In 2014 the city of Melbourne held its first experience in participatory budgeting, the Melbourne's People's Panel. The panel comprised a Citizens' Jury of 43 Melburnians who were asked by Melbourne City Council to comment on the Council's 10-year, $5 billion financial plan.
Problems and Purpose
The Melbourne People's Panel was convened by Melbourne City Council to comment on the council's first-ever 10-year financial plan. The panel of 43 Melburnians - made up of businesses, residents and students - provided recommendations on the $5 billion plan for Melbourne's spending strategy in the coming decade.
Notably, the panel were deliberating upon the entire budget, worth $400 million a year. The jurors were also given all financial information and data that they requested. permajoritarian (80%+1) but the panel also reached unanimous consensus on a number of recommendations.
The jury was guided by the following principles provided by the Council: to be specific, realistic and forward thinking and for their ideas to be sustainable, achieveable, relevant to the challenges and to add value to the city. They were also supported to ask questions and expand their thinking.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Melbourne People's Panel was organised by the City of Melbourne Council and was facilitated by the New Democracy Foundation, an independent research organisation.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
A random stratified sample of 43 residents, business owners and students was selected to take part in the panel. There was a 50/50 split of business owners and residents: this was in order to recognise that businesses (large and small) make up 70% of commercial ratepayers, whilst ensuring that the panel also included a cross-section of Melburnian residents. To maximise the response rate of the 18-24 age group, an additional sample was drawn from University of Melbourne students. 90% of the panel had no prior involvement with the Council.
In addition to the panel, there was a broader community engagement process which was open to all. People could engage with the topic through a variety of engagement techniques including a pop-up policy booth, workshop and an online budget simulator. Over 600 people contributed to the broader community engagement, the results of which were presented to the panel.
Methods and Tools Used
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Prior to the jury of 43 citizens meeting face-to-face, a broader community engagement strategy was rolled out in July - August 2014. Ultimately the aim of this was to try and include as many voices as possible to increase the possibility of consensus. A variety of methods were used to elicit broader community feedback on the draft 10-year-plan, including:
- eight pop up events with Policy Booth
- workshops and discussion events with community organisation, stakeholder groups and individuals
- small discussion groups for indigenous peoples and elderly citizens
- online engagement tool, Participate Melbourne
Following the community consultation, all feedback went into a community report that was then presented to the panel during the deliberative process.
The panel itself, selected and facilitated by New Democracy Foundation, followed a citizens jury format. The entire process, encompassing the broader community engagement and the panel, is described as a participatory budgeting approach. The panel also embraced aspects of co-design, with jurors inputting into the design of the process.
The panel received relevant information during the learning phase in a number of ways including:
- an introductory reading kit explaining the structure and workings of the Council
- panel sessions with experts
- stakeholder panel discussions
- speed dialogue sessions with councillors
- ongoing online forum discussions
Decisions during the process were made by supermajoritarian (80%+1) voting, with the jury also reaching a unanimous consensus on a number of the final recommendations.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
On November 8th 2014 the jury's report comprising their 11 recommendations was released. Representatives from the People's Panel presented their recommendations directly to the Council at a special committee meeting on November 14th. Following analysis and consideration, it was agreed that the panel's recommendations would be embedded into the final 10-year plan.
In June 2015, the Council unanimously endorsed the 10-year financial plan to guide how Melbourne spends and develops financially over the next decade. The final 10-year plan is 'heavily influenced by the recommendations proposed by Council's People's Panel'. The City of Melbourne financial plan supports, either in principle or in practice, the vast majority of the panel's recommendations.
A further outcome of the panel's recommendations was the creation of a draft Asset Management Strategy. This goes in hand with the financial plan and was developed in response to the panel's consideration of the assets required to ensure Melbourne's continued flourishing in the next decade.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Evaluation of the People's Panel was carried out by Clear Horizon Consulting, an independent organisation. Evaluators sought to establish how well the process had adhered to the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) standards for public participation. The evaluation found that all seven IAP2 standards were either 'well expressed' or 'expressed at the highest level of achievement' and that the process was high effective and appropriate in delivering effective community engagement. In addition:
"...the process was highly effective and/or appropriate on a range of other good practice community engagement criteria, including: the adequacy of engagement scoping and planning; the usefulness of community input received through the engagement process; the influence of engagement on the decision making process; and the impact of the engagement on the reputation of the City of Melbourne. Finally, the participatory budgeting process for the 10 Year Financial Plan was found to be good value for money."
Participate Melbourne 10-year plan (majority of reports, publications and updates can be found here):
New Democracy Foundation (including links to media coverage):