Participatory Budgeting was introduced into Dundee, Scotland in 2018, as part of an initiative called 'Dundee Decides', giving the citizens control over the allocation of the £1.2million Community Infrastructure Fund.
Problems and Purpose
The purpose of the introduction of Participatory Budgeting (PB) to local government in Dundee is to give its citizens a more direct form of participation, and greater control over the allocation of the Dundee City Council Community Infrastructure Fund. This follows a growing interest in the use of Participatory Budgeting for managing core public budgets, and the services on which they are spent, such as health, roads, housing and infrastructure. The system by which local government budgets were allocated before the introduction of ‘Dundee Decides’ involved local government representatives choosing to fund projects and areas that they felt were most deserving of the funding. While this system is not fundamentally flawed, Participatory Budgeting’s introduction is important in ensuring this process is as democratic and as effective as possible; local government representatives, albeit being elected by the citizens, have bounded rationality and naturally do not always make decisions that accurately reflect the views and opinions of the citizens. It’s important to recognise that the £1.2million budget would have likely been spent in similar areas and on similar projects under the old system, therefore the purpose of PB is simply to ensure that it is spent in a way that matches as closely as possible to the interests of the citizens. The use of this method also allows citizens to become state-sanctioned decision makers, removing the burden of difficult decision-making regarding allocation of resources from the local government officials, and placing it in the hands of the citizens.
Background History and Context
As the Dundee Pilot Participatory Budgeting Programme displays, the inaugural use of PB in Dundee, and in Scottish local government in general, has been modelled on its success in Brazil from the 1980s onwards, such as in Porto Alegre where $200 million is allocated through PB per annum, following the collapse of authoritarian regime. Brian Wampler has suggested that PB has become ‘one of the world’s most well-known and widely adopted participatory programs’ (Wampler 2012), while Abigail Friendly has suggested that ‘since the height of participatory budgeting in Brazil in the late 1980s, the practice has expanded around the world and has been documented in about 1,500 cities’ (Friendly 2016). It is no surprise, therefore, to see the expansion of PB reaching Western democracies, and also becoming more dominant in local governmental politics; until ‘Dundee Decides’, PB in Scotland had followed a 'small grants' model, and now has opened the door to a more mainstream model of PB.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Dundee City Council funding the chosen projects with the £1.2 million Community Infrastructure fund, and a support grant from the Scottish Government as part of a ‘Community Choices’ scheme. All 8 city wards received an equal £150,000 to be spent as decided by the citizens of that ward through the vote.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Dundee City Council used various methods to ensure sufficient levels of participation. Among these methods is the decision to have a voting age of 11+, with a short animation film and a comic strip created to promote the scheme to the younger demographic. Similarly, the use of e-Voting ‘allowed for wide-ranging access to the [voting] process’ and engaged the younger, technological age group through participation schemes such as a ‘vote on your phone’ initiative. The council also held a number of community events across all 8 wards to give citizens the chance to gain an understanding about the different projects that were to be involved in the vote, and the ways in which they could participate. Participation was wholly successful - 11,472 votes were received, equating to over 10% of the eligible 11+ population, while 76.8% of the participants that responded to a survey run simultaneously by the Council, said that they had never participated in decisions about their local community before.
Methods and Tools Used
Participatory Budgeting is an innovative democratic tool that can be used to allow citizens to become state-sanctioned policymakers, in order to produce the most democratic outcomes in local governance. In the case of Dundee, the method was suitable as it allowed a direct relationship between the local government and the community's citizens, in order to best allocate a fund that would have been spent on the community regardless. Another significant tool used in this case was the introduction of e-Voting, allowing participation from the home and in schools and removing the so-called inconvenience of the polling booth, along with an extensive eight week voting period. To counter any concerns about the security of e-Voting, a series of the system's security measures were clarified and specified to voters, including encryption of votes and identification of suspicious voting and voter fraud. Dundee doesn't have a history involving the use of participatory budgeting, and in fact is relatively late onto the scene with the Scottish government introducing it at a small level in 2014. However the success of its inaugural use in Dundee has showed that mainstream PB can be effective in Scotland, and this is largely due to the emphasis on participation and ensuring that the initiative was accessible by as many of the community as possible.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The interactive nature of the 'Dundee Decides' initiative allowed participants to debate the allocation of the Community Infrastructure Fund with each other and increase the understanding of budget allocation, and of the various projects in their respective wards. The council ran a series of community events across all eight wards, giving residents direct access to Dundee City Council Workers for information about the developments involved in the vote, and also offering family activities alongside this in order to maximise the participation and interest of those in the younger age bracket due to the vote having a more unusual 11+ age limit. Representatives from the initiative also made visits into local schools in order to promote the opportunity of involvement that was given to those under the age of 18 that would not be involved in electoral participation, and educate them on the importance that their vote could have on their community.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The influence of participatory budgeting in Dundee is relatively clear. The allocation of funds from the Community Infrastructure Fund totalled £150,000 to each ward, and this was spent in full with any left-over resources spent on improving and adding to the winning projects. Participants had the opportunity to vote for numerous projects as opposed to choosing just one, and in all eight wards there were at least three fund-winning projects. The democratisation of budget allocation has meant that, although its proportion of the overall budget is minute, citizens in the community now feel as though they have some control over how money is spent in their community, with 75% of respondents stating this in a council survey. Similarly, there has also been some sense of creation of a new culture of participatory budgeting in Dundee, as 75% of respondents also stated that the initiative was something they wanted to continue in the future. The influence and effects of 'Dundee Decides', therefore, are notable.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The use of PB as a tool aimed at increasing participation, and therefore legitimacy of governmental actions, has faced a range of scholarly arguments. Some have made arguments such as Wampler's, who suggests that PB creates an opportunity for citizens to govern, and encourages a participatory culture (Wampler 2012). Alternatively others have been critical, such as Friendly, who argues that PB can be unequal and prone to allowing some voices to be heard more loudly and often than others, such as poor residents who don't have the time and resources to participate effectively (Friendly 2016). Contrastingly, Wampler has also suggested that PB actually fools citizens into thinking they're being heard, and that in a de facto sense, the results of PB initiatives are engineered to be in keeping with the government agenda (Wampler 2012). This can be seen clearly in the 'Dundee Decides' initiative as the local government had full control over which projects would be included in the vote for funding, thus the scope for disrupting governmental agenda was actually relatively small. It's important to note, however, that Dundee City Council were wary of appearing in the way Wampler suggests in his argument, and thus despite still having full control of the projects chosen for the shortlist, they did review consultation responses before coming to a decision, and also provided a criteria that projects had to match.
One way to analyse the success of PB in Dundee is by measuring it against the framework set out by Friendly to outline the key features of a successful PB system. These four factors are the broadening of political participations; the strengthening of relationships between the government and the community; functioning as a school of democracy and citizenship; and improving budget literacy among residents (Friendly 2016). The increase in involvement in local governance has been clear in the 'Dundee Decides' initiative, with a promising 11,472 votes, and this has been due to a number of factors intended to allow easy access for citizens to the initiative; e-Voting, the heavily inclusive 11+ voting age limit, and the use of community events to promote the initiative are counted among these. Similarly, the decision by the local government simply to pursue the use of PB has caused a positive effect on the relationship between the government and community. Sintomer has argued that the transparency that comes in partnership with the use of PB leads directly to a closer and more trusting relationship between government and citizens, and argues that just using PB has greater and clearer positive effects on local governance than the actual resultant budget allocation, even if the results are in keeping with a government agenda as Wampler suggests (Sintomer 2008). The function of PB as a school of democracy, and tool to improve budget literacy among residents, can also be seen in the case of Dundee, with 78.7% of survey respondents agreeing that 'Dundee Decides' helped them understand the costs of infrastructure projects, and the opportunity for the 11+ age demographic to vote, and the various initiatives such as visits into schools aimed at promoting the initiative, undoubtedly improving the understanding of local governance and democracy.
Furthermore, an alternative way to measure the success of PB in Dundee is to look at it against the framework provided by Smith, who argues there are five main aspects of a successful system of participatory budgeting; how inclusive it is, how much control the citizens have, whether they have 'considered judgement', if it's transparent, and if it is efficient (Smith 2009). In Dundee, there are few qualms in suggesting that the initiative was inclusive, with multiple measures taken to ensure this was the case, and both the participation statistics and the survey feedback reinforcing this. Similarly, citizens did have some level of control as the votes were for specific projects as opposed to broader topics that would have been harder to hold the government accountable for, and the series of initiatives to inform citizens about the process mean that there is a strong argument that they did have 'considered judgement'. Following Smith's framework, therefore, the initiative would be classed as largely successful.
With 2018 being the inaugural use of PB in Dundee, it is only really possible to estimate the long term effects for the city, however the consistently positive feedback from citizens and the promising results of its debut has suggested there is a long term place for the system in the allocation of community-designated portions of the local council's annual budget.
Friendly, A., 2016. Participatory budgeting: The practice and the potential. In IMFG Forum (Vol. 6). The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG).
Wampler, B., 2012. Participatory budgeting: core principles and key impacts. Journal of Public Deliberation
Smith, G., 2009. Democratic innovations: Designing institutions for citizen participation. Cambridge University Press.
Lead Image: Participatory Budgeting Dundee/Dundee City Council https://goo.gl/3Ykxzw
Secondary Image: Dundee Decides/Dundee City Council https://goo.gl/3Ykxzw