End your Participatory Budgeting struggle by asking 5 simple questions


One common mistake that I see in many participatory budgeting processes is that organizers struggle for “success”.

But when I ask what success is, they are not quite sure or they point out very broad term metrics.

Objectives should be S.M.A.R.T..

Am I talking about Maxwell Smart kind of thing? No!

I mean an objective must comply with this rules:

  • What are your main goals? Be specific!
  • What will I measure and when?
  • Are my goals attainable?
  • Are they relevant?
  • What is my time window?

“I want citizen’s participation” can be improved to “I want X number of people participating in in-person meetings and X number in voting”.

Notice that I specified my goal and identified my key indicator. As I didn’t say when I would measure it, I consider it to be by the end of the process.

But if I add “… by the end of this year process”, that makes it very clear.

If I am an organizer with no experience on participatory budgeting, and I know that my citizens are those tough ones that are not used to contribute to society, should I say “I want 50% of the population participating”? Personally I wouldn’t do it.

Objectives should be S.M.A.R.T..

The probability of setting expectations high and failing them is almost 100%. And you don’t want to brag about “I’ll do this and I’ll achieve that” and then fail… citizens and politician’s confidence in the process will suffer.

Should you set them very low then?! This way you’ll always achieve them!

IMHO no! A goal should be attainable but also relevant, or else people won’t feel compelled to participate.

Being part of a small group doesn’t satisfy human needs for significance and contribution.

But “my region” has many problems which won’t allow for a high participation ratio…

Hey! Participation is only ONE indicator. You can choose others like idea number, idea impact, in-person participation, minorities’ participation, % of votes from specific channels (web, mobile, SMS) or regions.

The time window is one of the easiest things to set… as a participatory budgeting process usually lasts 1 or 2 years.

But if participatory budgeting is strategic to your organization you can have multiple years objectives “have 50% of the population registered and participating over a 5 years timespan”

What are your goals? Send me an email or leave a comment to this post!

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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