Dartmouth’s PB has been held yearly since 2017, giving District 5 residents the opportunity to cast ballots to award $50,000 in funding to community groups. The initiative was brought to the district by councilor Sam Austin and was to run again in 2019.
This paper examines participatory budgeting (PB) in Dartmouth, specifically in the District 5 area using the democratic goods framework (Smith, 2009). To begin, PB is a category of citizen participation in which individuals are appointed through various methods to determine the allocation of expenditure of a predetermined budget by said participants in a type of forum. The city council for Dartmouth District 5 developed a PB style event in which non profit groups in the community are able to display information about their projects where all residents from Dartmouth District 5 are able to come and find out more about all the projects which they vote for their favourite ones. This was established to allow residents to participate and engage with decisionmaking scenarios by casting ballots and selecting non-profit community groups to help fund through a city wide vote.
Problems and Purpose
According to Smith (2009) Participatory Budgeting was founded in 1989 in Porto Alegre by the Workers Party as a response to corruption and clientelism. It has now grown into an impartial mechanism that has expanded over most of the world, with both the opportunities to enhance democracy and inspire more trust in the system. As a result, as Ganuza (2012) indicates, PB’s like the one in Dartmouth, have evolved for contemporary terms in which communities may utilise this technique to discover which segments of society might be enhanced beyond the tools they presently deploy. The benefits of this particular PB include the ability to empower individuals. This is because it was established so that residents may have a direct say in how district 5 funds are spent. In addition to this the PB was able to increase participation within the community. This is evident as the objective of the PB was to bring the community together as a form of community building in which citizens could learn more about the town's non-profit organizations. As the PB was set out in a ‘science fair’ style for the non profit groups to explain and engage with the community more about their projects this resulted in the opportunity to promote their projects and reach a wider group of the Dartmouth community. It is plausible that the ‘science fair style' was implemented since it is an entertaining way that the community is extremely familiar with because it is a highly ‘Americanised' notion utilised throughout school and events through a variety of community activities. As a result, it might be argued that the incentive structure of practicing PB in the form of a fair was designed to engage the community as a means of inclusivity.
Background History and Context
Dartmouth is municipally represented in Halifax Regional Council of Nova Scotia, Canada by the following districts: District 3 consists of Dartmouth South and Eastern Passage, District 5 of Dartmouth Centre, and District 6 of Harbourview, Burnside, and Dartmouth East. This PB is located in Dartmouth Centre District 5, which is governed by Sam Austin, who was elected in 2016. It was stated that Sam Austin “is passionate about investing in a safe and mobile community, fostering smart growth, protecting Dartmouth’s natural assets and recreation opportunities and supporting arts and culture” (Halifax CA, 2021). By introducing the PB he was able to create an opportunity for supporting local arts and culture through non profit organisations in the community. For example in the first PB in 2017 the funds were spread between a canoe club, farm, creative learning and aquatic clubs. Therefore, PB was introduced as a way for the council to source different ways of allocating the budgets that better meet the needs of the community who will benefit from it. The process of the PB was paved by the city councillor Sam Austin after being elected in 2016. Hr believed that the introduction of such schemes would make Dartmouth an even more amazing place to be in. It should be noted that PB methods were introduced in other parts of Dartmouth Districts and Sam Austin was eager to intoruced the scheme to District 5. As stated “Participatory budgeting was pioneered in HRM by Waye Mason five years ago and has since been used by Councillors Nicoll, Smith and Cleary. Both Councillor Mason and former Councillor Watts spoke highly of the engagement and community building that participatory budgeting produces” (Austin, 2017b). This is because the goal of PB is to engage residents and build stronger community ties. It was initially launched by the District 5 councillor, Sam Austin who wanted to create a unique and fun scheme which also supports the municipality “(HRM) mandate to encourage healthy, liveable communities, social development and engagement” (Austin, 2017d).
Organising, Supporting and Funding Entities
This case was organised entirely by the local council. While PB was initially designed to help emerging countries target vital areas, it is now most often used to determine the aspects of society that should be changed beyond the existing infrastructure (Ganuza, 2012).Therefore this PB was set up for local non profit groups to be allocated funds for their projects. The funding entities were though the District Capital Fund to which $50,000 of the $94,000 were available for distribution amongst the most voted projects. According to the Approved 2021/22 Budget & Business Plan (2021) provided by the Halifax Regional Municipality Report, “the capital budget funds the purchase, construction, and rehabilitation of assets”. It could be suggested that the PB provided as a project to enhance communities (Growth”) as a ‘Strategic Initiatives’”. The PB could be organised by the council as a potential strategic initiative and due to the popularity from the first year, the PB was thus continued annually. It should be noted that every year, the councillor for each Dartmouth district is provided with $94,000 in discretionary capital funds that can be spent on municipal and community projects with the announcement of the PB $50,000 would be awarded through a participatory budgeting process. Sam Austin initiated and organised the PB though a relaxed ‘science fair style’ attracting the community due to the interactive and engaging process between residents and the groups. The actual informal styled event was held at the Findlay Community Centre supported by volunteers from City Hall staff and the Council support office. Although they were not involved in organising or funding the initiative, they were local residents providing their time and support by ensuring that attendees and non profit groups had assistance if needed. In order to inform the community, newsletters and social media posts were published displaying the event to encourage attendance and non profit group to get involved in.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The PB was open to all citizens in Dartmouth District 5 and encouraged everyone to attend. They had to attend the ‘science fair’ event and register their vote choices by the end. There were no constraints to participants, no age limit, formal education requirements or any set information needed. Essentially, all they needed was interest and willingness to understand the wider non profit projects. This suggests that PB’s such as Dartmouth District 5 was committed to ‘increase and deepen participation in local decision making process in the community as emphasised by Smith (2009). However it could be argued that as the PB event was communicated to residents across online platforms, this process of recruiting participants were limited because residents would need access to the internet which could have essentially affected the lack of engagement from residents who were not aware of the event. However, considering District 5 has quite a small population, according to Statistics Canada (2019), the total population for Dartmouth Centre also known as District 5 is 16,873 with a liveability score ranking better than 92% of areas. What this could essentially suggest is that the area has a small community feel in which events like the PB could also be spread through word of mouth through residents increasing the engagement. Thus, it should be noted that the PB was a huge success in the first year it was introduced in 2017 consisting of 640 residents participating in the vote which was more than expected with 19 non profit groups in attendance. With regards to the Nonprofit organisations, there was a few recruitment processes for them to follow in order to be qualified to participate. Firstly the non profit groups were asked to make a formal application in which they discuss and pitch their projects through the methods of an application form and letter which was then approved by the community coordinator. The second step of their recruitment process involved a pre screening which was held once the project ideas were approved by the community coordinator. This step ensured that the non profit groups, who wanted to be involved in the PB, would comply with HRM’s District Capital Policy and the projects were eligible for funding. It was stated that Groups interested in securing funding must be nonprofits and awards will be capped at $10,000 which was essentially checked that the groups were eligible for this capped funding amount. Once the non profit groups successfully passed both the initial steps and were eligible for the PB the final process was to be in attendee for the ‘science fair’ style event in which they set up a stall for residents to come and ask questions and get to know the project a little better before voting. Finally, the incentive structure for residents engaging in the PB differs significantly from non-profit organisations. It is possible that the incentive structure for residents is due to the fact they were invited to attend a PB event where they may connect and socialise with community groups and other residents. It was a family-friendly event that people could come with their families in order to boost their community participation levels as well as support groups that they are interested in and may join in the future. It might be argued that the incentives for non-profit organisations in the PB were knowing that there would be more than one winner because the District Capital Fund would be shared according on the most voted projects, implying that there was a ‘better' possibility of obtaining funds for the projects.
Methods and Tools Used
The PB in Dartmouth District 5 used two major methods to guide the process split between the science fair event and the voting. To the lead up of the event announcements were made across online platforms encouraging attendees, providing details of the event and how it works. The event was open to all residents from all ages and backgrounds. Prior to the event the non profit groups made applications which was then reviewed with the community coordinator to ensure projects were eligible. Both these steps were taken in order to ensure the PB would be a success. During the event non profit organisations were set up in the community centre as individual stalls advertising their proposed projects. Although the event did not have any formal deliberative processes, the stalls encouraged residents to come by and engage with the non profit groups in order to get a better understanding of each project and start thinking about which ones they would want to be funded. During this, groups were encouraged to discuss their projects and provide details of how the funding would be beneficial to them. To ensure that the event went to plan there was volunteers there to respond to any inquires needed. Whilst the event was a family friendly styled PB which was a fairly relaxed environment to encourage discussion, Smith (2009) identifies that issues between participants can occur leading to intensive discussion volunteers could be there on hand to keep discussions friendly. Whilst the PB event was advertised as an event for residents to go and enjoy while also contributing to funding decisions there was volunteers to ensure no problems between participants and attendees would occur. Voting tools were implemented at the end of the PB after the ‘science fair’ style event. This method was used to decide which groups would be awarded the funding. The residents had to vote for five projects they viewed should earn some of the funding. The PB was set up for the $50,000 to be distributed amongst the top five projects. It was suggested that the groups had already planned the funding amount they would required during the application process to which awards will be capped at $10,000. One potential issue arising in the voting process was that it occurred as the same night as the event which caused the voting lines to be long. According to Sam Austin, The Councillor, the first year of the project lead to “At one point the line to register and get a ballot was out the door and down Elliott Street. Luckily that was just the initial rush and by 7:00 things were moving smoothly” (Austin, 2017b). This could have lead to some annoyance but as stated the rush filtered down and carried on to be a success.
What Went On: Process, Interaction and Participation
It could be suggested that the initiatives first phase was implemented during the engagement phase. Information about the event was distributed and provided the public with the information of which non profit group would participating. The majority of the information was published through the official Sam Austin Dartmouth Centre website published for the residents. It was also a way for interested non profit groups on how they could join the PB and ways to contact for extra information. In addition to this Sam Austin hosted an information meeting in order to provide the residents with the information about the process. Overall, this first engagement phase ensured that participants were informed of every stage of the process, including how to be engaged, the conditions for non-profit group projects to be considered, and the overall goal of the process. The main aims of the PB allowed residents of District 5 to have a direct involvement and say with how a proportion of District Capital funds are spent. It was also introduced as a method to support local groups operating specifically in the community and support them with funding opportunities as well as allowing these groups to increase their awareness amongst the local residents. It was a method used for the council to support the community mandate in order to encourage healthy, liveable communities and support social development and engagement in the local area. The fundamental goal this PB aimed to engage residents and build stronger community ties within District 5. These aims were directly addressed to residents and non profit community groups who were informed of the $50,000 and the main design of the PB and how five groups would be awarded the distributed funding. Once the advertisements of the PB was published to the local community, this gave the opportunity for non profit groups who have not yet applied, a chance to apply for an application to be involved. The filtering phase was implemented during the non profit group project application process. This is the process in which the community councillor reviewed each project for the PB ensuring that they were fully qualified and eligible to take place, once approved they were eligible to attend the event and advertise their proposed projects. During the event residents attended and visited each groups stalls to gain a better understand of each project. During the same night the voting phase was implanted at the end. To which residents were asked to registered place 5 votes through ballot style voting mechanism. The groups with the most votes were then awarded the amount of funding they required. Once the votes were counted, the proposed funding groups and the awards they won were published on the official Sam Austin Dartmouth Centre website. In the first year of running the PB there was a total of 19 interested non profit groups who were in attendance to the event to which 6 groups were awarded funding. With a total of 640 residents voting. This shows that the project was seen to be a success in which the funding was distributed a variety of projects all very different from one another but shows what the community would be interested in which would require more funding. It's possible that the science fair style' was chosen because it's an entertaining approach that the group is familiar with because it's a very 'Americanised' idea that's used in schools and festivals across a variety of community activities. As a result, it's possible that the reward mechanism for doing participatory budgeting was designed to actively include the whole population as a form of inclusivity. It's possible that participatory budgeting was carefully planned to provide an opportunity for all residents of Dartmouth District 5 to participate effectively.
Influence, Outcomes and Effects
The goals and aims introduced for the PB were achieved and provided as a method for community development through the attainment of social engagement. Additionally, the success can be measured by the level of interest in which there was a big turnout of residents partaking in the PB along with the numerous groups of non profit organisations taking an interest. This could be due to the democratic implementation of the event in which the residents were given the influence and control of how the budgeting would be distributed. This is because of the successful deliberative process. The democratic voting system allowed for the PB to be fair thus increasing the interest of the PB leading to the favourable outcome of the process. Overall the effects of the PB was extraordinary to the community engagement and support of local non profit organisations that benefits both the organisations and the general population of Dartmouth. It could also be suggested that the implementation of the event style lead to the PB doing so well in the community. This is because the ‘science fair’ style meant that the PB was highly influential in shaping and educating individual attitudes and behaviours due to the process being set up in a way for engagement levels to be high in which community members and the different organisations were able to communicate and build relationships with one another. This meant that the PB was successful with encouraging collaboration attracting individuals with events that Is known to them.This is because the PB was introduced as a modernised method in which local residents were to successfully engage with as it was a launched through a concept that was highly recognisable in the community. This is because ‘science fair events are a very well known and popular method in Northern America used throughout a range of school and community activities further enticing the residents from all ages and backgrounds to participate. It should finally be noted the PB in Dartmouth was highly influenced by the PB’s which was introduced in other areas of Dartmouth by differing councillors. The success of these previous participatory budgeting schemes in surrounds and alike communities, essentially led to the interaction and success of the District 5 event in which engagement mechanisms and community building proceeded similar effects. Overall the ‘science fair’ step PB was complementary to the community attitudes and conduct that the democratic innovation essentially harmonised within the community leading to the overall favourable outcome thus the continuation of such events were held yearly.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
As explained in the previous section, the PB in Dartmouth appeared to achieve its intended goals and came with successes. I aim to analyse the participatory budgeting in line with the democratic goods emphasised by Smith (2009) in order to reflect both successes and limitation in order to precisely evaluate the processes of the PB. The initial phase of the PB as suggested was the implementation of the engagement phase was shown to build a sense of inclusiveness of all participants. The various online posts presented on social media platforms such as Facebook along with the Sam Austin Dartmouth Centre official website, clearly attempted to include all groups of the community and encourage attendance of participants young and old. Participation from all groups in the community was encouraged from young and old, all genders and whether any formal qualifications were present or not. Essentially, all residents had the right to participate. The process was open to all residents of the area which also had a series of meetings that allow for almost all citizens to attend if they are so inclined. Along with the sense of inclusiveness pronounced in the engagement phase it should be noted that this phase also attempted to show case the process to bring about transparency. This is because the online posts aimed to emphases all deal about the PB as well as encouraging questions and queries from residents through the community meetings present before hand the PB event. Smith (2009, p.21) suggests that it is important to “pay attention to the formal characteristics of the selection mechanism but also the extent to which in practice motivate the engagement of citizens across social groups”. Thus in this case, having the PB open to all residents of Dartmouth and making the ballot voting very inclusive towards the non profit organisations means that it is accessible and easy to engage with participants and organisations alike. However, with deeper analysis of the initial phase it became clear that such high levels o inclusiveness were not as consistent. With regards, to the methods implemented for engaging residents it became apparent that the methods used were essentially excluding a group of residents. This is because the engagement methods were emphasised through various online platforms and with regards to residents without access to the internet it wonted have been difficult fro them to hear about the PB or gain any detailed information about the process if the main source of the messages were not available to them. As Magelby argues: "Most citizens cannot access such resources – particularly those from poorer and/or minority backgrounds and hence ‘the issues placed before the voters reflect the interests of groups with money or highly motivated volunteers’" (Magelby 1984), thus suggesting that the decision to address most of the PB news through online platforms would have excluded out individuals who were not much aware of the initiative. The implementation of the ideation phase was essentially the process in which the ‘science fair’ style event was taking place. It could be suggested that the event reflected successful levels of popular control. This is because the participants essentially had the majority of the choices in which the event was structured in a way in which participants were able to deliberate and communicate amongst each of the projects directly with one another with the set up of the stalls. It should also be noted that the PB had taken place in a horizontal public space where citizens gained information over public decision (Ganuza and Baiocchi, 2012, p.6). This method means that participants feel as though the process of PB is designed to give them a feeling of empowerment as the process is up to them due to the decision making powers it presents to them. It should also be noted that during the event a public sphere was built. This meant that Citizens had agenda-setting power, facilitated through a combination of direct and representative participation due to the fact that Citizens could question and deliberate with each of the non profit groups about their projects ensuring that they vote responsibly towards projects they liked the most. Thus, this PB and the ‘science fair’ styled event beyond consultative purposes this is because citizens were directly involved in the distribution of the funding. The fact that funding were redistributed towards investment in non profit project services in the community underlines that citizens’ votes and decisions were considered. With regards to considered judgement as votes were based on 5 project in which residents picked to distribute funds towards, the level of representation amongst the projects were seen to be a success. The votes contributed to a range of different projects that would be influential in the local area compared to just one winner of the funds. With more specifically, the voting mechanism, residents were asked to pick top 5 project choices. This essentially was a more inclusive approach compared to traditional voting systems of voting one per resident. This also would have led to an increase in popular control as voters decisions were being strongly retained and the PB voting mechanism ensured that the process was fully fair in which mirrored residents decisions. As the voting phase was implemented as the same night as the ‘science fair’ systole event meant that deliberation was strongly promoted as it allowed or residents to discuss with each project right before the votes to ensure that they have inquired with any relevant questions they wanted before voting. This is because Smith suggests that (2009, p.26) in order to make the process efficient they “need to consider the received interests of the participants and the effectiveness of the institutional design”. Taking this into consideration, the bulk of deliberation and discussion took place in the science fair style event. During this event the community could go and interact with each of the non profit where it was typically composed of a small enough number of people to enable true discussion. In which the interaction was very one on one. Whilst the voting system was efficient in the sense of providing 5 votes, it could however be argued that the actual system of how voting took place was seen to be a bit lacking. This is because whilst there are benefits of doing the voting process right after the event, this cause a few issues. Firstly it lead to backlogs of voters in which voting lines were so long it went all the way down the street. This stutter was not very efficient and could be developed in future scenarios of the PB. Additionally, voting right after the event my not have been useful as some residents may want o think about their vote choice a bit more than right after the vote. Some decisions could have been rushed and not thought about as much. Overall, it should be noted that the Dartmouth PB is highly transferable to community projects alike. The ‘scene fair’ style is entertaining and beneficial for both participants ad groups involved and provided to be a success with long term benefits for the community and the non profit groups. Whilst efficient processes could further be improved in which access to all members the community should be a priority and making the voting process a bit more efficient the concerns are not that high. It should be noted the transferability of science fair style PB like the one presented in Dartmouth is quite a modernised method of PB’s and the probability of its success amongst other neighbourhoods could have similar effects. To conclude, to further improve the PB initiative in Dartmouth and contribute to the continuation of the success, it could be helpful to present the PB over numerous days or over a week so as many residents could attend especially those that can not make it to events only presented for one day as it originally is. This would further increase the reach of non profit groups and make the voting process easier to manage.
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