What isn’t Participatory Budgeting & why consultation isn’t good enough
There are many models of Participatory Budgeting around the world so ‘what is and isn’t Participatory Budgeting’ is endlessly debated! Different countries may use a different definition and have different expectations about what is or isn’t proper Participatory Budgeting. The People’s Budget campaign doesn’t believe it has all the answers. We don’t seek to rate one Participatory Budgeting process as better than another. Instead we stick to a simple principle
If it ‘feels’ like those participating made the decision about a real budget it probably is Participatory Budgeting. If it ‘feels’ like someone else decided it probably isn’t.
So we believe the process and the experience is very important. That after the process more people might get involved next time. We believe the best people to ask if Participatory Budgeting made a difference is participants from the community or area meant to benefit.
The Participatory Budgeting Unit have identified a few things to watch out for, that may indicate what might be being called Participatory Budgeting is in fact something else. If the answer to these questions is a resounding ‘no’ then maybe there is a better way to do things in future.
- Transparent . Did the process improve local knowledge about public budgets?
- Accessible: Was it easy for people to get and stay involved?
- Deliberative: Could people debate different ideas and then could they agree?
- Empowering: Did participants feel they were in control of a real budget?
- Locally Owned: Are local people taking on greater responsibility for their community?
- Involving: Did it help build a sense of partnership and common purpose?
- Democratic: Was the process fair and build greater trust in local politicians?
- Shared Responsibility: Did it build a sense of common purpose?
Why are these questions important? Most don’t even mention budgets? We believe that if local people feel nothing changes, then why bother getting involved. That is what is wrong with what is often called consultation.
The tradition of a decision-making body getting inputs from those with less power is generally known as “consultation”. (source http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_engagement) So consultation is often simply about asking people what they think after the experts have decided. It takes place towards the end of the commissioning or budgeting process.
Consultation is generally put in the frame of a simple question such as “do you prefer between option A or option B. Local people might actually want option C, or feel neither A or B will work. If they can’t debate why only option A and B is on the table they are likely to feel unheard and distrust the experts. Life isn’t as simple as choosing between A or B and the experts don’t always have the answer. Often local knowledge is essential to whether a proposal to spend a budget is a good one. Then a PB process of deliberation and debate is needed.
We believe to be effective local people have to be involved from the start.