Aiming to improve transparency, legitimacy, and the ultimate results of decision-making processes, the city of Cologne implemented participatory budgeting in order to engage citizens in the process of allocating local resources.
Problems and Purpose
Political actors and decision-makers are facing growing criticism today that they are too far away from citizens and that they no longer adequately fulfill their integration function for society. In addition, facts and things that need to be decided have become more complex and difficult to understand. For these reasons, some are calling for closer and more direct involvement of citizens in political decision-making processes.
The participatory budget can now be classified precisely in this discourse and seen as an instrument for deeper participation opportunities. It presents the possibility of advising politicians at the local level and gives participants the chance to make suggestions for important sub-areas of urban politics. The aim is to increase the acceptance and legitimacy of decisions and, at the same time, possibly also to improve decision results, since expertise has been used by the citizens. As many suggestions as possible should first be heard in order to get as plural a picture as possible of the ideas of the citizens and to prevent smaller sub-groups from exerting too much influence. Ultimately, it is also a desirable goal to increase transparency about decision-making processes and to better convey how certain results are achieved. User-friendliness for a standardized and possibly not too complex procedure to involve citizens are further reasons for the implementation of the participatory budget. These quite ambitious goals were at play behind the 2010 citizens' budget in Cologne.
Background History and Context
The city of Cologne is one of the first major German cities to introduce a participatory budget in order to involve citizens of the city in the process of decision-making on allocating resources. The pilot came in 2008 and five more laps have now been completed.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The participatory budget is funded, organized, and implemented by the Cologne city administration. External service providers and actors are also involved. The agency "zebralog" is primarily responsible for the specific implementation and moderation of the process, while the Fraunhofer Institute for Intelligent Analysis and Information Systems (IAIS) is responsible for evaluating the data. The evaluation of the procedure was transferred from the city to the Institute for Science and Technology Research (IWT) at Bielefeld University.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The procedure is basically open to everyone. For participation, registration on the online site is necessary, in which socio-demographic data could be provided voluntarily. A total of 9,887 people took part and a comparatively broad and balanced distribution of different parts of the population was observed. However, a significant proportion of people with higher educational qualifications predominate, as is the case with most other procedures and with political participation in general. This also applies to the activity patterns from the population. Only 6.5% of all registered users made suggestions and 15% commented on them. A very active group of 30 people could be identified, most of whom made suggestions and comments. In principle, suggestions and comments are also written much more frequently by men. In turn, around 90% of all users participated in the voting. So that less internet-savvy people also had the opportunity to participate, there were free terminals through which the platform was accessible. Submissions that were not submitted digitally were also accepted and then placed on the site. 
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative involves 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 ideas and suggestions of the participants are mainly integrated via an online platform. In order not to exclude people without internet access or affinity, opportunities have been granted to visit the platform at certain locations where digital suggestions could be submitted, which were then put on the platform by the organizers. The final result flows into the deliberations and discussions in the city council on the budget, however, not least for legal reasons, the council members remain free in their decisions and are not bound by the results.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The participation options consist of three mechanisms: suggestions and comments on certain, predefined subject areas and voting with a pro or a contra vote. The contributions with the best pro vote difference are shown on a leaderboard and are checked by the administration after the participation phase to determine whether they are feasible. Afterwards, they may or may not find their way into the normal political decision-making process. If citizens' suggestions have been implemented, this is communicated on the platform, among other things. In order to achieve the highest possible level of mobilization, a wide variety of PR and advertising measures have been taken, both in the classic mass media and on the Internet. There were also information events for citizens. The effectiveness of individual measures can either be increased or questioned. Overall, the relatively high number of registrations compared to other political participation procedures shows that the procedure was generally known to a relatively large number of citizens in Cologne.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
There were a total of 1,254 suggestions with 4,562 comments and a much larger proportion of votes were pro votes (approx. 85%) than contra votes. The areas of school and education as well as environmental protection were served in particular. A comparatively large number of the suggestions made it onto the leaderboard, since only a very small difference in votes was enough to reach the leaderboards, which were fairly generously numbered. The city administration considers the implementation and the results to be successful and points out that some of the suggestions have subsequently been included in the budget.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The goals and desired results of the City of Cologne for the 2010 participatory budget were chosen quite ambitiously. Accordingly, the assessment of whether these have been achieved is ambivalent. Overall, the three main actors: administration, politicians, and citizens are impressed and satisfied with the overall concept, which is shown by surveys from the evaluation; the motivation to carry out a participatory budget in subsequent years was supported by a majority.
On the positive side is the fairly high participation rate and the gender balance. However, higher educational qualifications remain overrepresented and the distribution between the districts is also very divergent. The very small proportion of those who formulate proposals and write comments must be seen as problematic. There is a risk that the formulated proposals do not necessarily have to be representative, but this is somewhat offset by large coordination rates. The biggest point of criticism is how the results are dealt with by politicians and is mainly brought up by citizens. In terms of communication, it does not appear to be clear and transparent enough that suggestions are actually implemented. There should be improvements so that acceptance, legitimacy, and motivation to participate in the process remain with the participants.
All in all, the 2010 participatory budget can meet the goal of involving citizens and using their expertise for their own budget. It makes sense to analyze the households that have taken place in the following years and to compare trends in the individual areas.
 Knobloch, Tobias, Krohn, Wolfgang, and Taubert, Niels. (2011). Evaluierung des Kölner Bürgerhaushalts. Kassel University Press GmbH. p.31ff.
 Knobloch, Tobias, Krohn, Wolfgang, and Taubert, Niels. (2011). Evaluierung des Kölner Bürgerhaushalts. p.36ff.
 Knobloch, Tobias, Krohn, Wolfgang, and Taubert, Niels. (2011). p. 46ff.
 Knobloch, Tobias, Krohn, Wolfgang, and Taubert, Niels. (2011). p.59ff.
 Knobloch, Krohn, and Taubert. (2011). p. 117f.
https://buergerhaushalt.stadt-koeln.de/2015/ (last checked on: November 23, 2015)