You want to be sure it’s the right decision to run a participatory budgeting jury. It’s a big thing. You want the stars to be aligned, in all the constellations: the senior executive team, the councillors and managers. They may be champions of the approach after they’ve seen it in action, but right now, there are some cold feet.
I recently published a piece in Australian Policy Online, ‘Fresh Conversations, New Stances, Deliberative Democracy and Participatory Budgeting’. I felt compelled to write this piece. I couldn’t believe those who took part in the process could be so enlivened by joining forces with their local government, its councillors and senior staff. Here’s an excerpt:
At Darebin, as facilitators, we met a group of energetic, interested people from across the municipality. They were not connected by location or special interests. They had not come to beat a known drum. They were willing to spend one Saturday a month for four months, 9.30-4.30 to get to an agreed outcome on this question: How should we best spend $2m to improve our community through use of infrastructure funding? The Council had accrued the funds from ratepayers through a two percent rate rise, and invested them in a special infrastructure fund, which the jury was given the task of allocating to appropriate projects.
At City of Melbourne’s Cr Stephen Mayne states that the city wished to hear from its ‘silent majority’, those who do not engage with council (ABC Radio, Future Tense). Coming face to face with such a randomly selected group can highlight to a councillor or senior manager that the people they usually meet with are rather too familiar, and do not reflect the breadth of age, cultural or professional characteristics in their municipality. This can be a surprise, and provide a refreshing sense of being in touch with the municipality’s constituency as reflected in its actual demographics. This mixed group composition is likely to provide assurance that the jury’s perspective will rationally enhance elected representatives’ decision-making. It is also encouraging for councillors to meet those jurors whose professional roles equip them with specialist expertise, and who speak their language. Read more ….