‘Oor Bit’ was a participatory budgeting initiative that was implemented in late 2016 and concluded in January 2017implemented by Fife Council with the objective to empower the people of Fife in the ongoing push for a greater level of community participation within politics.
Problems and Purpose
Between 2010 (the year which Participatory budgeting was first implemented in Fife) and January 2017, the county of Fife engaged in 25 separate processes of PB which involved the distribution of approximately £1,000,000 in the form of small ‘grants’ [i]. The expansion of PB in Scotland has become a central focus for the Scottish government in their strategy for greater community involvement in the local budget distribution process. The Cowdenbeath area committee, which is 1 of 7 in existence across the 22 wards, decided that £250,000 would be spent using a process of participation that directly placed control in the hands of the local people. Cowdenbeath and Glenrothes have been among the most active areas of those who have adopted PB in Fife with them accounting for 56% of activity and 70% of total funding (2018). The desire to increase the use of participatory measures in local politics has become a key goal and now seeks to extend participation into more mainstream areas of politics in local communities, councils and the Scottish government. Overall PB has been instrumental in closing the gap between residents and the policies which affect their local areas as they continue to promote the notion of a ‘fair Fife’ [ii] which uses this participatory process ‘as a tool for community empowerment and setting targets’ (ibid).
Background History and Context
Fife is a county situated on the east coast of Scotland which is approximately 1325 square km in size and is currently home to around 371,910 individuals which makes it Scotland’s third-biggest authority area in terms of population, with most of its residents residing in the three main principal towns of Dunfermline, Kirkcaldy and Glenrothes.
Between 2010 and 2017, Fife has engaged with 25 separate PB processes, distributing a total of over £850,000 to local groups and projects. The implementation of PB in Fife was a part of the wider Scottish agenda which aimed to use this process as a tool for community empowerment and greater development of the management of budgets within local areas. PB in Fife has mainly worked through the use of small grants which are provided for citizens to then decide how and where this money will be spent and distributed. Working on a smaller scale has helped target problems areas in engagement and encouraged an increase of participation in local and national politics.
Fife is known for being ‘one of the earlier adopters of PB in Scotland’ [iii] making it a model for other cases of PB which later followed in Scotland. Scottish PB has continued to develop now aiming to ensure that the use of at least 1% of Scotland’s local authorities’ budgets is decided through the PB process which makes the nation one step closer to an increased amount of ‘direct engagement’ [iv] within Scottish local communities. Each PB case in Fife has focused on increasing political participation within the local community. The main themes have included: Community Engagement, Community Safety, Futures, Local Environment and Young People.
The 2016 session of PB, ‘Oor Bit Fife – Places and Spaces’ [i], is a participatory budgeting initiative that provided individuals residing in the Cowdenbeath area of Fife with the opportunity to propose and vote on ideas around a particular issue. Plans for the PB process were approved at the Cowdenbeath Area Committee meeting in 2016. The purpose of this particular PB process was to develop and upscale PB initiatives and schemes by introducing a model which prioritised a multi-channel approach. The goal was to increase participation and engagement by using digital tools, aiming to increase awareness and knowledge of Participatory Budgeting.
PB in Scotland has led to the passing of legislation that will be key in transitioning PB into mainstream politics. The Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 provides a range of new powers to strengthen the voices of the local community while allowing them to steer, lead and have conversations on issues and topics which are important to them. It allows local authorities and community councils to collaborate and utilise the new freedom they now possess to tailor the schemes and programmes to the circumstances and conditions of the area in question.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Fife council worked in partnership with The Democratic Society which is an international organisation of networks that work across Europe, to connect and engage citizens with the decisions and policies which directly shape their lives and the environment they live in. They aim to connect people and power in the hope of creating more opportunities for individuals to participate in democracy. Fife council's collaboration with the organisation allowed the council to select, embed and test two digital tools which were provided by ‘The Digital Tools for Participatory Budgeting in Scotland’ [v] Programme. The tools tested were: Your Priorities for the idea generation phase and D21 for the voting phase. Like most of the PB processes which have taken place in Fife, the 2016 session was funded by grants provided by the Scottish government to The Democratic Society.
A steering group was created and contained community representatives from each of the 8 localities within Cowdenbeath. They had regular meetings which involved planning and decision-making which was supported by staff at Fife Council, Coalfields Regeneration Trust and The Democratic Society. The group agreed on, ‘places and spaces’ [iii] being the focus which would involve online and offline engagements. The group received training on digital engagement by The Democratic Society, whilst also having written user guides provided for them.
The Coalfields Regeneration Trust is key to the Scottish context as it is the only organisation which is dedicated to supporting former mining towns and villages throughout the UK. This was and in some cases, still is a massive part of life in Scotland. Many individuals, villages and communities, in general, were dependent on this sector which means many were affected and left without work and the ability to make a living. The desire to reduce trade unions in this area led to a decrease in the presence of the people’s voice, especially the working class. The Coalfield Regeneration Trust was set up to help communities like this in the hope of supporting communities and creating opportunities for their people.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
In 2016, each locality needed a community representative to form a steering group; they were selected for their knowledge around the area they lived in, which allowed fair representation from that area. However, it does not state how they were chosen and who chose them. The group’s role was to monitor and organise the exercise, and they would do this by meeting regularly. They chose ‘spaces and places' to be the focus of the exercise and how the process would incorporate the digital tools provided to them.
The ideation phase allowed the public to submit their ideas online or offline. The Fife Council printed posters and flyers, and local events handed out invitations and information for the public to know about participation. The Democratic Society promoted this phase using social media pages, including Facebook and Twitter, which allowed the public to vote for the idea to which they wish to get more funding, with participation available online and offline. [i]
Methods and Tools Used
The method chosen was Participatory Budgeting; PB is a process of democratic deliberation in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget, therefore, allowing people to have power over money. It first started in Porto Alegre as an anti-poverty measure that helped reduce the child mortality rate by nearly 20%. Since then, PB has spread worldwide, helping governments delegate local budgets. However, this PB exercise differs from Porto Alegre, as six key outcomes were identified in Porto Alegre, which were:
· Including the poor in decision-making
· Breaking down clientelist relations
· Redistributing urban infrastructure and service provision
· Building and democratising civil society
· Developing administrative capacities
· Promoting radical democracy
Over time, PB process around the world have reduced the emphasis on social justice and administrative reform and embraced a more technocratic aproach. [xi] Therefore, there are some important differences between traditional PB cases and this case. Once the phases had taken place, the public was no longer updated. This was acknowledged in the final evaluation of this exercise. The group understood the importance of keeping the community informed and suggested in future an arranged event or press release would be a good way to keep the public informed. [I]
This exercise also included testing two digital tools for The Digital Tools for Participatory Budgeting in Scotland from The Democratic Society, which was D21 and Your Priorities. [i] Your Priorities was the tool for the idea generation phase, and it was an online forum for the community to discuss how they would spend the budget money. Members were able to like and comment on posts and share new ideas of what needed the extra funding. D21 was the digital tool for the voting phase and offered an online alternative to a physical ballot vote. D21 produced paper ballots that were digitally scanned from the votes at the ballot box to enable an overall digital tally of the votes. Those who opted for either option could vote via Freepost, allowing the public to vote by mail.
Other similar method and tool technique entries:
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Set up, Planning and Capacity Building Phase
The capacity building phase saw The Democratic Society provide training around digital engagement and the use of tools to the steering group and oversee the circulation of written user guides. Although, it is not clear what the digital engagement included.
This phase was open to all residents and happened between the 18th of June and the 4th of September 2016, which allowed plenty of time to participate. The steering group had chosen ‘Your Priorities’ to be the digital tool used during this phase, which allowed the public to submit their ideas once registered. Freepost postcards were provided by Fife Council, which allowed participants to mail their ideas to those who did not want to use the website. This phase saw 166 ideas generated, 99 of which were generated online using the Your Priorities website, with a total of 116 registered users. 67 of the ideas generated were from the Freepost postcards. Unfortunately, demographic data was not gathered, but the online ideas showed that the website was successful. [i]
This allowed the steering group to remove duplicate ideas, leaving 138 ideas to progress into the sifting process. Some themes emerged relating to plans already underway in the local area: play parks (24 ideas), transportation (21 ideas), and town centre improvement (16 ideas). Once these ideas were identified, they were removed from the process and delegated to areas responsible for related workstreams within the Council. However, once they were delegated to the areas responsible, what happened next with them is unclear. This left 32 projects that progressed to the voting phase, with a combined total of £448,500. [i]
This phase happened between the 31st of October and the 27th of November 2016, with D21 chosen as the digital tool to be used. All residents who resided in the area who were aged eight or above were invited to participate online through their website or by completing a ballot paper in one of the voting stations in their locality. They chose ballot papers due to the complications that online voter booths may have caused at the voting sites, like poor WIFI access, and that non-face-to-face interactions may negatively impact the nature of events. D21 produced paper ballots so that they could be scanned into a digital system, which created an overall digital tally. The council contacted school headteachers to inform students of the voting phase, and the schools dedicated time for students to vote on their phones or other devices. The steering group divided the localities into three wards when voting and decided not to have a verification process to encourage as much participation as possible. Those voting were asked to select their ward, and after, were free to vote. The online process was constantly monitored for fraudulent activity (such as multiple votes from the same I.P. address), however, there was no evidence to suggest the outcome was compromised. This phase saw a total of 1,406 votes cast, of which 568 (40%) votes were generated online and 838 (60%) of votes were generated through voting ballots. [i]
The representatives concluded that the exercise successfully involved the public in the decision-making process while allowing the public the chance to express their ideas and vote. [i] The results were published, which showed that 14 projects received funding from £250,000. [iii]
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The steering group concluded that the initiative was a success when involving the public, while the results also published that 14 projects received funding from the ideas created by the public. Each of these projects received funding of between £5,000 and £30,000 each, all of which have started to be implemented with many still being further developed today.[iii]
An online survey was used to collect feedback from those who took part using the digital tools on the D21 website, in which 53 people took part. Overall, people thought that the website was quick and easy to use, with the layout and presentation of information well received. The majority of those who responded either agreed or strongly agreed that the website was easy to use (76.92%), while 90.38% of respondents believed that the website was a good way to take part in decision making, to which 88% agreed that they would consider using a website like this in the future. After the initiative, improvements were proposed which included that the process could have done more to keep the community informed, on the progress, outcomes, next steps or future exercises as soon as possible. The steering group thought that arranging an event or a press release at the end would have given a positive impact on the community. 
Since the Oor Bit initiative, Scotland has continued to utilise PB, for example, in 2020 they set a goal to engage young people in policy-making and aimed to tackle child poverty in Renfrewshire through participatory budgeting. [vii] In 2019, an initiative called ‘Improving Participatory Budgeting in Scotland: A Collaborative Research Project’ was created, with the intention of / bt learning from Participatory Budgeting international cases, to improve PB in Scotland.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
In this section we will analyze the impact of the process using Graham Smith approach.
Inclusion - The process was open to all the residents of Fife. Inclusion and outreach were considered a success by the organizers arguing that the combined use of digital and traditional ‘in person’ methods helped increase the number of citizens who could participate, especially during the ideation phase. Unfortunately, this case failed to collect any demographical data, meaning we do not know the participants’ full demographic profile. It is unclear whether the process was successful in identifying and amplifying marginalised voices in Fife however, the use of a multi-channel approach was successful in maximising idea generation despite not necessarily diversifying the demographic. The voting phase encouraged increased participation compared to previous years, as individuals were now able to submit votes electronically, resulting in what council staff acknowledge to be Fife’s largest participatory budgeting exercise to date (1,406 votes - 568 generated online). In comparison, the 2015 budget consultation received 867.[i] The 8 localities involved in the exercise were: Benarty; Cardenden; Cowdenbeath; Crossgates; Hill of Beath; Kelty; Lochgelly; Lumphinnans. The process did struggle to include more localities because there was a lack of engagement and therefore insufficient idea generation in areas such as Kingseat for example; in which support for projects is taking place in another way. Kingseat was originally included, but there were challenges with engagement and no ideas were generated for the area.[i] This decreases inclusivity because the entire community is not accurately represented. The combination of response options proved successful. Lower-income groups and older community members who had no access to technology still had access to in-person voting; the combination successfully increased participants' responses. In terms of outreach, word of mouth and social media worked well for this community. However, for larger-scale PB processes, a more organised approach to increasing the pool of participants may be necessary. For example, a larger scale was met in PB in Paris. According to the “Charter of Participatory Budgeting”, each borough “takes measures to mobilise participants” by ensuring the proper dispersal of information. and “During the project proposal and voting phases, special attention is given to the mobilisation of lower-class neighbourhoods and young people.” [viii] This shows that larger-scale PB requires a more organised approach when recruiting participants to ensure a diverse range of social groups than smaller-scale processes (such as Fife’s).
Popular control - The majority of this PB process was in the hands of the citizens. The ideation phase was completely dependent on the participation of the residents because ideas that would later be voted on, were direct suggestions and proposals from citizens themselves. This approach puts control over policy firmly at the people's will by promoting a participatory budgeting approach built fundamentally with the citizens in mind. Control over the design of the process was handled by a steering group supported by Fife council staff employees and The Democratic Society and Coalfields Regeneration Trust. The steering group consisted of local community members who acted as representatives. This shows the general public controlled even the design because the committee(s) formed to create and supervise the initiative were citizens who held a strong interest in running their communities. The ideation and voting phase particularly ensures power to participants by making them imperative to the success of the process.
Considered Judgement - The introduction of digital tools required the training of the steering group who received lessons on digital engagement and how to appropriately utilise these tools when trying to maximise levels of engagement and participation. It must be noted that the idea generation phase did not allow for the usual level of deliberation that traditionally occurs within this phase as a result of the online aspect which allowed ideas to be submitted remotely. This means that in-person discussion is somewhat limited but it does open up an entirely new online avenue that can be utilised to create an online discussion of local policy and potential proposals. This was due to citizens being able to comment on one another’s online submissions on the Your Priorities website, where public records of all ideas were kept throughout the process [i]. This is also key in engaging younger generations within the community. Moreover, the visible public record of all suggestions and the ability to comment on other participants’ submissions allowed participants to view, understand, and show empathy towards the positions and reasonings of other participants [i]. Empathy may have been improved further with more opportunity for physical discussion, particularly for those who view online interaction less favourably, as well as those who are less capable of using technology.
Transparency - Participation in this PB process was open to all community members, with the entire process being made transparent (e.g. Your Priorities website). The initiative was created to improve democracy and to put funding in the communities’ control. Warren highlights the importance of democratic innovations being open to scrutiny and criticism from the participants, with locals having complete control over the budget. Through online forums and input pages such as those linked below, the community can share their opinions and feedback on community budgeting suggestions[ix].
Efficiency - Participation was non-exclusive and community-based, with the cost of recruitment limited. Nonetheless, in the evaluation report submitted to the Cowdenbeath Area Committee in 2017, it was concluded that there could have been a more efficient way of being consistent between online and offline processes, to ensure all details would be accessible in one place. Moreover, the online elements of promotion and participation reduced the cost of the process, improving efficiency in terms of time and money.
Transferability - The method used for this case would be easy to replicate and apply to a larger or smaller initiative. The case is transferable to any scale and any place, particularly because the inclusion is so high and the method can be easily standardised; it is not limited to a small community scale and could easily be carried out on a larger scale to give citizens a voice in decision making. The evaluation report of the process was submitted to the Cowdenbeath Area Committee in January 2017, concluding, “The Oor Bit PB exercise…proved that we can scale up initiatives of this nature and engage with more and different people than would normally get involved”[i]. However, if it was to be adopted elsewhere, there would have to change. Dolowitz and Marsh (2000) use the importance of policy transfer to gauge a criterion of transferability; with this case, elements such as the promotion and outreach would be less effective on a larger scale because this case relied on word of mouth in a tight-knit community[xi].
Fife has been subject to several PB processes over the last decade. Participedia contains some information regarding these, mostly in the form of stubs containing little information other than the initial purposes of the programmes. Nonetheless, there is one case that contains a significant amount of content relating to PB in Fife, covering an event held to “foster learning about participatory budgeting from an exemplar proponent, namely Paris” [i], and to develop partnerships between potential practitioner sites - one of which being Fife. This event covered several topic areas, such as what Scotland can learn from international partners in terms of how to mainstream PB and to what extent might evidence be seen of the development of a community of practice amongst participants. Using Paris as an exemplary model, the meeting was intended to explore the reality of bringing PB to Fife amongst other areas. Other content on Participedia is either unrelated to this case or contains information on cases that were carried out after the date of the ‘Oor Bit’ participatory budgeting initiative.
[i]Ecas. 2017. Participatory Budgeting Case Study: Fife Council. [online] Available at: <https://ecas.issuelab.org/resource/participatory-budgeting-case-study-fife-council.html> [Accessed 8 December 2021].
[ii] O'Hagan, A., O'Connor, C., MacRae, C. and Teedon, P., 2019. Evaluation of Participatory Budgeting Activity in Scotland 2016-2018. [online] Scotland. Available at:<https://strathprints.strath.ac.uk/72633/1/OHagan_etal_2019_Evaluation_of_participatory_budgeting_activity_in_Scotland_2016_2018.pdf> [Accessed 24 December 2021].
[iii] PB Network. 2017. Oor Bit – Places and Spaces in Fife: The results are in!. [online] Available at: <https://pbnetwork.org.uk/oor-bit-places-and-spaces-in-fife-the-results-are-in/> [Accessed 8 December 2021].
[iv] Smith, G., 2009. Democratic innovations. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
[v] Wampler, B., 2012. Participatory Budgeting: Core Principles and Key Impacts. [online] Scholarworks.boisestate.edu. Available at: <https://scholarworks.boisestate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=&httpsredir=1&article=1129&context=polsci_facpubs> [Accessed 8 December 2021].
[vi] Participedia.net. 2021. 'Oor Bit Fife- Places and Spaces' Participatory Budgeting Case Study: Fife Council – Participedia. [online] Available at: <https://participedia.net/case/7811?lang=en> [Accessed 8 December 2021].
[vii] PB Network. 2021. Engaging young people in policy-making: Free webinar, 25th November. [online] Available at: <https://pbnetwork.org.uk/category/geographic/scotland/> [Accessed 16 December 2021].
[viii] Mairie de Paris. (2014). https://budgetparticipatif.paris.fr/bp/la-demarche-sommaire/charte.html
[ix] Warren, M., 2018. Trust and democracy. The Oxford handbook of social and political trust, pp.75-94.
[x] Warren, M.E., 2017. What kinds of trust does a democracy need? Trust from the perspective of democratic theory. In Handbook on political trust. Edward Elgar Publishing.
[xi] Dolowitz, D.P. and Marsh, D., 2000. Learning from abroad: The role of policy transfer in contemporary policy‐making. Governance, 13(1), pp.5-23.
[xii] Abers, R., King, R., Votto, D. and Brandão, I., 2018. Porto Alegre: Participatory Budgeting and the Challenge of Sustaining Transformative Change. [online] World Resources Institute. Available at: <https://www.wri.org/research/porto-alegre-participatory-budgeting-and-challenge-sustaining-transformative-change>
Participatory Budgeting Case Study: Fife Council (issuelab.org)
Idea Generation Tool, Your Priorities, Community input community-based: Oor Bit - Fife (yrpri.org)
The Democratic Society: Participatory Budgeting in Scotland (demsoc.org)
Scottish Government – Participatory Budgeting: Community empowerment: Participatory budgeting - gov. scot (www.gov.scot)
PB Scotland: PB Scotland - Participatory Budgeting in Scotland
PB Network (Scotland): Participatory Budgeting in Scotland – PB Network