5 things over 30 Participatory Budgeting have taught us

We have been helping out our clients implementing Participatory Budgeting (PB) since 2010.

For further disclosure, we provide ICT solutions to support proposal collection, process digital marketing/communication, and unified voting platform. And yes, by unified we mean we put in the same platform in-person voting along with web or SMS. It is called Participare.

Although we don’t help out with the organization of the process, or with the execution of the in-person actions, we follow very closely our clients’ experiences.

This gives us an eagle eye view of the processes, which we use to further improve our solutions and improve our client’s knowledge of not only best practices but also what really works.

These are the top 5:

  1. Give ownership to the citizen(s)

Having a name and a face people can relate later in the process, makes others feel they can be the next.

The press also loves being able to associate a story, with a concrete person, that can relate to an implemented project. How one person changed the world… or just their neighborhood

  1. Promote offline and online

It is certain that the internet gave us useful and cheap tools to communicate. However plenty of PB target public don’t have access to the internet (e.g. old people, minorities, lower class), or they simply have different browsing habits than those channels you have chosen (e.g. you did Facebook and Google promotion but they use Myspace and Yahoo).

Being PB traditionally a local process do your best to use local media (radio, TV, press), and distribute visual media such as billboards, posters and flyers talking about the process and forwarding people to the website. You can use local communities, sports clubs as well as schools to pass the message (eg.. make kids ask their parents which project they are voting and why … if the parents don’t know, they will try to find out).

Also do as many process presentation sessions as you can. They will be important to assure participation in proposal collection sessions.

If you keep proposals ownership during the voting phase it is important to give tools so that proponents can help you gather voters. For example, you can make pre-made flyers they can change and print on their own.

  1. Don’t fragment the budget allocated too little or too much

Having plenty of ideas/proposals is nice. But the quality of proposals will lower necessarily, as well as your mobilization capacity.

Find the balance between the quality and quantity of the proposals.

Have you ever gone to a soda machine and felt overwhelmed with too many options? Coca-cola, Diet, Zero, Blackberry flavor, etc…

PB processes that implemented strong in-person proposal gathering and filtering phases tend to have higher levels of participation during voting.

  1. Allow multi-channel voting

Ultimately the success of PB depends on quality and quantity.

The key for quality resides in the proposals gathering phase, as it is a non-scalable process.

But the key for quantity is achieved during voting. This is where tech solutions should be used to improve voting ratio.

Nowadays people just don’t have time, so it is our job to get them involved without steeling too much time. Get them to participate at any time of the day, without having to move (yes, in case you didn’t notice people are lazy).

Providing web, SMS and in-person voting channels is therefore most important. They will reach different targets and grow the overall number of participants.

Using a unified platform assures that a person only uses its votes once, independently of which channel. Proper identity check and privacy are also achieved this way.

  1. Execute the top voted ideas

More than getting your citizens engaged, it is important to build trust for later years. This builds trust for PB and politicians.

To assure that this happens, in the proposals phase you only accept ideas ideas that can be executed in a short schedule (1 year).

Remember that you still have to fight all the bureaucracy… and Smith’s Law!

… and yet: repeat the next year!

Remember, continuity is the key for a trustful process.

Writen by César Silva @ ChangeTomorrow

You can reach me at cesar@changetomorrow.io

This blog is a place of experience and thoughts sharing around democracy, participatory initiatives and citizen engagement.

This blog reflects the thoughts of ChangeTomorrow team, its guest bloggers or interviewers.

ChangeTomorrow is a provider of Participatory Budgeting solution called Participare and a spinoff of portuguese market leader WireMaze.

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