Participation is always a concern when it gets to politicians evaluation of participatory budgeting.
Our current society is based on representation principles and our elected representatives are sensible to votes for obvious reasons. So this is the performance indicator they understand better.
Two of the most commonly used arguments against PB are its low participation rates and lack of representation (which leads to low budget allocation).
So how can we please them, increasing participation, adding representation and making politicians more comfortable with the process?
- Promote heavily 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 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 about the process and forwarding people to the website.
Also do as many process presentation sessions as you can. They’ll be important to assure participation in proposal collection sessions.
If you keep proposals ownership, during the voting phase it’s 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.
Get process quality from in-person engagement.
- Over communicate during all phases
Getting someone involved in a process cannot be done like turning the lights on for 2 seconds and leaving them in the dark for the rest of time.
You should let the citizens know from early on what is going to happen, create momentum, so that when their participation is required they are ready for it.
When will citizens get better ideas? When you let them know with weeks advance or when you ask all of the sudden?
When will citizens be more willing to vote? When they are aware of the all process and know the ideas in voting, or when they are summed up and “forced” to vote?
But don’t forget to communicate after voting. Who won? How is the execution process going? Write about it, but also show pictures and give testimonies of your PB impact.
- Involve local community organized institutions (e.g. social, sports)
I know communication and promotion are expensive and PB processes have low allocated budget for management and marketing.
You can use local communities such as sports clubs as well as schools to pass the message (e.g. make kids ask their parents which project they are voting and why. If parents don’t know they will try to find out).
These communities are also good for creating momentum during voting phase, as they bring with them lots of people directly and indirectly (e.g. family and friends).
- Allow for people to keep track of voting status during voting period
Get competition in place!
If proposal A has 100 votes and B has 120, the proponent and supporters of A will do everything in their power to get more votes and then it’s B’s turn. This process will foster competition and increase participation.
In the Portuguese municipality of Ovar, they managed to get a 25% participation rate based on this principle.
We turned this into default behavior for Participare, but as everything else, it can be customized by the PB organizer. Using this or other solution you should try and see what works for you!
But do you know anyone who doesn’t like a little competition?! 🙂
Note: if you are wondering why we should want the politicians comfortable, think of how the budget is spent in your own house. Take for instance parents giving a monthly allowance to their kids for them to spent in their projects (e.g. gums, books, that new toy). Won’t they feel more comfortable knowing that their kids where advised by the rest of the family and got their support?
Writen by César Silva @ ChangeTomorrow
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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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