£eith Decides is a process known as Participatory Budgeting (PB). Find out more below.

What is participatory budgeting?

The Official Definition is "PB directly involves local people in making decisions on the spending priorities for a defined budget. This means engaging the community, to discuss spending priorities, make spending proposals and vote on them."

More simply, it is way of giving some decision-making power on spending public money to the people it affects. 

Why does it need such an imposing name? 

It doesn't. The name 'Participatory Budgeting' describes an approach to allocating public money used across the world.  Most PB activities take a simpler name.  For example; You Decide (Tower Hamlets, London), Voice your Choice (Manton, Nottinghamshire), and of course £eith decides!

What are the benefits?

  • It enables local people to have a say in what happens in their area - involving them in local decision making processes.
  • It helps more people become aware of and get involved in the work of Neighbourhood Partnerships.
  • It gets funding to smaller groups that do not normally access funding streams.
  • It helps stakeholders to understand the difficulties and processes involved in allocating limited funding
  • It is more transparent than a 'behind closed doors' process. It is important to set realistic expectations for any PB project.  Clear information on amount of money available, maximum amount for any one project/item, qualifying criteria, choice available, decision-making process etc must be made publicly available. 
  • It creates valuable networking opportunities.
  • People enjoy the 'Community Spirit' of coming together to make the decision.

 Is it fair?

Our experience of £eith Decides shows that local people take the decision-making responsibility seriously - considering projects rather than applicants.  We found that the scoring system together with a large number of participants means that individual applicants are unable to manipulate the outcome.

Who does this sort of thing?

Mostly Local Authorities, but other public service providers such as police, housing associations and voluntary organisations have also used this approach.

Where has it been most successful?

There are too many successful PB projects to mention here.  However projects in the UK include:

  • Salford City Council had 137 people take part in six events over two days. They gave scores to over 20 highways schemes generated through dialogue with local people. This enabled the schemes to be prioritised in order to direct expenditure of the budget
  • 139 young people attended an event in Newcastle cast a 20% vote in the procurement of services for the city's £2.25m Children's Fund. 
  • At Tower Hamlets, London, 815 people attended 8 events to spend almost £2.4m on mainstream council services.
  • In 2009 St. Ann's Development Board gave young people in areas of high deprivation the opportunity to allocate £21,000 to youth projects, which increased youth involvement.
  • In Walsall, 6 - 11 year olds in eight Primary School Councils decided how to spend £15,000, whether that was to split the money amongst their schools, or put it towards joint activities.  It was all dependent on the ideas from the children.

Is the process too demanding on staff time and resources for what is delivered?

Experience to date shows that delivery costs are small compared to the overall budget and this could be reduced still further through learning from best practice. It costs the same to hold an event which allocates a small amount of funding as one which allocates a large amount of funding.

Using small grant funds to pilot approach means we may be able to use PB to allocate larger budgets such as NEP or mainstream partner resources. The larger the budget the smaller the delivery costs as a percentage.

How can you stop certain groups hijacking the process? 

There is some concern that an approach involving marketplace scoring and library/postal voting could be open to abuse by projects 'flooding' the process with their own supporters.  However Leith NP feels that increasing the numbers of participants - and limiting the amount of grant - decreases the opportunity/incentive for applicants to 'block vote' and that participants appear to consider projects on their individual merit.

Is this process 'just' for decisions on small grants? What are the limits of this approach?

Community Grants are the easiest to allocate using a Participatory Budgeting approach.  However, any public money can be allocated in this way, as can be seen in the examples above.

Is 'e-voting' possible at £eith Decides?

This is something which we researched to ensure that only those eligible to make the decision take part, so we are delighted to offer e-voting for the first time at the 2016/17 £eith decides.

What about applications from groups who aren't formally constituted?

In £eith Decides a Community Learning and Development Worker worked with groups to help them become formally constituted, open a bank account and work through the application process.  Alternatively, a constituted group may work with the group by making the application and managing the money, while the 'unconstituted' group delivers the project.

How much does the process cost?

This is variable. The biggest costs are for venues and printing.  £eith decides attracts a lot of volunteers who help out at the events.  The more participants there are the less the process costs per head. 

PB should be a repeat process for a number of reasons, but one important reason is that evaluating events and refining the approach helps to make future years more efficient and easier to deliver.

How can we encourage more people to participate using this process?

£eith decides and other projects have found that PB needs to be a repeated process.  The process becomes refined and better known, encouraging participation.  £eith decides has also found that around three-quarters of participants are people who would not normally attend a Council or Neighbourhood Partnership meeting.  A variety of publicity methods can be used to encourage applications and participation, however word-of-mouth has been proven to be the most effective method, social media is now having some impact.

For more information visit the PB Scotland website.