The Municipality of Desio developed the Participatory Budget practice in two editions (2017/18 and 2018/19) after having already undertaken it with satisfaction in 2015. In the last editions, new tools have been introduced for greater interactivity.
Problems and Purpose
The Participatory Budgeting (in Italian, bilancio partecipativo) process in Decio stems from the need to stimulate open discussion regarding citizens' problems and needs; as such, it offers moments of dialogue and direct meeting between different realities, and lived experiences of people who are active in the area.
The project aims to encourage the initiation of a continuous dialogue between involved parties so that the process can become common heritage over time, as a result of the impulse, creativity and commitment of both the Municipal Administration and citizens. Desio citizens are called to discuss and create proposals for how to invest the maximum budget for each year, 100,000 euros.
In 2018/2019, to encourage constant interaction with the administration, the voting platform used in the previous edition of BP was joined by an online community space, in which users could share ideas even before verifying the admissibility of the proposals. Their publication on the platform activated and kept alive the online interaction between the participants.
Background History and Context
The territory of Desio is located in the northern metropolitan area of Milan but in the Province of Monza-Brianza. A predominantly agricultural area until after the Second World War, it became the area of industrial and tertiary settlements, up to a considerable increase in its population, from 16,800 in 1951 to 42,000 in 2017. The political tradition (from the nineties) shows signs of alternation despite a prevalence of center-right leaders, rebalanced since 2011 by the repeated success of the mayor Roberto Corti, leading a coalition called Sinistra per Desio (PD, civic lists, La Sinistra) still in office (as of 22/7/20).
Participatory budgeting and participation policies were already present in his first election program during which the first BP was implemented in 2015, towards its conclusion. In the second program, it was proposed to further develop BP and other activities related to urban regeneration, mobility, and culture.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Comune di Desio is the originator of the municipal budget procedure and funder of the BP process. However, apart from the budget to be allocated to the projects proposed by citizens, € 100,000, with a ceiling of € 40,000 per project, the cost of BP is not given, given the fact that professional external consultancy was used.
BiPart is a startup based in Milan, carries out consultancy, coaching, planning and process management, and training. It was particularly attentive to the development of online and specialized interaction on the participatory budget. In this process, BiPart facilitated the meetings and signed the report, but information on collaboration and the amount of remuneration is not easily available.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
From the regulation available on the platform, participation in the BP was open to all residents from 9 years of age (completed on 4 October 2018) who wanted to submit proposals to improve their city. It was possible to present one's own proposal individually on the online platform or to build one together with other citizens in the thematic assemblies. 9 to 14 year-olds participated in the Junior course while those over the age of 15 participated in the Senior one. Anyone can make proposals and represent them, with the exception of those who already have technical or political management positions.
For the Senior path, 16 proposals were submitted by 16 proposers. 4 deliberative assemblies were held, two of which in the morning (on Saturday) at the municipal library space, and 2 in the evening at the spaces of Villa Tittoni, a municipal building for civic uses and at a well-known brewery in Desio. Each assembly saw the presence of a technical staff: 1/2 Bipart facilitators, the official M. Lattanzi from the participation office of the Municipality, an official from the public relations office, and 1/2 sector managers (e.g. public works, family and welfare). Attendance was generally low: 5, 13, 3, 5, respectively from the first to the fourth assembly. Participants included representatives from neighbourhood committees and leaders of associations (e.g. CAI, social cooperatives). The communication plan is not given apart from the existence of a poster or flyer sheet that could be adapted for each event.
In the Junior process, 7 proposals were presented and a deliberative assembly was organized, on 12/1/19, Saturday, from 10 to 17 at the auditorium of the Rodari School. The participants were 8 pupils, 7 of first grade and one of second grade. The boys were joined by the technical staff made up of: 1 BiPart facilitator, 2 educators, the official M. Lattanzi from the Municipality participation office. The communication plan is not known.
At the online voting for the Senior path, approximately 800 votes were cast, distributed over 16 proposals, but the number of votes available for each voter is not given, so nor is the exact number of voters. For the Junior course, approximately 110 votes were cast on 5 projects.
Methods and Tools Used
Participatory Budgeting (in Italian, bilancio partecipativo, or BP) is a method of participation born in Porto Alegre in Brazil in the eighties, which provides for the making available of the public decision, a percentage of the municipal budget. The opening phases are generally organized with public assemblies open to all in the various areas of the city/territory where the problems and needs of the inhabitants are manifested, as well as any solutions. Public assemblies usually involve an introduction or a political greeting and are then facilitated. In some cases, representatives/delegates are elected in these assemblies. In this initiative, the deliberative assemblies were organized to identify priority projects, which appointed (through voting without candidates) their own delegate representing the project. This project would not be subjected to the scrutiny of the final vote, from which the winning projects that will be carried out emerge; in this parallel path, given the greater interaction and dialogue between proposers and municipal offices, the project identified as a priority is already to be considered feasible.
Sometimes those who will discuss in the next phase which projects and interventions to propose and plan are drawn randomly on the basis of the applications. These proposals are examined by the municipal officials, who evaluate their feasibility, before they continue to the next phase of the selection. In the final assemblies, open to all, again, the proposals to be implemented are voted on. In recent years, online voting has increasingly been used, as in this case, through dedicated platforms with access after registration.
Deliberative assemblies are a component of the BP developed in this case. These are facilitated meetings, such as focus groups, but with the possibility of discussing and deciding by expressing preferences and votes. In this case, on several project proposals to be considered priority for the neighborhood / territory, the priority project was discussed and then identified on the basis of the preferences of the participants who could express 3 points to be assigned. The choice of the delegate, who represented the project, took place before the choice of the project, so that the two did not necessarily coincide. Furthermore, the votes for the delegate did not take place on the basis of availability of candidates; instead, all were automatically candidates in order to encourage the emergence of participants who were unlikely to volunteer but not less suitable for the role. All those present are therefore eligible, unless they voluntarily renounced the role.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
The BP started on 8/10/2018 and ended on 16/06/2019.
Phase 1 - Proposal collection and admissibility check
At this stage, citizens could present proposals by filling in a special form on the site or they could present themselves, on the dates indicated (the advertising plan is not given) at the 4 Senior deliberative assemblies, distinguished by theme:
- Public Spaces (environment, territory, places): Tuesday 13/11/2018 — Villa Tittoni — Sala Colonne — 20.00 / 23.00
- Free Time (culture, sport and events): Saturday 17/11/2018 — Library — Sostare Room — 10.00 / 13.00
- Digital and Innovative City: Tuesday 20/11/2018 — Italian Brewery of Desio — 19.00 / 22.00
- Social Desio: Saturday 24/11/2018 — Library — Sostare Room — 10.00 / 13.00
In the first assembly, 5 proposals were discussed regarding project interventions. Almost all were well-thought out, rich in details, and the discussion was supported by maps and post-its. After the discussion, a delegate was selected by vote, and subsequently, by assigning a score from 1 to 5 by each participant, the priority proposal was selected, which was an archery field for disabled. The proposal was well presented with a wealth of details, including disused areas to locate the structure and positioning with respect to the potential supra-municipal needs. Other proposals concerned celebratory works, redevelopment and improvement of the pedestrian junctions within a public park, the construction of a wooden neighborhood civic center, and a road education camp for children.
The other assemblies followed the same model. In the second, a multipurpose cultural center was selected to be installed in a structure under renovation, called the House of Associations, precisely intended for voluntary work and civic uses. In the third assembly dedicated to the digital city, the minimum attendance was reached: 3 participants; however, there were 8 proposals, 2 of which were deemed immediately ineligible. The final ranking was finally composed as follows:
- Installation of wall-box systems and universal electric charging stations (the winner)
- Enhancement of the municipal WLAN network
- City co-working
- Installation of control units for dust monitoring thin
- Web TV for intergenerational exchange
- Online competition for students
In the last assembly dedicated to social issues, only two proposals emerged: a playground for the disabled, and the winner, an organic vegetable garden and its weekly horticultural market, managed by people with disabilities and / or persons at risk of social exclusion as reported to the cooperative by the services of Desio.
The deliberative Junior assembly for children aged 9 to 14 took place in the form of a laboratory in the auditorium of the Rodari school. The participants arranged themselves in a circle and each, wearing a name tag, presented themselves to the group stating their name, school, class, and preferred place of Desio. From this first consultation, some key points of convergence emerged regarding the city :
- The Pertini Institute (the middle school from which all the participants come) was very popular with the students, in particular for the gym and the robotics laboratory (a project presented for the senior participatory budget of the 2015/2016 edition and subsequently created by the Municipal Administration even if not among the winning ones);
- Villa Tittoni and the adjoining park, of which the boys proved to be in-depth connoisseurs (citing different aspects and even of the underground passages that can only be visited on some occasions with guided tours)
- Piped music with Christmas jingles through the streets of the center during the festive period
- Inclusive park
- Skate park
Then, in two groups led by staff, they began to orient themselves and explore the city territory through maps. On them, they were asked to identify those places and crucial points according to them essential to present the city of Desio to those who do not know it. The participants identified different categories of places, among which they subsequently selected those most relevant. From a comparison between the two elaborated maps, similar readings of the city emerge. The afternoon activities therefore started from these results: a sheet was distributed to those present that followed the online form for uploading proposals on the platform; everyone was asked to fill in this form individually detailing their project proposal. At the end of this activity, a station was set up from which the boys presented their ideas, simulating a television presentation.
From the 6 proposals, preferences were assigned, 2 each, which cannot be allocated to one's own proposal. This is how the robotics laboratory, already present in the Pertini Institute, was selected, whose optimization and expansion and opening to a younger audience / audience with activities and courses aimed at it are requested.
First vote for access to the feasibility assessment (from 28/1 to 12/2/2019)
At this stage, it was possible to vote online to select which projects should have access to the technical feasibility assessment and therefore to a thorough co-design. Of the 16 projects, 5 were selected for the Senior route, the first with 398 votes and the fifth with 195. They concerned: the restructuring / repair of the canal in front of the library, a neighborhood sports center, a civic center, a cycling path, the house of music and a "freedom" area for dogs. All these projects have been further detailed in cards visible from the platform. To these five are added the four voted by the deliberative assemblies that automatically enter the final vote.
For the Junior route, 6 projects were presented, the 4 selected being: a literary pub and book crossing to be created inside 3 old restored/recovered tram carriages; equipping the library with a workstation with tablets and audio accessories to listen to audio books; the creation of murals on the walls of the Tolstoy school; and the expansion of the existing skate park in Desio. The robotics laboratory was also added, which has been perfected.
Final vote (from 11/5 to 16/6/19)
Through online voting, after registration, the 10 Senior and 5 Junior candidate projects could be elected. From the site, the detailed card was viewable, which included maps, contextual history, motivations, costs, and technical requirements of the projects. The ranking with the relative votes has therefore been published but it is not clear what projects will be carried out. For 2017, there is a page dedicated to the progress of the winning projects, while for 2018/19 there are no updates after the final vote (the update date of the web pages is not visible). It is stated only that "the study and implementation phase of the winning projects now begins."
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Unlike for 2017, there are no updates after the final vote. It is not yet clear which projects are underway.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The transparency of the route is affected by some shortcomings. In addition to the costs of the route, there are no updates after more than a year from the end of the last phase (rel. 22/7/20). The communication plan and references to administration documents are not given. However, the information in the reports is well organized and comprehensive. There was no phase of sharing the path, probably considered unnecessary in the case of BP. Therefore, the weight that some associations and cooperatives have had in mobilizing ideas and votes is not transparent. The low attractiveness of preferences that had the projects developed by the Senior assemblies should be examined, given the low number of preferences obtained from the projects that emerged from the assemblies; while for the Junior path, the winning project is the same that emerged from the laboratory.
This type of long and very interactive path, reinforced by the voting ritual with the direct expression of the choices made by citizens, certainly motivates, involves, and empowers citizens and decision-makers, leading to projects shared also by technicians and decreasing that sense of mutual distrust between citizen and civil servant common in the Italian context. Although symbolically it may still have an influence, the representativeness of the participants was low; at the assemblies, few citizens were present (an average of 6-7 individuals) and the 800 votes are just 2% of the population. There are no accessible statistics, nor a communication plan (social, etc.), which would be useful to evaluate the perceived impact, and the population reached who perceived the message/goal.
 Desio Partecipa. Linee Guida. Retrieved 8/7/2020 from https://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/index.php/documenti/linee-guida
 Coalition of Center Left, Mayor Roberto Conti, electoral program 2016-2021, https://github.com/elezioni-amministrative/Desio-2016/blob/master/coalizione-di-centro-sinistra.md#link-e -resources (rel. 22/7/20).
 Desio Partecipa. Regolamento. Retrieved 8/7/2020 from https://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/index.php/documenti/regolamento
 Desio Partecipa. Report Assemblea Deliberativa: Spazi pubblici. Retrieved 8/7/2020 from https://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/images/pdf/2018-Desio-13_11-Spazi-pubblici_report.pdf
 Desio Partecipa. Report Assemblea Deliberativa: Città digitale e innovativa. Retrieved 8/7/2020 from https://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/images/pdf/2018-Desio-20_11-cittaDigitale_report.pdf
 Desio Partecipa. Report Assemblea Deliberativa: Desio Sociale. Retrieved 8/7/2020 from https://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/images/pdf/2018-Desio-24_11-DesioSociale_report.pdf
 Desio Partecipa. Laboratorio di progettazione partecipata junior: Report. Retrieved 8/7/2020 from https://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/images/pdf/DES18-LaboratorioJunior_report.pdf
 Desio Partecipa. Desio Senior. Retrieved 8/7/2020 from https://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/index.php/elenco-senior
 Desio Partecipa. Senior Projects, Voting results. Retrieved 8/7/2020 from http://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/index.php
Desio Participates - Participatory Budget 2018/2019, http://partecipa.comune.desio.mb.it/index.php (rel. 22/7/20).