Wed 22nd July 2020

The power of Participatory Budgeting

The power of Participatory Budgeting

Jennie Dunlop, Community Planning Manager, Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council recently shared her thoughts with us on the power of participatory budgeting and how it can address many of the challenges of effective engagement.

Jennie acknowledged the loss and hardship that many people have experienced as a result of Covid-19 and the lockdown over the past few months. Much has been written and talked about in relation to recovery, renewal and transformation after Covid-19 and many of the issues that were present before Covid have been amplified. Jennie explained why the Community Planning Partnership wanted to do PB in the first place before examining its role in response to Covid-19 recovery and renewal. There are lots of reasons why you would want to do PB. Firstly, it addresses some of the challenges to doing engagement well. Secondly, it is about empowerment in a way that builds collaboration. Thirdly, it is about the power of relationships. Jennie shared that the Community Planning Partnership has developed a Community Engagement Strategy with the support of Community Places which sets out and supports their approach to engagement. Drawing on the research of Oliver Escobar it highlights three key challenges of engagement: inclusive and diverse, quality dialogue and deliberation and engagement that is impactful.

Jennie stressed that:

“PB can address those challenges, it is not often that we get to run a process where the decision-making is in the hands of participants and that is a reason in itself to do PB. From a Community Planning perspective, it enables equal partnership working and sharing of resources (support, money, ideas, networks, local knowledge) in the design and delivery of the PB process.”

There are 15 members in the PB Working Group, Jennie explained that while this might mean that meetings are longer, it has also resulted in some great ideas including the name, ‘Take 500’ where groups will be invited to come up with an idea to promote 5 ways to wellbeing.

Jennie highlighted:

“It’s about the power of relationships – connect is one of the 5 ways to wellbeing and relationships are really powerful, a magic happens when you bring people together who may not have met otherwise. Social connections in response to this crisis are so important to community resilience. We hope to continue with the Take 500 PB process, it is likely that it will move online, and I think that it will be a challenge to make sure that we really make those connections.”

It was stated that the community response has been fast, sophisticated, kind, collaborative and compassionate. The Community Planning Partnership’s CVS Panel have undertaken a survey of the local community response (47 respondents) which illustrates the scale of the support. For example, distributing food to 10,000 people a week; accredited counselling; be-friending; activity packs; quizzes; training; yoga; parent and support; pet walking; socially distanced street bingo; signposting; helplines – all from the community.

Jennie noted:

“communities have acted quickly and creatively to support each other and if we run PB in the aftermath of the immediate response to Covid-19 it really says that we value what communities can do, especially the preventative effect of what they do in relation to social isolation and loneliness. PB can help us to invest in that and enables the community to decide where that investment goes as they know best.”

Jennie’s concluding remarks raised the issues that we haven’t heard from children and older people in the last few months and that there will be some difficult financial decisions ahead. It was highlighted that PB gives us a way to make those difficult decisions together and that there may be ways to learn and save money from some of the community innovations that have come forward.