Every day I listen that participatory budgeting processes are facing problems. Sometimes they are so overwhelming that it looks like you’re in the middle of a slaughtering.
That bad?! Yeaps…
Of course not every process goes through the same level of problems. Thank god!
So what kind of problems can occur? And is there a way to go around them?
A participatory budgeting process to be efficient must have a good in-person work. This requires having available staff which in most cases doesn’t exist.
If you have lots of in-person meetings to organize then I would recommend you to get help. Either from your friends at the institution, local community leaders or last year proponents. Be creative!
Different kind of approach
Is your staff used to a more direct and democratic approach to citizens? This requires soft skills training. Brainstorming, crowd control, moderation techniques, there’s a whole new world to learn.
Unusual work hours
Most in-person meetings will occur after office hours. That’s good for participation. But bad for the staff that must work and often aren’t even paid for those extra hours. Take that in mind and try to find ways to compensate them.
Lack of IT support
Of course you can have a non-digital process and then IT is not needed.
But if you are after participation, then you want scalability and that only comes by using IT.
Be sure you have a market proven platform that can support you on the process. Provide a reliable way to register voters, as well as an easy way for people to engage. Either by giving new ideas for projects, voting, sharing or commenting.
Author disclaimer: yes, we do provide such a solution. You can check out our website at http://www.participare.io . But as long as it’s a market solution and not some patch, there’re a few of them out there.
Too many requests can lead to low response capability
This is one of those “good problems”.
But you must be ready, as sometimes the problem can be also the opposite. You set up a participatory budgeting process and your citizens are playing hard and not providing ideas. That’s where you must show them examples and try bolder approaches.
To be better prepared for many proposals, be sure to have a clear regulation so that technical evaluation is quick and effortless. Also try to combine similar and applicable ones if possible.
If you have a big budget and there will be plenty of proposals approved, organize them by categories and regional impact. In such case perhaps it will be better to give voters more than one vote. You can also create “similarity” or “related” contexts for better browsing. Helping your citizens navigate through many proposals is a big usability and communication challenge.
Previous projects not implemented
If the projects from the previous edition are still in execution phase, that can be a communication and trust problem.
Try to be sure that they are all implemented or describe clearly in what stage they currently are.
If they are ready is easy to show some pictures, write some news articles about them. Or even have a short video of the proponent talking about the participatory experience.
If they are not ready detail as much as you can. If they are still on course, show pictures of their “making-of”. If they still haven’t started, detail the reasons and all your efforts to make it work.
Lack of public participation
Is this a problem or a result? Can it be both!
In my humble opinion, I like to consider it as a result of something not done right. Was your communication enough? Was your marketing good enough? Did you give wings to your citizens or did you cut them off?
So when is it a problem? When it is the result from the previous year. If you set to have a certain participation and you miss it… then you’ll have a problem.
So, how to solve it?
Try to find the reasons first. Was it the political support? Was it a platform problem? Was it a communication or marketing problem? The regulation limited too much? Any other process problem? Or was it just that your citizens don’t care? Only if you’re naïve or living in a strange place this last hypotheses doesn’t occur. So look at the first suggestions and do something about it! Act!
Problems between political parties
In modern society political parties sometimes tend to be against the other faction. Or even take advantage of any kind of mobilization process as a weapon.
That problem can and will exist. So learn how to live with it.
If your budget is 5 or 10% of the total that can be a big sum. But then the probability of the opposition to have such a weight is low.
If your budget is 1% of the total, then let them play with it… you control 99% right?!
If the problem they make is noise…
Well, I would tell you to take on meditation and anger management courses. But only if you’re a technician. If you’re a politician you should be used to it!
Misinformation about the process
People like to talk about what they know, but mainly about what they don’t know. They also like to make a storm in a teacup.
Usually you get this by news posted in local press, blogs or social media. But they can also show up as rumors… and those are harder to fight.
People like to discuss subjects such as registration control, voting security, confidentiality, participation control and favouring of proposals.
Be alert, but act quick and calm. Don’t stress, otherwise they will take that into their advantage. Also, don’t exaggerate on the response. Remember that most people will listen carefully if it’s a splashy headline, but won’t go into details when you answer. So you have to be clear and concise.
It can be useful if you take on some crisis management training.
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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