In 2010, the London Borough of Redbridge Council implemented the You Choose budget consultation tool, aiming to broaden interactivity between the local council and its residents as well as educate citizens through democratic participation on the online consultation platform.
Problems and Purpose
Redbridge Council made it clear to participants that this online consultation was intended to establish a more efficient way of conducting a mass public opinion poll, and was not a case of direct democracy and that should not be compared to exercising a vote. The outcomes of the consultation were to be provided to the council officials only to provide context for public opinion and helpful considerations in the budget-setting process. The results "should be understood as an alternative to opinion polling to inform members’ decisions, not as direct democracy.” 
Background History and Context
Redbridge Council decided to implement the You Choose Budget Consultation tool in 2010 after poor feedback from the 2009 paper-based opinion polling consultation method. 95,000 paper based documents were sent out to residents of Redbridge in 2009 and the Redbridge Council received a low 2100 written replies, half of what the 2010 You Choose Budget Consultation program got. 
You Choose has been implemented three times by Redbridge Council. The first, in 2008, asked residents' opinions on capital spending and land. The second time, which witnessed a far more developed program, was implemented in 2010 in the run up to a major savings three-year budget program. Lastly, in 2012 Redbridge Council asked its electorate their opinions on yet another three-year budget plan.
Another version of You Choose was created to demonstrate how national government budget consultation may look. In partnership with YouGov, a sample audience of 2000 individuals were tested following interest from 10 Downing Street in the run up to the 2010 general election and its aftermath. However, the Treasury decided to close the program down. The reasons given for this by Roger Hampson was two fold. First, the Treasury argued that the timescale required for developing the program was too long. Secondly, individuals may be overwhelmed by assembling the entire budget of the United Kingdom, a concern which Roger Hampson disagreed with.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Redbridge Council worked with YouGov and the Local Government Association to encourage participation on a national scale, and formed sponsorships with more than fifty other local councils throughout the United Kingdom, allowing their residents to participate in the program. Through participation on a national scale, it is possible to make a comparative analysis of results of various different local councils.
The program was primarily founded by the Local Government Association, allowing You Choose to be offered at no cost to other councils throughout the United Kingdom. Funding was provided by Redbridge Council in a cash sum of £25,000 and YouGov £25,000, with the Local Government Association purchasing the tools required for maintenance. However, the cost is dramatically higher when considering labour costs and time spent on the project as a whole.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
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Methods and Tools Used
Through much deliberation with elected council officials, You Choose was developed by providing individuals realistic options to how they could successfully manage the local council budget. By formulating a budget simulation tool and offering it to the public, a method similar to, but falling short of, participatory budgeting was used. The public was encouraged to show their preferences on how they believe the budget should be implemented by their local council, be it an increase or decrease in certain departments funding. In order to achieve this, a simplified experience that would allow the public to make an informed budgeting critique was required. This was achieved through the interactivity of the internet, which enables easily accessible and detailed explanations in a way that could not be accomplished by the prior paper polling method. Roger Hampson, former Chief Executive of the London Borough of Redbridge, claimed that this was one of the marvels of using the internet as a platform for budgetary consultations: "If you clicked on one of those broad categories, it would tell you as much information as you liked about all of those things”. Moreover, the internet enabled the council to instantly reach their residents and obtain an opinion on matters of urgency quickly and effectively.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Redbridge Council provided a budget breakdown and applied a maximum council tax rate increase. From this point on, it was up to the individuals to select where they believed an increase or decrease in department funding was necessary, noting that an increase in one department consequently reduced the funding for other. Indeed, council residents were encouraged by Redbridge Council to provide a detailed analysis of how they would like their local council to perform its budgeting: “pound for pound, service for service, service mix for service mix, set out your preferences.”  Thus, You Choose can be described as a forced choice tool since participants were obligated to balance the budget before being able to upload their response. This ensured that individuals did not only submit their preferences to departments that would directly influence them personally, but looked to the big picture of balancing the budget. The traditional paper polling method would be disadvantageous compared to the qualitatively structured internet-based program. For example, the ability to recalculate departmental funding in response to increases or decreases in other departments may be more limited offline.
Through developing budget consultation tools online, Redbridge Council saw internet traffic on its website increase from 20,000 views a week to 70,000, showcasing a dramatic increase in public interaction. The first You Choose Budget Consultation tool in 2010 received over 4000 submissions, which is twice as many as the previous traditional paper-polling method. By 2013, the total sum of submissions had risen to 19,000 and in 2016 the total sat at 27,337.  An independent report by YouGov determined that these budget consultations were representative of the population.
However, due to the high levels of public interaction, results had to be scrutinized and complied to show which individuals were residents of a specific local council. This compartmentalization ensured representation on a local council basis and opinions be presented to their relevant council officials. Therefore, the representativeness aspect of the local base council of Redbridge was not compromised.
Regarding decisions formed by the You Choose budget consultation, a high number of the public participants believed there should be a reduction of ‘back office’ operations and that there should be a lower officer wage, along with a reduction in the number of managers employed.  The public also cut non-statutory services more than social care or educational support. From this data, councils all around the United Kingdom have implemented budgets that reflect these opinions. Indeed, a majority of all boroughs throughout the United Kingdom, with the exception of Cambridgeshire which resulted in a local referendum, expressed their opinions in a budget that would include a decrease in Council Tax. A more detailed examination of the results obtained by the 2012 and 2013 Budgetary Consultations can be found online, allocating specific preferences depending on the department.
Participants were asked to deliberate on an unavoidable £25 million in savings target. Redbridge Council asked its residents to “put themselves in the shoes of councillors making the final budget decisions.” 
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The increased public engagement on the council website improved the ability of the council to quickly ask its residents opinions on urgent questions about the budget. Moreover, through creating a comments section on its website, the council managed to convene Cabinet meetings online. Before the program was accessible online, average attendance to Cabinet meetings was around 50 people every six weeks. Whereas, You Choose internet meetings brought approximately 5,000 people into the discussion. Furthermore, as with minutes of meetings, the comments section online remains accessible to the public as a point of reference.
The You Choose Budget Consultation directly influenced the council Cabinet conclusions as the results of the consultation were handed to Cabinet officials whilst they were developing the budget. If the council had implemented a budget program that did not resemble the budget consultation, then “politicians would have to change their policy or explain why an unpopular decision was the right one.” Here You Choose is seen as a tool for increasing accountability of elected officials.
Hence the four main proposals accumulated by the Redbridge Consultation were submitted to the officials responsible for setting the budget on 28th February 2013. Direct correlation can be seen by comparing the results of You Choose and the final council’s budget program. Indeed, all proposals made by the council had high levels of support, ranging from 69 to 83% of the population, and echoed the results provided by the You Choose program.
Due to its accomplishment, You Choose has since been implemented directly into other councils' budgetary consultation programs throughout the United Kingdom. For example, this occurred in Nottingham City Council for its 2016/2017 budget and by Cambridge City Council in its Budget Consultation 2014. Moreover, it is slowly being implemented again by the Redbridge Council to help it reach a £70 million savings target by 2017/2018.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Overall, the You Choose budgetary consultation program can be seen as a success story for local councils interacting more efficiently with their residents. Successful budgetary reforms have been placed due to this program. Having an online budgetary consultation allows for increased legitimacy and accountability of council officials when passing the budget, and enables more diverse conversations and ideas on ways the council can improve its budget, through increased public participation.
Indeed, Redbridge Council learned that through implementing an online consultation, it can reach public interaction levels that had previously been unimaginable. Even more so, it allowed for further scope of opinion polls on future decisions that will allow the council to open “pre-decisions scrutiny and consultations by public bodies,” to the masses.
When considering the You Choose budget consultation tool program and citizen engagement within government in general, Professor Beth Noveck of MIT, former US Deputy Chief Technology Officer and the author of Wiki Government, stated that the target of increasing citizen engagement within democratic governments is for the government to be able to work more efficiently through means of increased innovative ideas and greater data being compiled: “We need to tap the best ideas that we can get – not only the best thinking but the best doing, acting and creating of new innovations that allow us to tackle challenges.”
Problems and Challenges
Several problems were encountered throughout the budgeting consultation which demanded Redbridge Council to improve accessibility and representativeness. The first and most obvious problem was that through using an online consultation tool, older people would be under-represented as they may lack the expertise to work online or the means to connect onto the internet, a problem of the so-called digital divide. To combat this problem, Redbridge Council initiated a major outreach program that would safeguard the representative aspect of the operation. Laptops and computers were provided to day care centres, communal spaces, and libraries that would encourage participation from the elderly or disabled; as well as educating workers to provide assistance and offering a guide online. This succeeded in its goal as results analysed by YouGov report that 10% of submissions were made through the outreach program and 13% of all submissions uploaded came from individuals who claimed to be disabled. 
Another problematic technical aspect was to ensure that no one individual would be able to upload multiple online responses. To prevent this, Redbridge Council demanded adequate personal information about the individuals participating in order to ensure equal representation. Therefore, no individual could upload multiple suggestions online with the same information. Nevertheless, this process had to be done sensitively as asking too much information from participants could consequently become a barrier as individuals may become uninterested if too many personal details are required.
You Choose as a Democratic Innovation
You Choose can be considered an innovation in democratic practice as citizens are able to successfully participate and assist in conversations regarding matters of their local council. Moreover, as the platform is online, data compiled from the survey which include age, ethnic origin, gender and more can be downloaded and analysed in CSV and XML formats to show how opinions change over time and pin-point individual departments which have seen certain levels of scrutiny by the general public. This innovation can be seen as demonstrating how eDemocracy can be implemented within the United Kingdom. Falling short of being a direct participatory budgetary program, You Choose allows council officials to have a better understanding of their electorates' wishes and opinions, meanwhile also obtaining other outside-the-box ideas of determining the local budget. Without any obligation to do so, citizens in their tens of thousands login to You Choose and express their opinions and in doing so can feel like their voice has been acknowledged by their local council, thereby improving their conception and understanding of representative democracy.
Redbridge Council can be seen to be using aggregative democracy innovations through You Choose as it is giving privilege to public opinion surveys when formulating decisions. However, this program falls short of obtaining a self-government methodology as it is a consultation tool and was not developed with participatory democracy in mind. Nonetheless, You Choose is certainly inclusive of the public into council affairs which reaffirms its place as an innovation in democratic practice.
 Publications.parliament.uk, (2013). House of Commons - Public Administration Committee: Written evidence submitted by London Borough of Redbridge (PE 9). [online] Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubadm/75/7... [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016]. p. 3
 House of Commons (2013) House of Commons – Public Administration Select Committee: Public engagement in policy-making. Second Report of Session 2013-2014. [online] Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubadm/75/75.pdf [Accessed 2 April 2016] p. 57
 Youchoose.esd.org.uk, (2016). About You Choose. [online] Available at: http://youchoose.esd.org.uk/redbridge/AboutYouChoose/Index/2010 [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016]. [DEAD LINK]
 House of Commons (2013) House of Commons – Public Administration Select Committee: Public engagement in policy-making. Second Report of Session 2013-2014. [online] Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubadm/75/75.pdf [Accessed 2 April 2016] p. 53
 Publications.parliament.uk, (2013). House of Commons - Public Administration Committee: Written evidence submitted by London Borough of Redbridge (PE 9). [online] Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubadm/75/7... [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016]. p. 1
 Publications.parliament.uk, (2013). House of Commons - Public Administration Committee: Written evidence submitted by London Borough of Redbridge (PE 9). [online] Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubadm/75/7... [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016]. p. 2
 Publications.parliament.uk, (2013). House of Commons - Public Administration Committee: Written evidence submitted by London Borough of Redbridge (PE 9). [online] Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubadm/75/7... [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016]. p. 4
 Results of You Choose 2013. (2013). [online] Www2.redbridge.gov.uk. https://www2.redbridge.gov.uk/cms/the_council/about_the_council/redbridge_conversation_2013/results_of_youchoose_2013.aspx [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016]. [DEAD LINK]
Update: similar information can be found at https://data.redbridge.gov.uk/View/democracy/you-choose-results
 Publications.parliament.uk, (2013). House of Commons - Public Administration Committee: Written evidence submitted by London Borough of Redbridge (PE 9). [online] Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubadm/75/7... [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016]. p. 5
 House of Commons (2013) House of Commons – Public Administration Select Committee: Public engagement in policy-making. Second Report of Session 2013-2014. [online] Available at: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmpubadm/75/75.pdf [Accessed 2 April 2016] p. 52
 YouGov and Local Government Association. (2015). [online] Local.gov.uk. Available at: http://www.local.gov.uk/research-youchoose-tool. [DEAD LINK]
 DataShare and Redbridge, L. (2016). Download You Choose results - DataShare. [online] Data.redbridge.gov.uk. Available at: http://data.redbridge.gov.uk/Download/democracy/you-choose-results [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016].
You Choose Budget Consultation Guide available at: http://www.local.gov.uk/c/document_library/get_file?uuid=a984fc3b-4d1a-4828-8c6d-64034d2ec478&groupId=10180 [Accessed 2 Apr. 2016]. [DEAD LINK]
You Choose Redbridge 2008: http://conv2008.redbridge.gov.uk/conversation/ [DEAD LINK]
Update: similar information at Meeting Minutes on Redbridge Conversation 2008: http://moderngov.redbridge.gov.uk/documents...
You Choose Redbridge 2010: http://youchoose.yougov.com/redbridge [DEAD LINK]
- Initial Results Report: http://moderngov.redbridge.gov.uk/documents/...
- Consideration of written responses report: http://moderngov.redbridge.gov.uk/documents/s51044...
You Choose Redbridge 2012: https://www.local.gov.uk/sites/default/files/documents/companion-report-o-youcho-582.pdf
You Choose Redbridge 2012 comments: http://forums.redbridge.gov.uk/yaf_postst1830_Redbridge-Conversation-You-Choose.aspx [DEAD LINK]
You Choose Redbridge 2012 Results: http://www2.redbridge.gov.uk/cms/the_council/about_the_council/redbridge_conversation_2013/you_choose_results_2012.aspx [DEAD LINK]
Update: similar information at Redbridge Conversation 2012 – initial results and outcomes of consultation
You Choose Redbridge 2013 Results in CSV and XML formats: http://data.redbridge.gov.uk/Download/democracy/you-choose-results
You Choose Redbridge 2015: http://moderngov.redbridge.gov.uk/documents/s102366/You%20Choose%202015%20Interim%20Results.pdf
You Choose Nottingham City Council 2016/2017: http://www.nottinghamcity.gov.uk/budget16 [DEAD LINK]
You Choose Cambridge City Council Budget Consultation 2014: https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/consultations/budget-consultation-2014 [DEAD LINK]
ParticipateDB You Choose 2010: http://www.participatedb.com/projects/252
Redbridge Council Website Budget Consultations: https://engagement.redbridge.gov.uk/strategy/budget1920/
Challenges with data collection
Redbridge Council updated the website of You Choose shortly after this entry was posted on Participedia causing the deletion of all links and URLs.