San Marcello Pistoiese's participatory budgeting initiative, "Facciamo i Conti...Insieme" engaged citizens in the deliberative and decision-making processes of determining investment priorities.
Problems and Purpose
The Administration of San Marcello Pistoiese, a small community with less than 7,000 inhabitants located in the mountains in the North of Tuscany, decided to undertake participatory budgeting in order to transform the traditional political and administrative logic, and to adopt decisions enjoying greater legitimacy in the eyes of the population. The community features a traditional social predisposition to cooperation for the common good (for instance, there are thirty-two social and cultural associations of social and cultural volunteerism within the municipality).
Furthermore, the teritory is divided into six districts (“frazioni”). For these reasons, considering that this was the first participation experience, it was decided to involve all the fractions and associations in the Participatory Budgeting project in order to re-launch the "historic" community cooperation.
Background History and Context
The town of San Marcello Pistoiese began the process in 2008 in order to involve its citizens in defining the investment priorities in several policy areas.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The project was promoted by the Municipality of S. Marcello and funded by the Region of Tuscany under Law no. 69/2007 jointly with the Municipality. Since the Municipality had no previous experience in this field, the Municipality resorted to the specialized consulting firm, Sociolab.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Access to meetings was open and free. Phone calls were made randomly, and letters were sent to every family, with detailed information on the methodology to be used during the meetings, the dates and places thereof, and the amount allocated to participatory budgeting. An important point to make is that great consideration was given to allowing for participation of handicapped people in deciding the place of the meetings.
Methods and Tools Used
This initiative is an example of participatory budgeting, a method of democratic innovation broadly described as "a decision-making process through which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources." There are many benefits associated with participatory budgeting including increased civic and democratic education; increased government transparency; and an increased opportunity for participation by historically marginalized populations.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
1st Phase: Information and Communication Phase
In the first phase, the aim was to provide information to the citizens about the objectives and methods of the participatory budget process, through identifying the areas of the budget involved and the part of it that would be decided upon by citizens (i.e. 30,000 €). The phase was developed between June and July 2009; in order to achieve the objective of informing and communicating, different techniques were used, such as:
- The publication of the project “Facciamo I conti...Insieme" on the official website of the Municipality.
- The periodical of the Municipality was sent to every household and business in town in order to explain and describe the 2009 budget so as to facilitate the understanding of how the budget is made; moreover, it described the phases of the participatory process, stated the available budget (30,000 €), and the topics that citizens were invited to discuss, as well as the schedule of meetings taking place on the 15th and the 16th of July.
- Invitation letters were sent to all associations existing within the territory of the municipality.
- The consultant (Sociolab) made three hundred calls to randomly chosen families in order to explain the initiative and invite participation.
2nd Phase: The First Meetings and Forum Theme
The first assemblies were held in the different districts. These meetings were the heart of the process. Citizens discussed in working groups to determine investment priorities.
During the meetings, the representatives of the Administration made a presentation of the participatory budget process and of the resources available for investments (30,000 €). After this presentation, the representatives of the Administration left the venues, leaving the management of the discussions to the facilitators, thus allowing greater freedom of speech to participants.
On the 15th and the 16th of July, 2009, six meetings took place in the different territorial factions. These meetings were held at 6:00 PM in public places, with about 15 citizens per meeting. At these meetings, the participants had a cadastral map of the area to enable accurate identification of streets and buildings. Also, in order to foster better relations among participants, the Administration offered a snack in each meeting.
The outcome of these meetings consisted in a number of proposals which referred to the needs and priorities expressed by participants.
3rd Phase: Feasibility Study of the Proposals
This phase included technical and political analysis of the proposals which emerged from the first meetings. It took into consideration proposals not exceeding €5,000. For each of the proposals that were not taken into consideration, the Administration provided a detailed motivation.
As a result of this analysis, twenty nine proposals were identified (these would be voted on in the fourth part of the process). The proposals were mostly related to the following areas:
- Roads connecting the spread out villages
- Recovery of historical heritage
- Waste recycling
4th Phase: Second Cycle of Meetings and Voting
Final meetings and voting of proposals were held for each district in November 2009, with an average of 20 citizens participating in each meeting.
To encourage citizen participation at the meetings and voting, a number of strategies were used, such as:
- Letters being sent to each household (3,550), signed by the Mayor and Vice Mayor, inviting and informing citizens about the meetings and the various proposals would be voted on them
- Telephone calls being made to all the people that attended the first assemblies
- Proposals and time tables being published on the website of the Municipality
The Municipality stated that participation at the conclusive meetings was representative of the community. However participants were mostly retired and elderly people, whereas youth were less present.
5th Phase: Announcement of Results
At this stage, the results were announced through a booklet that was mailed to all families, and by publishing the results of the procedure on the municipal website.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
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Analysis and Lessons Learned
One of the most frequent criticisms made by the participants was that the amount to be decided through the process was very limited; the administration replied that this was due to the fact that this was their first experience with a participatory budget. Also, another critical fact to consider is that meetings were held on weekdays, which might have limited participation.
 Final Report. http://www.consiglio.regione.toscana.it/partecipazione/documenti/RelazioniFinali-Progetti/S_MarcelloPistoiese-RF-FacciamoiConti.pdf [DEAD LINK]