PB is going global — it's time we catch up
BY SHELLEY CARROLL
It’s time for another entry in my PB Diary.
Last week I got to vote in a Participatory Budgeting (PB) process for the first time. While I'm currently facilitating my fifth PB in the ward, I’ve never had the opportunity to participate. That's because politicians don't have a vote with PB — the whole point is it's your money, so you and your neighbours get to decide. But this time I was given a special opportunity to vote just like you.
I have been invited to sit on a Global Participatory Budgeting Support Board funded through a generous donation from the Hewlett Foundation. The Board met for the first time last week in Edinburgh, Scotland. Future work will be done via webinar but the leaders felt the group should initially meet at a well-timed conference held by PB Scotland, the government program set up to make sure PB happens in every local authority in Scotland.
Little did I know that our first task first task as this global group would be to conduct a PB exercise to determine a one-year budget using our grant money.
Since this initiative is made up of people who make PB happen all over the world, we’re used to being facilitators. Being turned into subjects was new for us. To those of you who have participated in one of our local processes, you'll appreciate that I discovered how hard it is to be in that position. It’s exhilarating, no question about it, but it’s hard work.
It's one thing to call your local politician's office and simply relay your wishes for your neighbourhood — it's an entirely different experience to work with a group of neighbours with diverse interests in order to achieve those wishes, as is done with PB. It can be difficult to admit your idea has to wait, but there are also times when PB is incredibly affirming, like when community members say "Oooh, that’s a good idea. Can we do that?”
PB at home
Here in Don Valley North, the PB process going on in Parkway Forest and Henry Farm is soon going to the ballot selection stage, which is one of the last steps before the big final vote. Residents are invited to Parkway Forest Community Centre on Thursday, November 7 at 6PM to learn about the costs of their ideas that were gathered last month.
They will learn the viability of each idea according to City Staff and then decide which ideas will go on the final ballot. And for the first time in my five PBs, I’ll know exactly how they're feeling. In a future PB Diary, I’ll describe the projects that made it to the ballot.
A word about Scotland
In terms of using participatory democracy to empower struggling communities and engage a very troubled youth population, Scotland is light years ahead of us. The Hewlett Foundation recognized this and decided to create this global group to spread the word about other successful models of participatory democracy.
Above is an excerpt from a manual one of my global PB colleagues used for a process in of a PB Manual used in a process in Chengdu, China. These pages outline what PB is and what the steps are.
The Scottish version started in Glasgow with certain wards holding one-day events where an entire PB process starts over breakfast in a school auditorium and ends with a call out to the whole community to come and vote after dinner. It grew to enough other towns and cities that the Scottish national government studied its impact and decided to fund PB Scotland.
This organization has been providing research, evaluation and facilitation dollars to local authorities since 2015. They commit these funds so that PB will be as inclusive as possible, engaging the hardest citizens to reach, the youngest and most at-risk.
In the densely-populated neighbourhoods of Glasgow and Edinburgh, you see the wealthiest residents living side-by-side with struggling service industry wage earners and street-involved youth. And yet, all are coming together annually to understand each other and set priorities for spending public money.
Next year, the PB Scotland process will gradually begin "mainstreaming." This is the term they use to describe changing from using PB for smaller projects to having citizens decide actual service levels in their local authority’s operating budget.
Food for thought
This is huge. Currently, community discussion about the City Budget usually happens at our annual town hall, where I present a Budget that's already been created and you express your ideas and concerns.
Imagine instead gathering at a meeting where I say: “We have a department that sweeps our streets, maintains boulevards and picks up litter. Is this a priority in our part of the City? Do you want it done more, less or at the same level as now? If less, where do you want the funds to go?”
That’s just an example. There is a service level for everything we do for you in Toronto. Who do you think should decide what those levels are? As I learned in Scotland, there are places in the world where they think the answer is "you."