procedure. Students directly impact the decision-making process by voting for their preferred ideas. The potential for co-option is minimized as the initiative is designed to be inclusive and transparent, with students having equal opportunities to participate and influence the decision-making process. The involvement of a consultancy group, which helps filter and refine ideas, ensures that only viable projects are put forward for voting.
The implementation of the PB initiative in Lithuanian schools has led to increased trust between students and the administration, as students gain a better understanding of the challenges faced by the administration in making budget decisions. This trust is fostered through the transparency of the decision-making process, the involvement of students in the selection and definition of issues, and the direct impact of their votes on the final outcomes. The initiative also encourages students to take responsibility for their decisions and actions, fostering a sense of ownership and accountability within the school community.
However, the involvement of citizens in networks of governance in contemporary society remains limited and requires further development. The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools is a step in the right direction, but more efforts are needed to promote popular control and empower citizens to actively participate in decision-making processes at various levels of governance. This could involve expanding the scope of the initiative to include other sectors, such as healthcare, transportation, or environmental policy, or implementing similar initiatives in other countries to promote popular control and democratic innovation on a global scale.
The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools demonstrates a strong commitment to fostering considered judgement among its participants. This is evident through the provision of comprehensive and accessible information, opportunities for deliberation, inclusion of diverse perspectives, promotion of reflective thinking, accountability mechanisms, and outcome evaluation.
The PB initiative ensures that students receive clear and easy-to-understand information about the budgeting process and the needs of their school community. This is achieved through introductory events, workshops, and consultations tailored to suit the specific needs of different age groups and linguistic minorities. This approach enables all students to effectively engage in the process.
Meaningful deliberation is facilitated through idea generation workshops, project development, and a final event where students present their formalized projects and engage in a Q&A session. The structure of the deliberative process encourages participants to engage with diverse perspectives, promotes open-mindedness, and fosters dialogue among students, teachers, and administrators.
The PB initiative is designed to be inclusive and representative of different social groups, interests, and viewpoints. By targeting students from various age groups, linguistic minorities, and regions, a wide range of perspectives is considered. The involvement of parents, particularly for younger students, ensures that the wider school community is engaged in the decision-making process.
Students are encouraged to think critically and reflectively about the issues at hand through the various stages of the process. This involves considering the potential consequences of different policy options, questioning their own beliefs and assumptions, and engaging with diverse perspectives. This approach promotes a deeper understanding of the decision-making process and the importance of considered judgement in democratic institutions.
Accountability mechanisms are in place to ensure that participants are held responsible for their decisions and actions. The transparency of the decision-making process, involvement of consultancy groups, availability of feedback loops, and presence of checks and balances help to prevent the abuse of power and ensure that the outcomes of the process are legitimate and representative of the considered judgement of the participants.
The PB initiative in Lithuanian schools demonstrates a relatively high level of internal transparency. Students possess a clear understanding of the process, organizers, and the impact of the outputs on political decisions. The selection process for issues under consideration involves students in decision-making and enhances their financial literacy. Students propose ideas and vote for them, with the winning idea being implemented. The process is clearly explained to the students, and efforts are made to adapt the language and approach based on the age and context of the school.
Organizers, including Transparency International, municipalities, school administration, and consultancy groups, have well-defined roles and assist and guide schools throughout the process without interfering in decision-making. They also provide consultations and evaluations for the schools. The initiative aims to reduce the gap between the general population and local politicians, as well as between students, teachers, and school administrations. The outputs directly impact the school environment, with winning projects being implemented by the school administration. The level of engagement and participation varies across schools, but the process generally results in tangible improvements to the school environment.
The external transparency of the participatory budgeting initiative is moderate, with room for improvement in terms of interaction with the media and external actors. Information about the initiative is actively published and shared through various channels, including annual forums, workshops, and online platforms. Transparency International has published handbooks and impact evaluations about the initiative, which are available to the public.
The initiative has led to increased trust within the school community, as students feel more engaged and involved in the process. The level of public trust and legitimacy in the institution is not explicitly discussed in the interview, but the initiative has led to increased trust within the school community. Organizers make significant efforts to ensure transparency in the process, including providing clear guidelines, involving students in decision-making, and ensuring that the voting process is fair and transparent. However, there is limited interaction with the media or other external actors.
The implementation of PB in Lithuanian schools has demonstrated a balance between the costs associated with the initiative and the promotion of democratic goods. This analysis focuses on the democratic good criteria of Efficiency, which demands attention to the costs that participation can place on both citizens and public authorities.
Administrative costs for implementing PB in Lithuanian schools have been relatively low, as the initiative relies on existing school infrastructure and communication channels. Financial and bureaucratic resources have been provided by Transparency International, school administrations, and municipalities, with budgets ranging from 200 to 3,500 euros. The benefits of the initiative, such as increased financial literacy, civic engagement, democratic decision-making, transparency, and improved decision-making among students, appear to outweigh these costs.
The burden placed on students participating in the PB initiative is reasonable and acceptable. Students are expected to suggest ideas, vote on projects, and sometimes participate in the implementation of winning ideas. This burden promotes their interests and the perceived effectiveness of the initiative in achieving its goals and promoting democratic goods. Moreover, the burden on students is arguably lower than alternative decision-making processes that do not involve citizen participation, as it empowers them to have a direct say in decisions affecting their schools and fosters a sense of trust and understanding between all parties, potentially reducing conflicts and misunderstandings.
The PB initiative has been implemented in various political contexts, including different regions, school sizes, and linguistic minority schools in Lithuania. The acceptable costs and burdens associated with the initiative may vary depending on the specific context, such as the age of students, the school's internal communication, the level of engagement among students, the size of the school, and the level of support from the municipality. Nevertheless, the initiative appears to be appropriate and feasible given these contextual factors, as it has been successfully implemented in over 40 schools across Lithuania.
The interests of participants and supporting institutions in the PB initiative include promoting financial literacy, civic engagement, democratic decision-making, transparency, and improved decision-making among students. The perceived effectiveness of the initiative is supported by survey results showing increased understanding of school budgets and decision-making processes among students, as well as positive feedback from schools and the range of successful projects implemented. These perceived interests and effectiveness justify the costs and burdens associated with the initiative, as it contributes to the development of more informed and engaged citizens.
In comparison with alternatives, the efficiency of the PB initiative in promoting democratic goods and achieving its goals appears to be higher than alternative decision-making processes that do not involve citizen participation. The initiative empowers students to have a direct say in decisions affecting their schools, fostering a sense of ownership and responsibility within the school community, and potentially reducing conflicts and misunderstandings. Additionally, the PB process provides valuable learning experiences for students, such as understanding budgeting processes and the importance of civic engagement. Overall, the participatory budgeting initiative in Lithuanian schools demonstrates a balance between costs and democratic goods, contributing to the development of more informed and engaged citizens.
The PB initiative in Lithuania has demonstrated its adaptability and success across various scales, political systems, and types of issues. Over 40 schools and 38 municipalities have implemented the initiative, with participation rates ranging from 30% to 97% of all students. The initiative aims to increase citizen involvement in decision-making processes, improve financial literacy, and foster a sense of ownership in the community. Despite potential limitations, such as the size of the school or the level of engagement within the community, the PB initiative has proven to be effective in addressing issues within schools, such as infrastructure improvements, educational materials, and sports equipment.
The PB initiative can function effectively within different types of political systems, as it is adaptable to the specific needs and goals of each school and municipality. However, there may be specific political, social, economic, or cultural practices that could hinder the implementation of the innovation. For instance, language barriers in ethnic minority schools, legal restrictions on certain products, limited space for new projects, or a lack of awareness or understanding of the benefits of PB could pose challenges.
The degree of transfer of the PB initiative has been influenced by factors such as the availability of resources, the willingness of schools to participate, the level of engagement within the community, the support of school administrations, and the adaptability of the initiative to different contexts.
There is no coercion involved in the transfer of the innovation, as schools and municipalities voluntarily choose to participate in the initiative. The process is largely voluntary and driven by the needs and goals of individual schools and municipalities. However, the potential for coercion may arise if the Lithuanian government decides to make PB mandatory for all municipalities, which could affect the implementation and success of the innovation.
- Adapt and be flexible: One key lesson learned from this initiative is the importance of adapting the PB process to suit the specific needs and context of each school. This includes taking into account factors such as the age of the students, their level of understanding of financial concepts, and the school's internal communication dynamics. By being flexible and adaptive during implementation, schools can ensure that all participants have an equal opportunity to engage in the process.
- Encourage inclusive participation: Ensuring participation from all members of the school community, including students, teachers, and administrators, contributes to the success of the initiative. Inclusivity fosters diverse perspectives and promotes a sense of ownership and responsibility within the school community.
- Potential benefits of integrating PB into formal education: By connecting it to subjects like mathematics, economics, and literature, students can gain a deeper understanding of how these concepts relate to real-world decision-making processes. This integration could also help foster a culture of civic engagement among young people that extends beyond their time at school.
- Collaborate and share best practices: The PB initiative has benefited from collaboration between schools, municipalities, and organizations such as Transparency International. Sharing success stories, challenges, and solutions can help strengthen the initiative further and facilitate its implementation in new locations.
- Provide clear guidelines and support: Schools and participants need clear guidelines, information, and support to effectively navigate the PB process. Providing methodological guidance and resources, such as workshops and consultancy groups, can help participants better understand the process and their role in it.
- Foster connections between municipal and school-based initiatives: Building a network of schools and municipalities that implement PB can create a community of practice and encourage the sharing of experiences and best practices, enhancing the overall effectiveness of the initiatives.
- Evaluate and measure impact: Defining success indicators and conducting evaluations can help understand the impact of the initiative and guide improvements in design and implementation. Regular assessments can also help to ensure the initiative remains relevant and effective in fulfilling its goals.
Building on these successes and address shortcomings in future initiatives, the Transparency International Lithuania plans to improve their methodological framework by providing more detailed tools, case studies, and examples in a new third edition of their practical handbook . This will further guide schools through the process and ensure that best practices are followed.
Overall, the PB initiative in Lithuanian schools offers valuable insights and lessons for implementing similar initiatives in other contexts. By adapting to local needs, encouraging inclusive participation, providing clear guidelines and support, and fostering connections with other initiatives, the PB process can contribute to increased financial literacy, civic engagement, and a sense of ownership and responsibility within communities.
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