Today I went with Kate Goodall over to Stafford to the Diocese of Lichfield Participatory Budgeting Day. I had no idea what that even meant when I got in the car this morning but over the duration of just a few hours, not only am I fully sold on the idea I’m already trying to think of ways that the model can be used locally.
Participatory Budgeting directly involves citizens in the allocation of funding, As the People’s Budget website puts it:
Participatory budgeting directly involves local people in making decisions on the spending and priorities for a defined public budget. PB processes can be defined by geographical area (whether that’s neighbourhood or larger) or by theme. This means engaging residents and community groups representative of all parts of the community to discuss and vote on spending priorities, make spending proposals, and vote on them, as well giving local people a role in the scrutiny and monitoring of the process and results to inform subsequent PB decisions.
– Essentially it devolves the funding process from a panel that decides on who is “worthy” to the wider community. It struck me as being a cross between an unconference and CDF community first panels.
Today’s event was to allocate funding from the Diocese of Lichfield. Money that was collected across the area during the Lent appeal. 50% of the money raised was already earmarked for the Siyafundisa project in Matlosane, South Africa but the remaining sum was available for neighbourhoods across the diocese to bid for, there was £20,000 up for grabs.
26 projects applied and they were invited to attend today’s event to pitch for the money. As it was some groups didn’t make so we ended up listening to 22 pitches for funding and voting on our preferences.
The rules were simple, each group had a very brief write up in the programme and were given exactly 3 minutes on stage to sell their project / service / idea to everyone in the room so we could then vote on them – I’m not sure if there was a cap put on the amount you could claim for but no group had applied for more than £2000.
Some of the pitches were smoother than others, some funny some touching and some just very factual but a bell sounded at the 3 minute mark and that was it – your time was up.
The actual vote itself was a “Eurovision” style affair where your favourite / most worthy pitch was given 10 points, your second favourite 9 and so on so forth working back to 1 – Each score was then added to the total for the project and funded was allocated working down the “leaderboard” until the money ran out – which meant if you were the last to receive funding you may end up with a part allocation toward your cause.
Everyone over the age of 10 could vote, but if you were planning on voting you had to stay in the room for the entire duration as to give every bid a fair hearing and the voting was to take place after the final pitch.
At the end of the session votes were cast and we broke for lunch while the figures were added up.
Today through this system we helped the Diocese fund 11 projects that ranged from Kids clubs and Foodbanks, to Drug and Alcohol outreach programmes and community building repairs and everything in between.
Then for me came the most generous innovative part of the day. Once the votes were in and the “winners” were announced they were all given the opportunity to put some of their award back in the pot to redistribute and help support projects further down the “leaderboard”. For instance a group who were awarded say £2000 could voluntarily give back £200 to the pot – leaving with £1800 more than they arrived with for their group but enabling the money to go further. 10% wasn’t a mandatory sum in fact they could donate any amount back into pot, or nothing at all if they weren’t in a position to be able to and groups did so based on their individual circumstances. By doing this today the initial 11 grant winners helped fund or part fund another 2 projects.
Doing it locally…
Observing and participating in the session today has already got me thinking about how this process, or something similar could be applied locally – my initial thinking was for the Community First Panels – locally there are 4 including our Wednesfield South Panel that I could name without even thinking about it. What if we came together to hold a day where local projects could pitch to us as a collective their bids for funding – I know only the panels in the relevant area would be eligible to vote on their local projects BUT having the groups all together would / could give us a better overview of all the activities going on locally – and maybe enable us to join some of them up making our funding go further.
This still needs some thinking as we are different to the Diocese as we don’t actually hold any purse strings to hand money out but I think it has some merit and is a model I would love to find a way make work here!