Case Study : Guimarães grasps participatory budgeting

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In 2015, Guimarães made sure citizens’ confidence in the participatory budgeting process remained intact and even reinforced. After some bumps in voting during the 2014 edition, citizen’s joined in a positive way to the new municipality orientation towards environmental sustainability, volunteering and solidarity.
Guimarães had a crucial role in Portugal’s birth. Its history with over a thousand years mingles with that of the nation. It’s known as “Birth City” because it was were the first king was born, D. Afonso Henriques.
Guimarães links cultural and sports along with business dynamics. Its historical center is Cultural World Heritage, it was European Capital of Culture in 2012 and European Sports City in 2013.
The 158.000 habitants disperse over 48 parish’s (69 before administrative reorganization).

Acording to Amadeu Portilha, Vice President of the municipality, “participatory budgeting aims to contribute to a more informed, active and responsible participation of citizens in the local government processes, assuring citizen’s and civil society organizations engagement in the budget allocation decision in municipal policy.”

The Participatory Budgeting had its third edition in 2015. It is both consultation and deliberative process, by the progressive incorporation of co-decision mechanisms.

In its deliberative dimension, citizens can submit and prioritize investment proposals through voting. This are later integrated in the Municipal Activities and Budget Plan.

Having initiated with participatory budgeting in 2012, Guimarães incorporated improvements over the years.

In administrative terms the regulation only includes general terms. The specific terms of each edition go into a norms document. This way there is no need to yearly alter the regulation, with all the time and resources it takes. This is due to in Portugal municipal regulation must go to a specific municipal assembly which takes place only a couple of times per year. More political consensus is also needed. Norms get approval in standard municipal board meetings.

The process is mostly online for scalability reasons. But since its initial moment the municipality backed citizens’ proximity events.
Every year 6 promotional meetings take place at sites with most population. In the first year over 1200 participated.

In this meetings citizens could also submit their ideas. Yet, idea gathering was open online for a full month.

In 2015, 26 proposals got submitted to the General Participatory Budgeting Process and 55 to the Schools Participatory Budgeting Process. Each process had 400.000€ and 100.000€ respectively, with a 50.000€ limit per project in the general process.

Number of proposals decreased this year due to the more restrictive themes imposed by municipality goals. In previous editions Guimarães had 143 and 99 proposals.

In the technical analysis phase of the general participatory budgeting process 15 proposals were admitted and went through to final voting.
Voting took place online from September 2nd to October 2nd. It was also possible to vote in person at the municipality citizen desk up until September 30.

Regulation enforces at least 500 votes for a proposal to be approved. This rule, introduced in 2014, assures projects have community mobilization and are representative. Impact is thus guaranteed.

Citizens’ are eligible to vote if resident, or born in Guimarães and over 18. The online registration at the participatory budgeting website is mandatory.

The registration apart from identification data needs a double validation. An SMS token issued in real time to citizens’ cellphone to do this.

On the voting phase and like many online banking transactions, it’s also issued another SMS token to double confirm citizens’.

This way the municipality reinforced process security, limiting fraud risks which were a problem in 2014. Security, reliability and confidence are key factors for the municipality.

Although more complex, the process didn’t frightened citizens. Only 5% opted by voting in person.

4088 citizens voted in Guimarães participatory budgeting, reinforcing the co-decisional process with the municipality.

Schools participatory budgeting process had 33 approved out of 55 proposals.

The process splits available budget by school groups. Teachers played a crucial role to help students submit proposals and mobilize. Schools PB was a success because of the engagement and social dynamic.

The municipality keeps citizens’ aware of the previous year’s projects execution through the website. The high execution rate is also a key factor for building trust.

Citizens’ trust on participatory budgeting revealed this year makes the municipality to think on how to improve next year.

SMS voting, mobile app as well as more intense direct approach during voting phase are at the moment aspects in consideration and study.

Amadeu Portilha acknowledged that “the investment in young students is a good approach for participatory budgeting”. Adding that “most projects aim public light replacement for more efficient technologies as well as gardening and school pedagogical farms”.

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