Case Study : Águeda sets the wheels in motion for its Participatory Budget

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Águeda launched in 2015 its Participatory Budget initiative. An initiative integrated in its strategy statement as “Human Smart City”. It aims to become the most humane, inclusive, social, technological and economically active municipality.

The population joined forces with the project, with an active and responsible participation.

Águeda is a territory with a strong industrial tradition. Over time used creativity and innovation to overcome the knowledge and technology society challenges. The entrepreneurial and creative spirit of Águeda manifested itself in the Participatory Sessions, as evidenced by the propositions presented and local dynamics generated.

The designation “Land of Metalworks” comes from the industrial cluster. Main areas are light metalworking, manufacture of engines, building materials, bicycles and automotive industry parts. More recently, Águeda is also a pioneer in LED-lighting technology as well as geo-referencing systems and remote control associated with it.

Agriculture and Forest are also areas of opportunity due to soil fertility and climatic characteristics. As well as all the activities associated with it, including rural tourism, gastronomy, hunting activities, beekeeping, sustainable agriculture, etc..

Natural values also have strong potential in Águeda, with Pateira de Fermentelos (“Pateira”, local word for Duck lake) as the territory’s main attraction. It is the Iberian Peninsula largest fresh-water natural lake, recently listed as a RAMSAR Zone. Nature tourism, birdwatching, environmental education activities and sports and recreation evolve around it.

The cultural scene has been growing over the past decade. Currently the city has a diverse and regular schedule, able to attract national and international tourists. Among the reference events highlight goes to AgitÁgueda (held in July) and the Cultural Fridays (every second Friday of each month from October to June).

Águeda is a city of Aveiro district, composed of 11 parishes, occupying a 335,75Km2 area. 47,729 citizens are distributed in the territory creating some significant asymmetries. This is due to territorial organization, altimetry and accessibility of roads. It has both rural parishes with less than 400 inhabitants and urban-like parishes with thousands of residents. Two thirds of the population are of working age (15-64), and 20% are over 65.

According to Gil Nadais, the Mayor, the main goal of the participatory budget was “to promote the voluntary participation of more people in the improvement of our territory, on the assumption that everyone has potential and can contribute in some way to the development of its land, making decisions on some of the expenses of the municipal public investment.”

Participatory budgeting is another step towards administrative modernization by this executive

To talk about the Águeda-PB implies looking back to 2005, when the current executive board took office.

The Management Model defined priorities: administrative modernization, municipal simplex, quality certification to ISO 9001 and 27001 and a cost accounting system.

All together formed steps on a path to trace.

Sequential steps were:

  1. a)       Improvement of Services to Citizens.

Office of Customer Service (GAM), modelled as a One-Stop Shop, was restructured to ease citizen interaction, measure waiting times and processes.

  1. b)      Upgrade of IT infrastructure.

Commitment to new technologies and paperless offices meant using computer applications, scan documentation, dedicated workflows where assignees and tasks execution times are set. The processes got tracked and there were effectiveness and efficiency gains. Also, there was cost savings to public treasury and citizens.

  1. c)       Trust in the Citizen.

Focus on local government simplification led to processes speed up. Starting from the veracity of the statements made by citizens, allowing the immediate issuance of licenses. Geographical Information Systems made possible for citizens to identify the location of applications. But also assess the conditions, such as the Municipal Matrix Plan, avoiding unnecessary commuting by municipal staff and citizens.

  1. d)      Web services.

The Municipality of Águeda is an open and transparent authority. The investment on online services lets citizens check the status from the comfort of their home.

  1. e)      Communication Channels with the Citizen.

The goal was to create greater citizen proximity and disseminate municipal activity. Highlight for direct email contact with the mayor, the Green Phone Line, Facebook and Institutional Site. ÁguedaTV, the local IP television channel, which is already on cable TV platforms. The challenge is to move from a content distribution paradigm to a participative process, in which citizens are producers of contents.

  1. f)        Transparency.

We raised the challenge after having process transparency conquered as well as daily disclosure of local authority financial resources. By providing a set of indicators to citizens, they can keep track on municipal activity performance. Through I4C Platform – Information for Citizens they also have access to useful information about unemployment claims and education. Affirming Águeda as ‘Human Smart City’. A place where technologies benefits its citizens to generate better quality of life.

  1. g)       Participation.

The municipality develops a set of projects around the concept of ‘Living Lab’. Users based on their experience submit inputs for product development. In this regard, Águeda Participatory Budgeting emerged with the aim of giving citizens the opportunity to decide the priority projects for the county and enroll them in the Major Options Plan and Budget. The project aims to develop into immaterial proposals. Developing apps that may contribute for the improvement of quality of life of everyone living, working, studying or visiting Águeda are some of the ideas.
Águeda-PB goals

Águeda-PB aims to contribute to the exercise of citizens’ active and responsible participation, namely in local governance processes of identification, prioritization and decision on resource allocation to municipal public policies. Participants must be 16 or older, be born and / or living, working or studying in Águeda.

 

Águeda-PB organization

Águeda-PB was organized in two cycles of participation:

1)      The Budget Definition Cycle: corresponds to the proposals submission, technical evaluations and voting by citizens. It iwas held from May to October 2015.

2)      The Budget Execution Cycle: consists in the implementation of approved projects and their delivery to the community. This is taking place during 2016.

Proposals submission could be achieved in 2 ways:

  • Online, between 4 and 15 May in the Participatory Platform, by sending e-mail or letter, using the appropriate form.
  • In person, between May 18 and June 5, during one of the 11 Participatory Sessions carried out in the civil parishes.

We used “consensus tables” with participants grouped in odd number. A moderator acted as facilitator, answering questions, promoting dialog and managing time. Participants presented their ideas, which were scored later on, in order to select those that go beyond the plenary. These sessions served as a filter for propositions to qualify for technical analysis. The following proportionality criteria applied:

  • Civil parishes up to 2,000 people – two propositions;
  • Civil Parishes up to 4,000 people – 3 propositions;
  • Civil parishes up to 6,000 people – 4 propositions;
  • Civil parishes with more than 6,000 inhabitants – 5 propositions.

If there were any ties at the tables or plenary sessions, the Regulation in force provided for the admittance of propositions in this situation .

Afterwards, a Technical Review Committee performed a technical analysis based on well defined criteria. These were advertised throughout the phase for the collection of Propositions.

The Technical Review Committee was composed by the heads of municipal divisions and technical units.

Whenever non-compliances arose, the Commission took the initiative to contact citizens to:

  • Exclude the proposition for the impossibility of being completed in 12 months, exceeding the budget ceiling (€ 50,000), or requiring opinions from external entities;
  • Withdrawal because it was already part of the Strategic Development Plan (2014-2017);
  • Suggest changes for the initial proposition to be compatible with the analysis criteria.

On July 28, 2015, the provisional list was published with all the examined propositions. Claims had a deadline of 10 days to be presented by proponents.

After this complaints phase, the Committee issued an opinion. The municipal Executive Board took the final decision.

On August 26, 2015, the final list of projects going to voting phase got published. It contained 21 approved projects; 5 were made viable in another context; 18 were taken out and 2 withdrawn by proponents.

The Voting Phase of Finalist Propositions took place between 1 and 30 September.

Each person was eligible to use two votes. One in the participatory online platform and another by secret vote in the voting sessions at civil parishes, or at the City Hall during normal working hours. The winner projects would integrate the Plan and Budget for 2016 within the limit of € 500,000.

Voting was possible at the Customer Service Office or at any of the 11 voting sessions. The voting sessions took place at the headquarters of Civil Parishes after 9 p.m., according to an agenda.

To use the right to vote, those interested had to present their official identification card, make a registration, fill in the ballot and deposit it in the ballot box.

The counting of votes occurred at the end of the sessions, with writing of minutes with results and publishing on the participatory platform, for public scrutiny.

The electronic vote took place at the online participatory platform. The platform required prior registration by filling in all required fields.

Disclosure of voting results was made at a public ceremony where the winning projects to integrate the Plan and Budget for 2016 were announced.

Participant’s universe

Anyone can vote in Águeda-PB as long as they are with 16 or older, be born and / or live in the municipality of Águeda. According to data from the Portuguese Statistical Institute (2011) on the age of population, our universe of voters for the Águeda-PB is 41,087 people.

And now phase 2 … execution!

Phase 2 corresponds to the Execution Cycle. It lasts a full year, which means that the 17 winning projects must be delivered to the community until the 31st December 2016.

The winning projects were assigned to the Heads of Divisions through their organizational skills. Tasks and deadlines for implementation were set.

We involved Proponents in the study phase to design the final project and invited them to monitor its implementation. They can also contribute with voluntary work for the implementation, as well on ensure its maintenance in the future.

Every month, a meeting takes place between the coordination team of Águeda-PB and those responsible for implementation. To achieve the goal we check status and introduce improvement actions whenever needed.

What is not measured is not controlled…

Parallel to the implementation of Águeda-PB there was a sociological study, sponsored by the consultant Nelson Dias of inLoco Association. The purpose was to define the participants’ profile, identifying participation barriers and evaluating citizens’ satisfaction in different stages.

We used a ‘action-reflection-action’ methodology, to introduce improvement actions during the implementation of the participatory process. This involved the Águeda-PB staff and consultants.

Using a questionnaire survey we assessed satisfaction. Participants from both Participatory Sessions and Voting Sessions participated.

The first challenges…

The strategy of the Municipality of Águeda has been to create awareness of Participatory Budgeting process among its citizens. The aim is to make them become interested in the exercise of active citizenship and put forward propositions for improving their land.

With the group of knowledgeable citizens the strategy focused on the exemplification of actions / projects and their engagement in participatory sessions.

In this process of participatory budgeting, in which both elected and electors learn, the challenge is to contribute to an informed and responsible intervention by citizens in local government processes, ensuring an effective correspondence between personal concerns and the collective well-being as well as the real needs and aspirations of the population. The contribution of all is essential to make a better territory, more inclusive, more ‘personal’ in the sense of the motto ‘proud to be Águeda’.

And the aspects to improve…

It appears youth (16 to 24) represents only 5% of the participants. This stimulates the search of measures to create active citizenship habits among this age group. In this sense and in conjunction with the Youth Department, we will put in place Youth Assemblies. Under the framework of project “Águeda, Children Friendly City” we aim to start an Activity Plan and to discuss issues related to youth.

In schools there will be information sessions, as there is a general apathy by young people in relation to the exercise of democracy. Even an ignorance of how state bodies work. This requires reflection at the level of the educational project that will be set for the municipality.

Concerning gender inequality of participants in Participatory Sessions we will think on the information channels used. We aim to better understand how to extend the females participants base in future editions. Yet, the level of the voting process – in person and online – states that there is gender equality (49% men and 51% women).

At last, we want to improve on the political and technical commitment assumed for the execution of projects within one year. We will set monitoring mechanisms through the citizen portal as well as a paperless balloting system during the voting phase.

Lessons learnt and replication potencial by other local local bodies

From this learning process we can draw some lessons.

Choosing a PB model that reflects institutional identity and Municipal Executive policies is key. There are many off-the-shelf solutions on the market, but they do not consider the local and social contexts.

Another suggestion, motivated by the difficulties with a process involving paper, would be to invest on a  management platform for the participatory process. More specifically to allow the registration and verification of participants, while reducing human intervention.

Leave out the use of paper, including in the voting phase, due to exposure to possible fraud attempts. This is paramount, considering the values of transparency and credibility at the root of the process.

At the end, the satisfaction…

The number of people who participated in the first Águeda-PB cycle: 435 people took part in participatory sessions and 2,707 people voted to select the projects.

This exceeded the best expectations by the Executive Board as well as those of the team of Águeda-PB. We must consider the participation habits and the fact this was a first edition.

2016 will be a consolidation year for Participatory Budget, packed with learning and work. We will have the pleasure of seeing the projects implementation and citizens to understand the real impact of their choices.

 

You can see the official project videos at

http://www.agueda.tv/archive.ud121?theme=Local&subtheme=OPA%20-%20Or%E7amento%20Participativo%20de%20%C1gueda

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