In 2018, the Durham City Council approved $2.4M in funding and appointed a committee to create goals and aid the programmes' administration. Each of the 3 wards received $800,000, allowing residents to decide how to allocate this budget for projects within their community.
Problems and Purpose
PB was introduced in Durham with the aim of empowering citizens in a way that hasn't been done before, enabling them to affect the city in a meaningful way by allowing them to directly choose which community projects to fund. This came with the idea that introducing the democratic innovation would solve various problems within Durham. The purpose of the PB was to address the low levels of public engagement towards decisions made for the city, lack of diversity in the decision making process, challenges in the most marginalised communities, and repairs required across communities. Ultimately, it was hoped that the implementation of PB would improve democracy by particularly enhancing the democratic goods of inclusiveness and popular control outlined by Smith (Smith, 2009).
Background History and Context
The democratic innovation of PB was first introduced in Porto Alegre (Brazil) in 1989. Due to the process' advantage of being extremely transferable, it has since been developed and used in many countries, mainly at a local level. The first case of PB in the United States was in 2009, and has now been more commonly used to allow for community members to be part of the decision making process in allocating funds within their area. Durham residents began advocating for the city council to introduce the initiative themselves due to the noticeable lack of variety of people involved in the decision making process. It was encouraged as a route to mitigating the consequences of past and current racial and social inequalities. As a result, the local government decided to act upon its residents wishes and introduce its first cycle. It was common knowledge that the introduction of PB was an experiment, and an evaluation would be conducted after in order to understand how successful the process was in combatting relevant issues. Therefore, this stub is an overview and analysis of the first kind of PB held within the city of Durham.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The city of Durham allocated $2.4 million towards implementing various projects that were successful in the voting phase.. However, of this total amount, only around $2.1 million was spent. This money was split between 3 wards. Approximately, ward 1 received $697,000, ward 2 received $633,000, and ward 3 was given $786,000. Also, 57 Volunteers were trained as staff to be Budget Delegates to organise the process.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Participation was open to any City of Durham resident or student who were at least 13 years old at the time of voting. The organisers chose this demographic simply because these were the people that would be affected by the decisions made. Alongside the general public who were participating, volunteer budget delegates, facilitators and internal city staff also held responsibility. After ideas were proposed from citizens, these selected ideas were then identified and developed with the help of volunteer budget delegates and facilitators. This was important as it helped ensure that ideas turned into proposals that were reasonable, realistic and possible. Finally, internal staff of the City ratified these final proposals, before they reached the voting stage. This ratification ensured that the local government would support any proposal after being successful in the voting stage. A committee known as the steering committee was appointed by the City Council to overlook the process. The committee's responsibility involved: Drafting the PB rulebook, establishing goals and measures for success, creating a timeline for the implementation of projects and developing a successful outreach strategy. The Steering Committee consisted of 15 members, including one member of the City's council. The 15 members were divided into the 3 wards, with each ward containing 5 members. On top of this, there were 2 youth seats available and one seat which was to be occupied by a person with different abilities. As stated, The Steering Committee were responsible for reaching out to the community to encourage participation. Their efforts included promoting an online forum to collect ideas from any interested residents, alongside holding community outreach events. In terms of engaging people to participate in the voting stage, proposals were put on a ballot, promoted online, spoken of an in-person events within the community, and even shown in public schools within Durham to in the attempt to appeal to students. Out of all outreach methods, survey respondents emphasised that word to mouth was the most common way people heard of participating. This is shown in the results of the survey in which 28% of participants heard of the PB from word-to mouth, 19% from social media, 15% through email, and 19% from other forms such as schools and community associations. It is clear that the committee relied on their local network and outreach within the community to encourage participation. This was a pragmatic approach since there was not a restriction on the number of participants that were allowed to participate in the PB, so sampling was not required . However, participants were not offered anything in return for their participation. Nevertheless, participants wanted to participate because they found the idea of being trusted with the control of a $2.4million budget attractive. This level of control allowed them to feel that they could have a meaningful say on how to improve the community, encouraging community members to feel that they can make a difference in government at a grassroots level by helping in a direct way to decide the allocation of funding/resources.
Methods and Tools Used
Participatory Budgeting is a democratic innovation which places an emphasis on the giving citizens the ability to take part in the decision-making process of the governments allocation of funds by allowing them to make propose and vote on what proposals should receive funding from a given budget allocation. Participants votes have a binding decision on the allocation of funding relating to the budget. Therefore, PB goes further than engaging citizens in consultation about decision, giving them power to choose rather than influence. The City of Durham introduced this method due to its ability to achieve certain democratic goods such as inclusiveness and popular control. This is because PB encourages the local government to have a direct relationship the citizens of the community, which contributes to targeting funds in the best possible way.
Online voting was an important tool which was used during the case. This meant that people could vote from home and in schools instead of having to travel to a polling station. The benefit of this is that it is thought online voting would engage a wider audience, encouraging more people to participate due to ease, and especially younger people due to their familiarity with using the internet. One potential limitation of online voting is that there is the potential of shunning older community members from participating. This is because online voting required familiarity with how to use online platforms, which some older people may be unfamiliar with. To combat this potential issue, polling booths were kept open. This ensured that anyone in the community could vote in a way that they were most comfortable with, encouraging universal participation.
Furthermore, the creation of an online forum was another useful tool used in the process. Digital platform 'mapseed' was also used, which was a mapping tool that allowed participants to visualise the potential locations of proposed project ideas. This was combined with community outreach events in the idea collection phase.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Four main phases occured throughout the PB: (1) Idea Collection, (2) Proposal Development, (3) Voting, and (4) Project Implementation. Idea collection occured between November 1st and December 15th (2018), where community members created ideas about potential projects. An online forum was used alongside organizers establishing community outreach events to gather and plan any potential ideas that the residents put forward. The digital website 'Mapseed' was used during this part of the process helped locals visualise where the projects might be situated. By the end of the idea collection phase, there were over 500 submissions from local students and citizens on how to potentially improve the community. The Proposal Development phase took place from December 16th, 2018 to April 30th, 2019, chosen ideas were then developed by over 100 residents and students. This is where different types of staff came into play to ensure that these ideas were turned into proposals that were feasible, equitable and impactful, whilst ensuring residents played a part in each stage of the process. Participants in this stage were made up of volunteer Budget Delegates, Facilitators and Internal City staff. Internal staff worked alongside the budget delegates to develop feasible proposals according to set criteria. The proposals had to meet four objectives: (1) Meet the needs of the community, (2) Have a significant impact, (3) Be Equitable, and (4) Cost efficient. After meeting these criteria, the developed proposals were then placed on the ballot. The voting stage came after the proposal development phase. After the proposals were developed and ratified, a shortlist was provided (by Budget Delegates and Internal staff) and put on a ballot for residents to vote on. The methods in which people could place their vote included online at Pbdurham.org, schools, community events, dropping by a voting site or voting at a local pop-up site. From May 1st, 2019, to May 31st, 2019, over 10,000 people voted on 18 projects. The projects that gained the highest number of votes were chosen to receive funding. The final step of the initative was the implementation of the selected projects. Projects that received the most votes were scheduled to start construction in the following fiscal year. The PB set the aim of implementing at least half of all chosen projects in the first fiscal year. The Citizen's Capital Improvement Panel (CCIP) held the responsiblity to ensure that the implementation of successful projects was done correctly.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The PB initiative achieved its intended result of implementing projects which received the most votes from the ballot. On June 17th, 2019, it was announced that the following projects were successful and would receive part of the $2.4million funding: Technology for Durham Public Schools, Accessible Ramps, LGBTQ Youth Centre-Citywide Project, STEM & Entrepreneurship Program, Bus Shelters with Reclaimed Art & Colour Panels-Citywide Project, Historic Monuments, ADA Equipment, DHA Lighting & Security Cameras. Finding projects that received the most votes from residents meant that the budget was allocated to meet the desires of the community to a greater extent. Furthermore, the PB had a potential significant influence on residents attitudes and behaviours towards participating in future initiatives within the city. This is shown through survey results that state most of the volunteers (65%) that took part in the survey suggested that their experience of the first cycle meant that they would be likely to volunteer again. As a result, it could be said that the PB may have encouraged more community engagement with the city in the long term. Nevertheless, since the PB only took place less than 2 years ago, it is not yet possible to quantify its long term impact on individuals attitudes and behaviours towards the city. It is also important to note that the respondents of this survey were strictly made up of volunteers in the first cycle. It is unknown how engaged these people were previously within the community. For example, they could have already volunteered beforehand in another activity. Therefore, this result from the survey does not definitely imply that the PB engaged community members who were previously apathetic, as it could have just provided another opportunity for past volunteers to volunteer again. Also, 37/517 ideas submitted eventually received funding, which equates to 7%. This highlights the potential challenge that the PB faces of 'failing to manage participants expectations' (Spada, 2016). The more project ideas that are submitted, the likelihood that a participants idea receives funding decreases. This is because the total amount of money allocated towards projects in the PB does not change. Consequently, the initative could have resulted in a high level of frustration as many participants might have been left disappointed due to their idea not being developed. This might cause many participants to be hesitant to participate in future initiatives, becoming apathetic towards the process. Nevertheless, overall, the initative can be deemed a success given that the follow up of a second cycle which is currently underway. This second PB is known as PB Durham Cycle 2, and places an emphasis on the City's rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic by offering assistance to the communities. This second cycle has not yet been completed, with the voting stage ending on June 6th 2021.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In this section, I will analyse the impact of the City of Durham's first PB by using the democratic goods criteria set out my Graham Smith (Smith, 2009). Analysing the PB using Smith's democratic goods will give us a good indication over how the initiative has helped improved democracy. The relevant goods include inclusiveness, popular control, considered judgement, transparency, transferability and efficiency (Smith, 2009). My evaluation is based on my learning during my university module 'Reinventing Democracy' at the University of Southampton in 2021. As a result, the main reference for this section is my final essay that i have already submitted to the class. In terms of inclusiveness, the PB was designed to engage community members, with a wider variety of viewpoints being included in decisions at government level. The PB's tool of using online resources such as the City's website and online voting allowed a broader range of citizens to participate. For example, the City of Durham's website offered translations into the Spanish language (a popular language within the city). This feature encouraged city members whose first language is Spanish to feel welcome and thus more likely to participate since the process has catered towards them. Nevertheless, the PB failed to recruit an inclusive demographic as it struggled to attract idea submissions from people aged between 18-24. This is highlighted through the fact that this age category made up less than 1% of the total ideas that were submitted. This could have been for two reasons. Firstly, the PB might have failed to encourage this age group to take an interest, or secondly, this age group might have felt that their voice was restricted, with their opinions not being discusses enough or undervalued. If its this second reason, then Friendly's argument that some voices are heard louder in the process is echoed (Friendly, 2016). But ultimately, this lack of participation from 18-24 year olds emphasises the PB's limitation in either its effectiveness to recruit younger members of society, or its struggle of enabling young voices to be listened to and deliberated on an equal basis. Nevertheless, 10,179 votes were counted in total (4.7% of eligible residents). This shows that the PB was effective in giving members of the community an alternative platform to participate in democracy, rather than just voting in local elections. This alternative form of participation is highlighted through the fact that 15% of people who voted in the PB had not previously placed a vote in the previous local election, despite being eligible. This shows that not only did the PB achieve a higher level of inclusiveness in the sense of voter turnout, but perhaps also engaged those who previously felt apathetic towards politics. Before the initative, city funding for projects was only allocated by locally elected representatives. Consequently, in terms of popular control, giving citizens power over Durham's budget increased their ability to affect decision making at a local government level. This is backed up by the participants suggesting that they felt that the PB gave them power to decide on investments, which is power that they hadnt previously had. The fact that participants could propose and vote on projects to fund meant that citizens directed the nature of discussion through their own ideas. As a result, citizens set their own agenda in terms of what projects they deliberated over. Consequently, it is evident that the introduction of the PB increased popular control within the community. However, it is important to highlight that the popular control that the PB gave was limited due to the nature of the initative. The lack of money in the fund when compared to the total state expenditure in a fiscal year shows that in reality, participants have a small amount of control over the finances of the city as the investment into projects takes up only a small amount of the budget. This is emphasised through the fact that the City of Durham allocated $2.4million towards the PB. By contrast, total spending by Durham's government in that fiscal year was $510.9million (City of Durham North Carolina FY 2018-2019 Adopted Budget). As a percentage of the overall budget, this amounts to citizens controlling less than 0.5% of the overall budget. These figures emphasise the PB's limitation in displaying popular control. These figures back up Wampler's belief that PB gives less control to citizens than they originally think. Wampler suggests that the process makes citizens perceive that they are having a more influential say in the governing of their community, but in reality, little changes (Wampler, 2012). Therefore, unless PB is done on a mass scale, it is unlikely to significantly change the way in which government spend their budget, and this is emphasised through the minuscule amount of control citizens have over the financial budget in Durham. Considered judgement can be said to be an underachieved democratic good in the case of PB's due to the lack of capacity building that is given to residents before ideas are submitted. The lack of experts taking part in building local citizens knowledge of certain issues could have led to less technical and feasible recommendations being proposed. Nevertheless, given that trained volunteer budget delegates, facilitators, and internal city staff scrutinized and developed recommendations, this provided an opportunity for those with technical knowledge to have an input in developing the proposals that lacked considered judgement previously. Developing suggested proposals by evaluating them based on the specific criteria in the project development phase ensured that considered judgement would have been given to all projects which made it onto the ballot. Consequently, even though considered judgement wasn't a main goal of the PB, effort was made by training budget delegates to ensure projects received considered judgement. Transparency between members of the public and the government was achieved during the process due to citizens being involved in each stage of the PB. A noticable stage in which this occured was the proposal development phase where citizens were able to apply to become volunteer budget delegates. Volunteer budget delegates held joint responsibility in developing submitted ideas into reasonable proposals using set criteria. Ensuring citizens were able to take part at this stage of the programme ensured that the public understood what the government required from proposals for them to receive funding Consequently, transparency was increased as there was a constant involvement of citizens and openness of the governments desires in each step of the process. Moreover, transparency is acheived to a relatively higher degree in Durham's PB compared to other successful online PBs such as the Robin Hood project in the City of Melville (Australia). This is because Durham revealed more in depth results of the outcome of the voting stage, such as showing the amount of total votes each project received, Whereas Melville did not reveal the number of votes each idea received. As a result, Durham's PB was more transparent as residents were able to understand how popular each project was relative to others, increasing their knowledge about the outcomes of the process. The efficiency of the project is currently difficult to measure since the projects have only been started to be implemented recently. Therefore, it is not possible yet to identify whether the projects implemented are successful in the long term. Nevertheless, this project caused a trade-off between particular democratic goods. Although the PB strengthened popular control, the consequential effect was a reduction of considered judgement and potentially efficiency. As previously mentioned, the initative required residents to volunteer as budget delegates to develop ideas into feasible proposals. Whilst this would have increased popular control, it resulted in a lack of expertise behind the decision making in developing proposals. Consequently, more risky projects might have been chosen and therefore the likelihood of their failure increased. This lack of considered judgement in the process would in turn result in a reduction in efficiency if allocated resources are wasted. To combat this issue in the future, P, ay in which PB has been adopted. Nevertheless, the case took a relatively unique approach by allowing residents to participate either online or in-person. Since the PB took place in both person and online, it can be replicated in many different policy areas in various locations. The only issue with a large amount of information online and using online voting is that this method might not be transferable to countries which have not established a reliable and frequent internet connection for residents, causing participation be more challenging. However, the opportunity of voting in person as well as online helps combats this issue, making the type of PB that the City of Durham implemented much more transferable than purely online PB's such as the Robin Hood project. In conclusion, whilst the PB is not an example of perfect democracy, an initative that creates a perfection in all democratic goods does not exist. It is clear that introducing Participatory Budgeting into the city of Durham has only enhanced the way in which democratic goods are achieved within the community. This is ultimately shown through the positive effect it has on inclusiveness and popular control, whilst having the advantage of being very transferable for future initiatives.
Friendly, A. (2016). Participatory budgeting: The practice and the potential. In IMFG Forum (Vol. 6). The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG).
Sintomer, Y., Allegretti, G, Herzberg, C., & Röcke, A. (2013). Learning from the South: Participatory Budgeting Worldwide –an Invitation to Global Cooperation, Service Agency for Communities, Bonn
Smith, G., (2009). Democratic innovations: Designing institutions for citizen participation. Cambridge University Press.
Spada, P. and Allegretti, G., (2017). Integrating multiple channels of engagement in democratic innovations: Opportunities and challenges. Handbook of research on citizen engagement and public participation in the era of new media, pp.20-37.
Wampler, Brian (2012). Participatory Budgeting: Core principles and Key Impacts Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 8: Iss. 2, Article 12