Fund My Community is a grant programme that uses participatory budgeting to allocate one-off funding to charitable and welfare organisations in South Australia on an annual basis.
Problems and Purpose
In February 2014, the South Australian Government released the Modern Public Service Policy document outlining 17 initiatives to try and increase communitive engagement in government. The government needed to adopt social innovation in order to increase public value across the state . One of these initiatives was to “trial the notion of ‘participatory budgeting’ in the distribution of some Community Benefit SA funds” . The purpose was to involve citizens in the valuable designation of welfare budget to assist charitable or welfare organisations across the state .
Background History and Context
South Australia is 1 of 6 states in Australia with a population of over 1.7 million . The South Australian government are keen in supporting a culture of high-quality community engagement , to help benefit everyone across their population.
The Fund My Community grant programme was developed by the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, along with the Department for Communities Social Inclusion between October 2014 and May 2015. The scheme uses participatory budgeting to distribute $1 million annually, from the Community Benefit SA program , in order to improve the lives of disadvantaged, isolated or vulnerable South Australians . The programme launched in February 2015 on an annual rolling basis. It was implemented to meet the needs of “Building a Stronger South Australia” slogan identified in the Modern Public Service Policy of 2014 . The programme was published on the online consultation hub YourSAy, and managed by the Better Together team, which functions as part of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, under the South Australian government. Fund My Community was the first participatory budgeting platform used at state level in South Australia, however it was not the first use of this method in Australia. In 2012 the municipality of Canada Bay in Sydney’s inner west undertook what is widely regarded as the first PB process in Australian local government . It convened a representative deliberative group of community members to make recommendations for the services budget over a 4 year period .
Organising, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Strategic Engagement and Communications Unit of the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC), and the Policy and Community Development Division of the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (DCSI) played the crucial role of developing the Fund My Community programme under the South Australian Government. They did this to meet the needs of the initiative of trialling PB stated in the South Australian Government’s Modern Public Service policy as part of the “Building a Stronger South Australia” slogan . The Community Benefit SA (CBSA), also known as the Charitable and Social Welfare Fund, funded the Fund My Community programme .
Their $4 million budget is funded by the Gaming Machines Act of 1992, where by companies are taxed for operating gambling machines . The income from this tax is managed by the DCSI , which they then subsidise to the CBSA. The DCSI had a direct influence on the CBSA’s budget of which $1million was granted to the Fund My Community project. Better Together is a DPC managed programme centralised around public engagement to aid the operations of the South Australian Government . Better Together hosts Fund My Community on their website as a public engagement initiative as well as YourSAY engagements . Fund My Community is then presented on the YourSAy engagements platform designing by Katalyst Interactive, which allows South Australians to make decisions on the happenings of their own state . In this case YourSAy provided an online consultation hub where non-profit, charitable organisations could apply for one-off funding and where citizens could vote for which project they wanted to gain funding .
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In 2015, 2,329 Southern Australians successfully voted for the projects they believed deserved funding through the Fund My Communityinitiative. Only South Australian citizens were allowed to vote for what projects they wanted to be funded. The DPC and DCSI decided that the voting was only available to the South Australian demographic as South Australia would be the only state to operate and benefit from Fund My Community .
The findings and evaluation report of the 2015 Fund My Community initiative stated that the majority of participants who voted were female with respondents from all age brackets except people under 18 years of age of whom there were no respondents . Respondents were located in all regions of the State except Eyre and Western, 80% of respondents were based in the Adelaide metropolitan region and 20% were located in rural and regional areas of South Australia . These participants played the main role in deciding which projects gained one-off funding. One way in which the initiative was advertised is through public appearances and engagement in the centre of Adelaide. The public were notified of what the government is trying to achieve through participatory budgeting and what Fund My Community is. Some of these appearances were recorded and a video was uploaded to YourSAy’s YouTube channel. Another way in which participants were recruited was through applicants promotion of their own project. In a 2015 follow-up survey of Fund My Community it was identified that organisations predominately used social media and emails to advertise their project that needed funding . The survey also identified that the largest motivator of participating was the fact that the respondent wanted to support the organisation of which they were part of. The second largest motivator for participating was that Southern Australians wanted to help their community .
Methods and Tools Used
The functions of Fund My Community are a key example of participatory budgeting – an initiative that uses ‘”democratic deliberation and decision-making involving citizens in deciding how public funds are spent” . 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 marginalised populations.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Applications open on 1st February . This is when non-government, not-for-profit community organisations will be able to apply for grants of between $10,000 and $100,000. They can do this through creating an account under Fund My Community on the YourSAy website or calling a direct landline. Applications then close on or around the 24th March every year . The first stage of the assessment process is to review all applications made to check for eligibility. This is called the screening phase and is carried out by the Fund My Community programme team. Community Assessment opens on or around the 11thApril every year.
At stage 2, South Australian participants assess the eligible applications and select the projects that they think will have the biggest impact. This stage is referred to as the community assessment phase . Participants can do this by creating an account under Fund My Community on the YourSAy website. To take part participants must submit a plan detailing the projects they’ve selected; the amount of funding being designated, the size of the project (small, medium, large) and the categories of people the project might benefit . On or around 16th May the community assessment closes . At this times citizens can no longer participate in the budgeting decisions. After this the most popular projects will be put forward for further vetting.
At stage 3 of the assessment process the CBSA assess the projects with the most support and carry out further vetting to guarantee full eligibility of receiving a grant. The CBSA have the final decision on endorsing the outcomes of the assessment and the approving of funding . After the project is approved for funding, the organisation behind it must submit additional information, such as financial statements and further details of the project. They then work with the Fund My Community program team to develop or refine appropriate outcome measures and enter into a funding agreement with DCSI . This process can then take up to 4 months. If the funding of a project is successful, the organisation must spend all the grant within 12 months . In April and May 2016, nearly 2,500 people took part in allocating $1 million to improve the wellbeing of disadvantaged, vulnerable and isolated South Australians. The participants had to select the projects they believed to have the largest benefit. As a result of the community's decision, nearly $866,000 was provided to 13 projects .
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
One of the main gaols of the initiative was to provide crucial funding to organisations aiding vulnerable, disadvantaged and isolated South Australians . Another main goal was to trial the notion of participatory budgeting in distributing welfare funding in order engage the community in the decision-making process . Both these aims were established in the results of the Fund My Community programme of 2015. Since the programme launched in 2015, 43 projects have been chosen and supported by the people of South Australia, resulting in a huge collective donation of $2,872,000 from the Charitable and Social Welfare Fund [2, 14, 15].
One project called ‘Big Sunday’ received $100,000 funding in 2015. The aim of the project was to renovate a property and provide accommodation to Aboriginal women experiencing alcohol and other substance misuse issues . The organisation along with the Aboriginal Sobriety Group were able to achieve this aim by providing 4 beds to house the vulnerable women in the newly renovated house situated in Monarto, South Australia . This project clearly exemplifies how the public made a crucial decision in selecting the ‘Big Sunday’ project for funding. 23.62% of participants selected the project to receive funding through the FMC programme . The main goals of the Fund My Community programme were clearly met as participants did select what projects the received funding’s through the use of PB. The example above clearly meets the goal of aiding vulnerable, disadvantaged and isolated South Australians.
The success of participatory budgeting through Fund My Community in achieving governmental goals heavily influenced 3 other initiatives launched after 2015. Fund My Neighbourhood, designates $40,000,000 of welfare budget over the state of South Australia. Fund My Idea focuses on designating $50,000 of welfare budget in regional areas of South Australia every year . Fund My Project – Riverine Recovery designates $200,000 annually with the aim to improve wetland management and achieve environmental objectives .
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Fund My Community received a very good public reception. The programme received the United Nations Public Service Award in 2017 for promoting transparency, accountability and integrity . The programme directly aided people across the whole of South Australia, which was notified in many new articles with the common theme of providing good direct democracy . Participants were satisfied with the outcomes of the programme. The trial of PB created large civic engagement as the community came together in supporting organisations to help the wider community . The programme was the first iteration of the broader process of “Building a stronger South Australia” through the trial of PB initiative . If the programme was to be re-designed I would suggest running a postal application of which citizens with no internet access could participate. In 2018 stats show that nearly 3 million people in Australia are not using or have no access to the internet . The proportion of this amount living in South Australia would therefore not be able to participate in the FMC programme. This marginalises public participation and could mean that the public are not being fully represented in the participatory budgeting agenda.
The use of Participatory Budgeting in South Australia promoted the idea of deliberative democracy, which can be seen as very beneficial. Effective democracy requires more than periodic voting and official rights; it requires the participation of citizens in mutual understanding and considered - collaborative problem solving . Thus, PB through Fund My Community identifies the effectiveness of deliberative democracy in South Australia. Deliberative democracy engages the public sphere and directly gives power to the people – one of the key characteristics of democracy. However, it could be seen that participatory budgeting isn’t effective at building a strong government. Theorists such as Dahl and Schumpeter recognise that voters in democratic institutions may be incompetent. Schumpeter suggest their lack of political knowledge restricts their voting characteristics . This can be identified in FMC as the majority of participants voted for a project based on the connection they had with that organisation . This suggest the citizens acted upon raw preferences related to a project, rather than a considered judgment of all projects in South Australia. Thus voting in their own interest rather than the interests of others and being able to maintain a considered judgement . Although PB can be criticised, The Fund My Community initiative has been able to fully engage the public in improving the lives of many South Australians.
Participatory Budgeting https://participedia.xyz/method/146
1. The Government of South Australia: Department of the Premier and Cabinet (2016). Public Value: Putting citizens at the centre of policy, service design and delivery.Available at: https://dpc.sa.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/16660/Public_value_policy_resouce_web.pdf . [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
2. YourSAy (2015). Fund My Community. Findings and Evaluation Report Part 1: Data. [online] YourSAy. Available at: http://assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2016/04/29/06/22/31/c177d345-ffb3-45cf-8480 ee6a905631eb/Evaluation%20and%20Findings%20Report%20Part%201%20Data.pdf [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
3. The Government of South Australia: Department of the Premier and Cabinet (2015). Innovation in Social and Community Services.Available at: https://www.dpc.sa.gov.au/documents/rendition/B18814. [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
4. Population.net.au. (2018). Population of South Australia 2018. [online] Available at: http://www.population.net.au/population-of-south-australia/ [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
5. Bettertogether.sa.gov.au. (2018). What is Better Together?. [online] Available at: http://bettertogether.sa.gov.au/home-page [Accessed 6 Dec. 2018].
6. Katalyst Interactive. (2018). 2017 United Nations Public Service Award Winner. [online] Available at: https://www.katalyst.com.au/article/2017-united-nations-public-service-award-winner [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
7. Christensen, H. and Grant, B. (2016). Participatory Budgeting in Australian Local Government: An Initial Assessment and Critical Issues. Australian Journal of Public Administration, [online] 75(4), pp.457-475. Available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/pdf/10.1111/1467-8500.12219 [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
8. YourSAy (2015). Fund My Community. Findings and Evaluation Report Part 2: Analysis. [online] YourSAy. Available at: http://assets.yoursay.sa.gov.au/production/2016/04/29/06/23/10/b0cb438f-cbb1-45a9-a9f6-deaeea529dae/Fund%20My%20Community%20Evaluation%20and%20Findings%20Report%20Part%202%20Analysis.pdf [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
9. Bettertogether.sa.gov.au. (2018). Initiatives. [online] Available at: http://bettertogether.sa.gov.au/initiatives [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
10. Yoursay.sa.gov.au. (2018). YourSAy Engagements. [online] Available at: https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/initiatives/yoursay-engagements [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
11. Yoursay.sa.gov.au. (2018). FAQs. [online] Available at: https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/fund-my-community-faqs/ [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
12. Barela, B. (2017). County leaders end controversial fund. Available: http://mercedcountytimes.net/editorials/091417_deal.html. [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
13. Yoursay.sa.gov.au. (2018). Key Dates. [online] Available at: https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/fmc_rounds/fund-my-community/key_dates [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
14. Yoursay.sa.gov.au. (2018). Fund My Community. [online] Available at: https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/fmc_rounds/fund-my-community [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
15. Yoursay.sa.gov.au. (2018). Fund My Community 2016. [online] Available at: https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/2016 [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
16. Yoursay.sa.gov.au. (2018). 2015 Outcomes. [online] Available at: https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/fund-my-community-2015-outcomes [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
17. Gage, N. (2015). Renovated SA house to become drug treatment centre for Indigenous women. [online] ABC News. Available at: https://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-10-10/house-renovated-to-become-drug-and-alcohol-treatment-centre/6843966 [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
18. Yoursay.sa.gov.au. (2018). Fund My Idea. [online] Available at: https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/how-it-works [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
19. Statista. (2018). Australia - internet penetration 2018 | Statistic. [online] Available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/680142/australia-internet-penetration/ [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
20. Hartz-Karp, J. (2012). Laying the Groundwork for Participatory Budgeting – Developing a Deliberative Community and Collaborative Governance: Greater Geraldton, Western Australia. Journal of Public Deliberartion, [online] 8(2). Available at: https://www.publicdeliberation.net/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https%253A%252F%252Fscholar.google.co.uk%252Fscholar%253Fq%253Dpros%2520cons%2520of%2520participatory%2520budgeting&=&hl=en&=&as_sdt=0&=&as_vis=1&=&oi=scholart&=&httpsredir=1&=&article=1231&=&context=jpd&=&sei-redir=1#search=%22pros%20cons%20participatory%20budgeting%22 [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
21. Schumpeter, J. (1976). Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy. New York: Routledge.
22. Smith, G. (2009). Democratic Innovations. 1st ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
23. Basu, M. (2017). Gail Fairlamb, Director, Strategic Engagement, Department of Premier and Cabinet, South Australia. [online] GovInsider. Available at: https://govinsider.asia/inclusive-gov/gail-fairlamb-director-%E2%80%8Estrategic-engagement-department-premier-cabinet-south-australia/ [Accessed 7 Dec. 2018].
Fund My Community 2015 Reports:
FMC = Fund My Community
PB = Participatory Budgeting
Lead Image: FMC/Your SAy https://goo.gl/oPQuRo