This case details how Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue service initiated a participatory budgeting project in 2012 where local communities engaged in the process of deciding how to spend received funds, thereby engaging with one another and democratic processes.
This Participedia page was produced as part of the University of Southampton PAIR6053 final assessment.
Problems and Purpose
In 2011 and 2012, Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue service (DSFRS) ran a participatory budgeting project which distributed roughly £20,000 to their local communities . The scheme aimed to improve the engagement techniques of the DSFRS and allowed them to improve community safety. The DSFRS launched three pilots across the region with the intention of a fourth. These events took place in Honicknowle, Beacon Heath, and Minehead . The project improved awareness of members and groups in the communities of each other's needs, what they do, and how they can work collaboratively; DSFRS was among those who gained useful and unexpected contacts from the participatory budgeting program .
Background History and Context
Participatory budgeting does find itself with a representation within the South West . The South West Participatory Budgeting Development Group has been running since 2009, with aims of excellency in developing participatory budgeting and localism within the South West . The organisation has successful helped the encouragement of participatory budgeting events across the South West and in spring 2010 it estimated that there had been 19 projects across the South West, allocating a total of £761,000 . The group successful ran a conference in October 2010 sharing knowledge of participatory budgeting with local authorities . Redefining its scope, the group as of January 2011 is known as the South West Localism Group . Now not only focusing on participatory budgeting but on the grander scheme of the localism that the process promotes.
One of the organisations now involved with the South West Localism group was the DSFRS . In the Spring of 2010, an email was sent across the participatory budgeting unit’s network with the intention of recruiting and seeing if any fire and rescue service have taken part in participatory budgeting programmes . This resulted in DSFRS being the first fire and rescue service in England to host a major participatory budgeting project . Since their original involvement the DSFRS has strived to continue its work in the field of participatory budgeting. This has been done by continuing to support the South West Localism group, through funding and the attendance of their meetings. In fact, they provided the South West Localism group with a free venue for the South West Participatory Budgeting Conference, in addition to their help with coordinating and organising the event .
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
In the continued effort to support the process of participatory budgeting the DSFRS planned to carry out a series of Participatory budgeting pilots . It was decided that these pilots would be carried out based around a business planning structure .
A fire and rescue service in England is broken down into stations within their region . Each station has a local community plan, detailing the actions the service can carry out to protect the local community . Typically, this local community plan is created through the risk analysis of historical data within a community, choosing and targeting activities that the department deems most necessary . All the activities chosen are assessed and prioritised making sure that the goals of the station remain within budget. As an emergency service the funding for this local community plan is provided through the UK government . It was decided that for the participatory budgeting pilot the local communities would have a say in the allocation of funds within the plan. However, in the interest of safety most of the funds would still be allocated based upon risk analysis . The community would use participatory budgeting to determine how 5% of the station’s funds (approximately £5000) would be allocated, with a prioritisation of ideas and activities which both protected and engaged the community .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Many participatory budgeting processes use a selection and invitation process to establish their attendees . Through random selection of members of the local community they will hopefully fill the meeting with diverse range of individuals. The aim of this is to have the greatest representative range of members of community be that through gender, race, class, religion, and more, resulting in a strong cognitive diversity of participants . As participatory budgeting is still an undeveloped process within the UK the DSFRS did not use any selection or invitation process for the recruitment of their pilots . The recruitment process was instead based upon publicising information of the event and informing the community.
The DSFRS launched an advertisement scheme to get as many people aware and interested in the pilots as possible . A primary issue the DSFRS faced was a lack of knowledge of what a participatory budgeting process was. As such a portion of their advertisement had to be based around enlightening the public to participatory budgeting . Several methods were carried out in the different locations where the pilots took place.
In Honicknowle there was a press release used to gain the attention of the event and a radio interview . These methods also advertised a community bus which would travel around the area providing information as to what participatory budgeting was and how the process would take place on the night.
In Beacon Heath information gathering activities were carried out with statutory agencies, local government and community groups involved in the Beacon Heath area . These activities and workshops not only advertised the event but also provided members of the community with relevant information. To further increase attendance participatory budgeting application forms were also distributed amongst residents .
In Minehead the DSFRS sent out emails and calls to community groups to help register interest, along with electronic flyers which were sent out to the local free press . To help the DSFRS gauge the public interest in this pilot they also hosted two initial awareness evening where they had an open floor discussion about the process, answering any questions the community had .
Methods and Tools Used
The project of course used participatory budgeting. A process by which citizens collectively decide the allocation of funds for projects within their community . This process allows for many benefits for the DSFRS, being community engagement, increased knowledge, and bolstering a democratic system. To carry out this process though the DSFRS had to select between two methods for their participatory budgeting pilot . The models have been labelled as:
· Model 1 - Community Safety menu
· Model 2 – Community safety innovation
Model 1 is based around use a set list of choices for the participants to decide the allocation of funding . Through the local community plan and the risk analysis carried out by a station, plenty of activities and actions are already labelled as being beneficial for the local community . Therefore, the DSFRS was able to create a menu of possible funding options. This menu allowed members of the community to help allocate funding, whilst ensuring the options presented to them provided a strong impact towards safety and prevention. From this select list of activities the community would then vote on their preferred option, resulting in a ranked list of funding options .
Model 2 was built around innovation and the exploration of solutions towards risk prevention . This model works by allowing the local community to make bids on funding options for the DSFRS. 5 days before the participatory budgeting pilot members of the community would be able to submit a form for their proposal. Their proposal would then be assessed by DSFRS against several criteria; the potential to increase knowledge, reduce risk, save lives, reduce causalities, and address anti-social behaviour . Any bids which met the criteria successful would then be presented to the local community at the pilot where they could be then voted upon.
The evaluation report from the DSFRS presents a table of the comparisons between the two models .
*Table not uploaded*
Ultimately the DSFRS went with model 2 as their designated model for the pilots . This model was chosen as they felt it better allowed for the innovation and engagement of the local community and resulted in risks being addressed which the DSFRS may not have considered in previous prevention schemes .
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
As stated previously, the model selected by DSFRS was the community safety innovation model . Therefore, the first step before all events held by the DSFRS was the submission of funding proposals. These proposals were submitted by members of the local community and could be submitted by either individuals or collectives. The submissions would be judged by the DSFRS and assessed as to whether they were appropriate, within budget and effectively helped the goals of the DSFRS . If a submission was successful, it would then be presented and voted on during the participatory budgeting event.
There were three events hosted by the DSFRS across the Devon and Somerset . These events took place Honicknowle, Beacon Heath, and Minehead. Whilst all events followed the same process of pre-event proposal submission and presentation of proposals on the night, each varied slightly in the engagement and voting style .
The Honicknowle event took place on the 23rd of November 2011 and saw approximately 100 members of the local community attending . Members of the public had a funding total of £8440 to allocate to proposals, this event being the only pilot to receive additional funding from outside the DSFRS from the Plymouth’s Anti-Social behaviour board . Members of the community met at the Honicknowle community centre and presented and discussed submitted proposals. The voting style used was that of a ballot paper, where individuals voted their top 4 projects in preference order . It was made explicitly clear that any ballots with only one proposal would not be accepted and it was also enforced that only those who had stayed for all the presentations would be able to cast votes .
The Beacon Heath event took place on the 12th of March 2012 and had an attendance of 25 people . The total funding of this event was £5440 provided entirely by the DSFRS. The pilot took place in Beacon Heath Church and followed the standard layout discussed in the previous event; however, a different voting technique was used. At this event the attendees voted on a scale of preference and DSFRS applied a 1st past the post process, deducting the amount of funding requested from the total funding pool until there was none left .
The Minehead event took place on the 27th of February 2012 and had 50 people in attendance . This event held the smallest funding pool of £5000 provided entirely by the DSFRS. The pilot was held at the Minehead eye and followed the standard approach of proposal submission and presentations. The voting style then used by the attendees was score cards which were used to rank the proposals . Own group voting was not allowed.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The outcome to all events can be viewed as successful and progressive for the DSFRS . The DSFRS set out to achieve two goals, the successfully allocation funds for risk prevention and strengthening community engagement . At all three events held by the DSFRS this was achieved.
A list of all funding proposals at the 3 events is provided below from the evaluation report .
*Table not uploaded*
These tables demonstrate all the funding projects which were achieved by the community. All these projects which were funded demonstrate improvement of safety or bettering the community. This shows that beyond simply arranging the events the DSFRS has been able to allocate a percentage of its budget to projects which the community cares about and feels are necessary. This is a successful outcome as it shows that the community can have an impact through participatory budgeting events. However, the details of the successes and impacts of the projects are not detailed . It is of course likely that some funding projects hold more promise than others and some will not be as successful. However, this does not degrade from the what the process achieved.
It should of course be noted that there were many other outcomes from the process beyond simply funding projects. These events successful brought the community together and got them to engage as a collective to better their regions . As such the DSFRS found that the following outcomes were achieved through the process. Different groups within the community are now aware of each other and have begun to collaborate more . The process has helped develop DSFRS staff and increased local intelligence of the DSFRS . People have also begun to focus on improving their quality of life through the increase in community capacity building .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Whilst the process showed success in what the DSFRS aimed to achieve there were still plenty of improvements that could be made. The DSFRS discovered several areas in which tweaks and adjustments could be carried out . Whilst these are not major faults to the process it is important to recognise any improvements which can be made for future participatory budgeting events.
In terms of training the DSFRS felt there should be no major deviations from the current layout . The only change they do feel would be beneficial is a focus upon the individuals carrying out the events as opposed to the strategic lead . If they are trained specifically in participatory budgeting techniques they are more equipped to lend knowledge to the attendees and help increase their engagement .
More resources on participatory budgeting were felt to be needed to increase community knowledge . This could be files such as testimonials or video clips of past events made public by the DSFRS . These files can help people with little understanding of participatory budgeting to gain insight into how the process works and the benefits it could have on their community. It would also help to increase the confidence of individuals and groups to put forward proposals as they would have knowledge of previously successful bids . Even as a small change this information would be an easy step to increasing community knowledge. This community knowledge could also be expanded to the sharing of knowledge on how a standard process is carried out. It is important that the public understand the timescales and process of what they are signing up for .
The model used for the pilots was a big area of discussion for the DSFRS . They weighed up and discussed the pros and cons of two different approaches, ultimately deciding to use community innovation . Whilst the DSFRS are confident this was to correct model to use, for future events different models should be considered for different regions. Whilst the community innovation method is effective all communities are different and as such different levels of engagement are needed . Therefore, for future events not one singular model will be used, rather appropriate models will be selected for different communities.
In terms of an analysis of these participatory budgeting pilots we can use a template for judging their effectiveness. Graham Smith has created a framework for us to discuss the democratic innovation of the process known as the six “democratic goods” . These “democratic goods” are inclusion, considered judgement, popular control, transparency, transferability, and efficiency and through the analysis of all six we can judge the DSFRS’s process.
In terms of inclusion, we can comfortably say that this asset has been achieved. The events run by the DSFRS were open to anyone within the local community and did not discriminate against any groups or individuals . They went to strong lengths to make the community aware of the public and knowledgeable of the process. The only change that could have been implemented was perhaps sending out random invitations to members of the local community. This will inevitably increase the cognitive diversity of the attendees and mean the process is not made up of what can be considered the “same old people” .
“Considered judgement” is the time, planning and thought which goes into creating a deliberative process . This is not something the DSFRS can be faulted for, they carried out sufficient training on all staff involved and took the time to research to develop their process . They effectively weighed the importance of different models and locations, creating a process which allowed for a strong impact amongst communities.
“Popular control” is the power which is placed in the hands of the attendees at a deliberative process . Whilst only a small portion of the DSFRS budget was allocated to the process the “popular control” of this event was strong . Through the selection of the community innovation method, it allowed the community to be the brains behind the funding solutions . If the DSFRS was to go with the community safety menu model this would have reduced the element of popular control, diminishing the power the community had in the solutions . During the events the proposal selection was entirely in the hands of the community, it was not a matter of the DSFRS having the final say . As such, the “popular control” is very effectively in the hands of the community.
Transparency was handled well by the DSFRS. They made clear what the process was, the budget they would be allocating and strived to inform the community of participatory budgeting . As mentioned however, more resources could have been made available to the public to help improve their knowledge and understanding of the process.
It is easy to see how the process is transferable, as the general project is relatively simple . Whilst it would take strong leadership and organisation the model and process used by the DSFRS could easily be adopted and used by other organisations. The DSFRS could if they wish help to educate other emergency services on using participatory budgeting helping to engage their communities.
Efficiency is an interesting topic to examine. In general, the actual process and event runs generally efficiently, with outcomes of allocated budget reached without major conflict . Of course, an improvement to the staffs training would help to increase the efficiency at the events. The main fault with efficiency comes from the need to educate the public on participatory budgeting. This means time and resources must be dedicated away from advertisement, the event and funding into making sure the public is knowledgeable . However, it is not a fault of the DSFRS and is a result of the lack of mainstream knowledge of participatory budgeting . As such, whilst there are some flaws in efficiency this is entirely not the fault of DSFRS.
Therefore, we can say with confidence the DSFRS participatory pilots adhere to the six “democratic goods”. They have created a genuinely effective scheme and successfully allowed the community to engage with their service . Through their pioneering of participatory budgeting, they have paved the way for rescue services across England and done their part to strengthen their community bond.
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