In 2018, participatory budgeting was introduced in communities within Northern Ireland in order to alleviate problems facing citizens the most, via democratic measures to vote on where public funding should be spent.
In 2018, participatory budgeting (PB) was introduced in the district of Newry, Mournes and Down within Northern Ireland to alleviate issues concerning citizens the most, via democratic measures to vote on where public funding should be spent. The PB was split into two separate PBs: one rural Mournes and one for the youth of the district. Of the total pool of £10,500, this was subdivided across 21 successful groups who participated in this project. It was done under the ‘Communities Leading Change’ initiative, who trialled two types of PB to see which avenue succeeded in maximising their targeted aims: openness, transparency, fairness and inclusion. 
Problems and Purpose:
The objectives of this participatory budgeting were to build community engagement with democratic procedures and to use this to develop further change throughout communities in Northern Ireland. Any group within Newry, Mourne and Down district boundaries, could apply with their idea which would enhance their community and address any problem. The focus of improvements for Mourne were rural connectivity, mental health and general enhancements. Groups of young people were asked to make short videos on their ideas for projects that would benefit their local communities with investment, which were then voted upon.
Background History and Context:
On the 26th October 2015, the PB network in Birmingham hosted a conference wherein over 70 academics, activists and researchers gathered to best discuss and improve methods of PB and how it can be applied to local areas across the UK. Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Communities and Pensioners’ Rights Alex Neil gave his support to this scheme via a video message. 
The ‘Northern Ireland Open Government Network’ (NIOGN) further developed on this in 2015, with focus on transparency, participation and accountability.  Their website clarifies the reason for setting up of this organisation was to empower citizens by creating local democratic platforms. The NIOGN creates greater symmetry between governments and citizens, allowing greater responsiveness and openness, whilst limiting potential abuse of state power. 
On the 23rd March 2016, the NIOGN held an event at Belfast’s ‘Festival of Politics and Ideas’ where participants interacted in two groups, one giving their phones to the other group and asking persuasive questions to get them back. From this exercise, discussions were held on what type of behaviour led to the group with the phones wanting to give them back. Eleven main conclusions were drawn from this, including how real power comes from active citizen involvement, “democracy is parenting” and how the poorest are the best at budgeting.  Plans were subsequently made on the introduction of participatory budgeting in districts throughout Northern Ireland, including Newry, Mourne and Down. Groups were taught how to set up planning groups and get participants from their communities involved in PB.
On the 8th June 2018, a few months before the two PB events took place, a screening form was released outlining the aims and methodologies behind this process. This was used as input by the Newry, Mourne and Down Council alongside others to commission the first PB scheme for their community. 
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities:
The process, which was taken from the blueprint of the NIOGN, was initiated by the ‘County Down Rural Community Network’ and the ‘Confederation of Community Groups’. These two organised and micromanaged the two PBs, arranging an awards ceremony for successful applicants and creating online and in-person voting methods for citizens to vote for their favourite groups.
All activity in this district is derived from the ‘Community Planning Partnership Board’, comprised of statutory sector agency seniors, political party representatives alongside volunteers and community members.  This PB scheme was titled ‘Communities Leading Change’ and was run for two groups comprising of the youth of the district, and the other run by older, more rural residents primarily from Mourne. A collection of organisations came through to secure the funding of this project, including the ‘Newry, Mourne and Down District Council’, ‘Southern Health and Social Care Trust’, ‘South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust’, ‘NI Housing Executive’, ‘Department for Communities and the Police Service of Northern Ireland’ and provided by ‘NMD Financial Assistance’. 
All bodies, both organising and funding, stated above all follow the UN’s ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’, which influenced this PB.  The district council’s website in 2015 put up an article revealing a ‘Living Well Community Plan’ outlining 5 key outcomes desired by the same time frame of 2030. This conveys an ideological umbrella implicitly enabling multi-faceted cooperation across entities.
The ‘County Down Rural Community Network’ take funding from a plethora of sources, including EU backed organisations and the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.  The ‘Confederation of Community Groups’ is funded too by some of these same organisations, but also the ‘Northern Ireland Executive’ which is the devolved government of Northern Ireland, an administrative branch of the legislative ‘Northern Ireland Assembly’.  
Participant, Recruitment and Selection
The June 2018 screening form accounted for the demographic representations of the district based upon religious belief, political opinion, racial group, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender, disability and dependence. The document states how all these factors would be addressed, and how specific marginalised groups would be targeted through increased advertising to make sure no potential participant was left behind. This was done to ensure inclusivity and to maximise citizen participation. To give fairer, more inclusive participation, this PB was split into two groups (the district-wide youth and those in rural communities) to assign most appropriate funding to the different problems affecting distinct demographics. The process was screened by David Patterson, head of ‘Community Planning’, and approved by Johnny McBride, assistant director of ‘Community Planning and Performance’.
The ingenuity and ideological scaffolding behind the process was provided by several academics and experts in organisations such as the ‘PB Network’ or the NIOGN who were recommended by government bodies for their renowned expertise in the respective PB subject areas. Citizens had full control over voting etc. and thus had a direct influence on PB decision-making which cut out layers of bureaucracy.
The only restriction imposed on the 2 PBs was that participating citizens had to belong to the relevant defined demographic groups. Apart from this parameter, there were no restrictions imposed within the groups on who could participate. No exclusive sampling techniques were used throughout the process as there were no limits on total participants within the pre-determined demographic criteria of Mournes and youth. Instead, seeing as ‘Communities Leading Change’ is comprised of community members itself, local networks were used to spread the word of the opportunity at hand. A report from the council website after the 1st PB took place in Mourne stated how both events were advertised and promoted using the council’s website and social media channels.  One resident, named Mary, when interviewed at the event shared that one of her group’s committee members had received an email inviting them to an information evening, suggesting the event was well planned, organised and connected to the genuine community. 
Methods and Tools Used
The NIOGN’s reasoning behind their methodology for participatory budgeting in NI were to broaden participation and confidence in government, increase accountability, improve policy making and to deliver better services for communities. In their 2015 report, they describe an 8 step process of 1) forming a planning group, 2) giving it a meaningful name, 3) agreeing on priorities, 4) informing and engaging participants, 5) receiving applications, 6) holding a ‘decision’ event, 7) announcing results and 8) spreading the word. These steps were given with the main objective of helping to get everyone to work together with each other.
Four months before the event took place, the council released a screening form stating the methodologies behind the PB and how the processes would take place. Planning, precaution and external factors were analysed and taken into account during this step. ‘Community Planning and Performance’, a group within the council, wrote and implemented these policies. The desired outcomes were to “enable citizens to have a direct say in how public money is spent, extend community engagement by involving groups in making democratic decisions and expanding community knowledge of priorities and assets”.
Participatory budgeting is simply defined as where a community comes together to decide how public funding is spent. The meetings in Birmingham and Belfast, used what is known as ‘conversation cafés’. This is where groups of people gather informally to discuss and improve democratic innovations.  These integratory collaborative activities were the building blocks to be used in conjunction with further processes, such as deliberative polling alongside preferential voting. This is where a select stratum of a population is gathered to discuss and deliberate issues before voting on their preferred ideas to resolve them.
The strategy of the design was to augment inclusivity, staying earnest to the principles of PB by giving the final say completely to the residents of Newry, Mourne and Down. The process was designed to be absent of bureaucracy, seeing as no elected official could intervene at any stage of deliberation or voting. The intention behind this rationale can be pinpointed to the 2016 Belfast meetings, where academics and representatives of public bodies recognised the feelings of citizens feeling let down by politicians and democratic systems when power is centralised. This philosophy was clearly ingrained within these PBs giving citizens full, non-regulated responsibility to democratically extend their communal utility. Feedback given by participants stated, “it was people driven”, “the process was straightforward and fair” and that “the event was entertaining and informative”.
Within the two PBs there were two similar, but slightly different methodologies behind the procedures followed. Firstly, in Mournes an event was held on the 18th of October 2018 in which 70 participants listened to nine groups pitching different proposals, before casting three votes for their three favourite groups, after which six groups won £500 of funding each. The creators of this PB, by focusing on a specific rural area, utilised what is known as ‘Participatory Rural Appraisal’, aiding rural development through issue identification, solution identification and monitoring evaluation.  The PB setup for the youth of the entire district had an online deliberative project, in which groups posted a YouTube video pitch for their project idea. Over 5000 participants voted for their favourite three ideas. Fifteen of the total 24 participatory groups were successful in their pitches and were each awarded a £500 investment.
What Went On: Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction:
On the 18th October 2018, over 70 residents of the Mournes District Electoral Area underwent the process at the Newry Street Unite Community Centre. Each of the nine groups there pitched and presented their ideas to the audience, with clear, fair and timed deliberation processes occurring including audience questions being answered. Footage from the event on YouTube show a friendly, casual but professional environment in which deliberation through roundtable discussions by participants took place. This led on to a ballot styled voting system which is shown by the footage to have been fair. In the main report, when surveyed after the event, 100% of respondents found the process to be easy and 91.7% said it was worthwhile and they would participate if given the opportunity again.
Leigh of the Bryansford Boxing Club, said that his group was unsuccessful, however during the evening he made a number of connections within his community, which raised potential funding opportunities for him. An organiser of the event David Patterson, a member of the council, stated residents made a “direct decision over how those public funds are used”. Janine Knox, a representative of one of the council funders the ‘Big Lottery Fund’, spoke about how providing an environment for residents to come together speak as a group in real life encouraged them to take part in legitimate democratic deliberation. Some groups however seemed to have large numbers compared to other group sizes, suggesting that some of these larger groups might have skewed the voting outcomes.
The next event for ‘Youth Leading Change’ took place on the 24th November 2018 at the Canal Court Hotel in Newry. Prior to the event, 24 groups sent in short videos pitching their ideas requiring funding, which were then voted on by over 5000 district members. The online voting allowed for a greater number of voting participants, seeing as voters were not limited to those who could travel to wherever a paper ballot vote took place and younger participants being more technologically capable. Footage filmed at the event posted on YouTube depicts an immaculate meeting space packed with attendees, coinciding with a fully-resourced well organised structure.  The most popular fifteen groups were then formally awarded with £500 each, totalling £7500, and had their pictures taken and videos shown to the wider audience. Over 120 young people attended the awards ceremony with the evaluation report stating that there was significant representation across all groups who came forth. 100% of the youth found the process to be easy, however a decreased 84.2% of those surveyed said it was worthwhile and they’d do it again. This drop from the elder Mourne group’s attitudes to the youth groups can be explained by increased competition as six of the nine Mournes groups secured funding (66.6%), as opposed to fifteen from the 25 youth proposals (60%).
Chair for the district council, Mark Murnin, said in an interview in the video that the event was facilitated “to allow local people to decide on how funds are spent within their communities”. He also stated that the attendees were provided the opportunity to establish further connections and learn from each other about potential ideas and how to engage democratic processes for their consideration. Leigh managed to secure funding for his boxing club from the youth PB, one month after being unsuccessful in his application to the Mournes’ PB. This demonstrates how the methodology behind the PB process energises citizens in democratic innovations and maintains engagement within the overall mechanism.
For both events, all group’s potential, ideas and opinions were realised due to the design of the process facilitating these concerns from the beginning. With such positive feedback in reports and videos, the function and intentional behind the methodology was actualised. Results were also communicated effectively to the wider public. Word of mouth, combined with the Communities Leading Change evaluation report and the professional, uplifting YouTube videos for both events, exemplifies an effective communication to the general public.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects:
In Mourne, the projects awarded with £500 funding each were: ‘The Ladies of Mourne: Cultural Trip to Stormont’, ‘MYMY: Updating their multipurpose and crisis room’, ‘Advocacy VSV: Finishing their website and promotional leaflets’, ‘Atticall: Youth Participation project’, ‘ARK Community Gardens: Winter Market’ and ‘Newry Street Unite: Big Community Quiz’. Each of these projects chosen fell under the 3 core areas the community wanted to improve: rural connectivity, mental health and area development. With the youth, projects voted to be funded included: ‘Autism Families, Therapy Tuesdays’, ‘Cloughoge Primary School’, ‘Croabh Rua Camlocha Hurling Club, Bessbrook, Community Gym’ and 12 others. One example of a successful youth project was the ‘Clanrye Group’, who professionally shot a video raising awareness about drug use, which was viewed over 1000 times.  This had a positive impact on the social fabric of the community by making the youth aware in a non-condescending and engaging manner. The original aims behind the PB were achieved across all the selected projects. Successful ‘MYMY’ group member said after funding was used, “this has made a huge difference to the overall feel of the house and we are very grateful for the grant”.
The overwhelmingly positive attitudes of participants in the PB surveyed show the intention and planning of the methodology of prioritising the voice of the citizen over the rule of governing bodies or the state was successful. Interviews and statements from the public show an increased faith in democratic systems and processes. This encouraged further PBs to take place within the community. In 2019, Communities Leading Change setup two new PB in Downpatrick in the district, following from the successes of the 2018 PBs.  The 5th takeaway from the 2016 Belfast meeting was that “human beings know if they cooperate and volunteer they can create a good future”, which was proven in these PBs. The lessons learnt from the evaluation report continue this notion, finding knowledge across the community overall has increased, the community feels it has a voice and is more confident in applying for future funding, through this transparent, open process.
The feedback report contained further developments to the theory of change, suggesting accessibility to getting group funding needs to be expanded, whilst trying to enlarge the number of participants, the size of events and possibly moving further beyond PBs to more creative and inclusive democratic innovations. The project was such a success that ‘PB Works’ used it as an example of how prioritising community engagement can maximise the intended effects of PB. 
Analysis and Lesson Learned:
Graham Smith, in his book ‘Democratic Innovations’ analysing methodological frameworks, identified six main democratic goods required for systemic health. These are inclusiveness, popular control, considered judgement, transparency, efficiency and transferability. 
Inclusiveness was listed in the evaluation report as a principal of PB, defined in this context as how few barriers to entry a process has. The meticulous planning and the abundance of meetings prior to this PB taking place highlight the significant positive impact on inclusiveness. According to a research report from the World Bank, projects exempt from governance accounting for discrimination “tend to systemically exclude disadvantaged and minority groups and women”.  For example, in the June 2018 planning report from the council; the data profiling of characteristics inhibited by potential participants being factored into, to ensure ethical symmetry of information advertised and promoted, allowed for an optimal inclusivity. Video footage confirms, particularly in the Mourne PB, there was a strong representation of women involved in the deliberation process. Splitting the PB into two separate PBs for the two most in-need demographics allowed for more sensitive planning, higher degrees of inclusion, effective deliberation and voting which delivered successful outcomes.
The lower participation in Mournes’ PB can be attributed to having an in-person ballot vote compared to the youth PB’s having an online vote as there there were more barriers to entry to vote. If, as stated earlier, the council used their website and social media accounts as primary methods of promotion, older demographics are discriminated against as rates of technological access and usage are lower. This, in tandem with lower access to technology in rural areas such as Mourne, depict a flag for improvement, where the process could become more inclusive, transparent and efficient in raising awareness.
These PBs were run under the same principles as the original PB in Porto Alegre in 1989 leveraging the Leninist concept of ‘dual power’ between governing bodies and empowered citizens who are involved in political decision making, as opposed to classical representative democracy where decisions are made on their behalf.  An example of this can be derived from the 12th theme found by Yves Cabannes in reviewing the success of the renowned Brazilian democratic blueprint.  This shows how conflicts of interest between areas within districts at different levels of urban development can arise and how PBs must cater for this to succeed. The Newry, Mournes and Down District Council accounted for this by ensuring targeted funding was allocated to the more disconnected rural area of Mournes, which further displays the focus determined to achieve inclusiveness.
However, this process was selected by council planners, meaning more marginalised groups who could have had more to gain in this PB may have been left out of the picture. A vote could have been cast as to which areas within the district, which demographics of groups were represented, etc. but this lack of maximisation of a democratic good could have happened due to a comparatively low funding provision of £10,500. This means that with a larger amount of resources a greater impact could have taken place on this democratic good, which itself highlights the need to analyse the affect popular control had during this PB. The citizens of Newry, Mournes and Down, through documentation and video footage, had opportunity to engage in a fair and smooth process in which more proposals were successful than rejected. This demonstrates a clear level of popular control wherein the citizens determined, through democratic innovations, their own communities’ future.
The communities’ ability to make decisions in the future due to the implementation of this project will have increased. But as mentioned earlier, there was still a hierarchical structure of institutions that a lot of voters didn’t have access to, meaning there could have been further control utilised for the good of the population’s best interests. For example, the citizens have no mechanism installed as to how they can alter the size of the budget or funds allocated meaning projects with ideas requiring a larger budget may not have been included. This suggests that a future improvement to be made could be to undergo a deliberative process of between the council organisers and original participants to vote upon how the design of the process can be changed if needs be. The interconnectivity between local government and the citizens of the district due to making contacts through deliberative will, in the long run, empower participants to understand the process better, further refining all democratic goods. Albeit a different democratic innovation, Finnish professor of political science Kimmo Grönlund has argued any planned deliberative process benefits both efficiency and transparency through the sharing and learning of fresh ideas, perspectives, knowledge and wisdom from a multitude of varying participants. 
Although there was a chain of institutional power overwatching the process, documentation provided to the background of the reasoning behind the methodology of this specific PB suggests considerable judgement took place. The 2015 Birmingham meeting and the 2016 Belfast meeting alongside substantial planning were all done to analyse what attracts citizens of communities towards engaging in democratic processes. This was all a success, countering Vivien Lowdnes’ issue of ‘social exclusion’; wherein participants, particularly the youth, feel distrust in governing bodies, resulting in low democratic interaction.  Participants’ feedback on the PB process was overwhelmingly positive, suggesting this high level of considered judgement convinced participants that the methodology and process was calculated to ensure the core morality of this democratic innovation was held true.
Participants’ opinions in the evaluation document alongside interviews given in online videos particularly praise the efficiency of the process, with 100% of survey respondents agreeing the entire process was “easy”. PB is a “meaningful inefficiency”, with the inefficiency being the length of time for deliberation to finish, as noted by Eric Gordon.  The timeframe, from the planning report and it being signed off and the events taking place, were a handful of months suggesting there was little delay in the installing and following-through of the methodology, therefore exemplifying a minimised inefficiency.
It is important to also note the transferability this PB has demonstrated, whether it be through again majority feedback agreeing it was worthwhile and showing enthusiasm to repeat the process in the future. The evaluation report contains reports of where money has been spent, how it has helped and there is also a website showing all successful applicants alongside further PB successes around the UK.  The maintenance to keep the ignition of engagement high, signifying transferability, presented itself by two new PB projects in the district being setup in the following year of 2019. The unique aspect of this case, splitting the PB for two demographics, is furthermore a transferrable blueprint to be used to help areas around NI who struggle for instance due to geographical rurality. This establishes a beneficial mutation of a type of PB that can be used in the future to benefit areas via democratic innovation who previously would’ve been hindered due to these factors.
 Communities Leading Change: ‘Participatory Budgeting in Newry, Mourne and Down’ (Evaluation Report). https://www.newrymournedown.org/media/uploads/nmd_communities_leading_change_-_screen.pdf
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