Empowering communities
Empowering communities

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Empowering communities

4.1 Participatory budgeting in action

In the following two clips, Angela McCann of Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council in Northern Ireland provides an overview of a participatory budgeting project in action.

In the first clip, Angela discusses what participatory budgeting means in practice and how, in a very practical sense, it can contribute to community empowerment.

In the second clip, Angela highlights some of the longer-term benefits and implications for communities of implementing participatory budgeting in practice.

Activity 3 Participatory budgeting

Timing: Allow approximately 20 minutes

Take a moment to reflect on how participatory budgeting might work in practice in your context. Are there any key steps you could take to tailor aspects of participatory budgeting to the needs of your community?

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Skip transcript: Video 1 Angela McCann

Transcript: Video 1 Angela McCann

Hi, my name is Angela McCann, and I am the Lisburn policing and community safety partnership manager for Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council in Northern Ireland.
Participatory budgeting is and innovative and democratic process involving local communities deciding how to allocate public funding. In its simplest form, it is about empowering local people and communities to have a say in how money can be used to address local priorities. It's a relatively new concept in Northern Ireland and was used for the first time by Lisburn and Castlereagh PCSP in February 2020. We took it forward in partnership with the housing executive, Sport NI, The Health Trust, and critically the foresight of the local superintendent Davy Beck.
So PB comes in all shapes and sizes. But for Lisburn and Castlereagh, we decided to give it a title called Grand Choice. We had grants of up to 1,000 pounds to award, hence the name "grand." And because it was going to be the people’s choice, we put the title together and decided that our project-- our initiative would be called Grand Choice.
Regardless of the name, the three main attributes of participatory budgeting are one about ideas generation. So ideas are generated by the local community about how a budget should be spent. The second point is people vote for their priorities. And thirdly, the projects with the highest number of votes then are awarded the funding.
So how is this different to how we would normally conduct our business? So we would normally initiate a grants process where people would apply in a very abstract manner by filling out an application that would come before a panel who wouldn't necessarily be familiar with what goes on in local communities nor the intricacies that are involved around what the local priorities would be. So this process very much put the power back into the very heart of communities and give them the say in how that funding should be allocated.
So first I think it's important to explore what community empowerment actually is. For me, it's about communities leading change. It is about shifting the power and the decision-making from the centre and placing it, along with the responsibility, back into the heart of communities who actually know what will work and what their local priorities are.
Very often in community development, in community safety and policing, and we hear from the few. People can be reluctant to engage for all sorts of reasons, and I suppose not least in Northern Ireland due to the legacy of our troubled past. However, PB changes that. It focuses on engaging people who may not have traditionally applied for public funds in the past but have ideas about how they want to improve their local community.
In fact from the experience in Lisburn and Castlereagh, the majority of applicants who applied had never before engaged with either the PCSP or the council. And I believe that this is community empowerment in its truest sense.
The emphasis here is on effective planning and level of community involvement. If you don't get these two attributes right at the start, you're really not doing PB correctly. So alongside the police, we agree the geographical area to be covered by the Grand Choice project.
And this was the rural district electoral area of Killultagh, which lies on the edge of our district council area. It includes a few large settlements with a mainly rural hinterland. It is an area that has seen some geographical challenges, and changes, and ongoing challenges in respect of community cohesion. So it made it really the ideal testing ground for us to trial this project before considering rolling it out to the rest of the council area.
So we formed a steering group consisting of the relevant agencies that I had mentioned earlier and assigned a budget for the initiative. And the three themes that we wanted to address were policing and community safety, mental health and well-being, and engaging young people.
Are promotional material was designed. And we brought our proposal to all areas of the community to share our ideas to get community buy-in from a very early stage in the process. We delivered awareness-raising sessions and workshops right across the district electoral area. And we laid out the process to be followed.
This was also promoted on social media through local churches, papers, community groups, schools, and really any organisation that would listen. Because what we wanted to do was to get into the hearts and minds of the communities to get people involved that hadn't previously been involved with any of our projects. What the group had to do was to design a proposal which they wanted funding for and submit it to an assessment panel for consideration.
If the criteria was met, they then successfully made it through to attend a marketplace event which took place on the first Saturday in February where they had to exhibit their proposal to the people who were going to be in attendance and explain why they felt that their project should win. Everybody who attended over the age of 7 were entitled to a vote. So this made it an extremely inclusive process.
On the day of the marketplace, we had 24 exhibitions in the community hall in Maghaberry. We had over 1,000 people attend at the event from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM, which was just a phenomenal turnout for the event, more than we could ever have anticipated. They were allowed to choose 10 projects, and this eliminated any bias in the system.
So obviously when the people came out to vote, there would have been some projects they would have been familiar with but the majority that they wouldn't. So they were encouraged to look openly and see which projects that they felt should achieve their vote.
There was an enormous positive vibe in the hall, and we also had crime prevention stands. And we had representatives from various areas of policing in attendance. We had emergency services, trying to make it a very inclusive and community engagement event but also a celebration of everything that was good in the local community.
The votes were counted, and those with the highest number received the funding. The feedback was really positive, and the community felt that they had actually influenced where the funding was to be allocated. I have to say, in my 20 years as a practitioner in this field, it was probably one of the most successful events that I have been involved in, and I got a very real sense of community empowerment and local decision-making.
End transcript: Video 1 Angela McCann
Video 1 Angela McCann
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Download this video clip.Video player: Video 2
Skip transcript: Video 2 Angela McCann

Transcript: Video 2 Angela McCann

When done well, PB can be really meaningful, celebrating the good work that is happening in communities, and really an opportunity for groups and services to attract community support. PB brings people together to start conversations leading to relationships that make our communities stronger, building skills and confidence to go on and become more engaged. But the more PB is co-produced with communities, the more effective it becomes.
For us as a PCSP and council, we have made real connections with communities and individuals, and we have fostered a connectedness across communities, perhaps even traditionally those who may not have come together and had it not have been for the Grand Choice Initiative.
OK, so from a personal perspective, participatory budgeting needs to be further developed with a real commitment to expanding it in Northern Ireland. And this means government agencies allocating part of their budget to it. For communities, it has the potential to be transformational in terms of community empowerment. And by this, I mean that PB has the ability to transform the relationships that exist between local communities and the public bodies who serve them. It can ensure that the diverse needs of communities are understood, and that local voices are heard in local decision making, which, at its least, could radically reduce inequalities.
The process isn't easy, however, so don't come under an illusion that actually, that this is a simple process, because it's not. And there's not a lot of ground work that needs to be put in place to make the PB correct. And there are also many obstacles that you will come across that have to be overcome. But if you bring the community with you, and agree, and give them a voice, you will succeed in effectively implementing PB for the well-being of our local people.
End transcript: Video 2 Angela McCann
Video 2 Angela McCann
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Having watched these two clips you may have noticed a number of key themes emerging. You may have also seen some differences between the theory and practice of participatory budgeting. The key thing to remember is that each community setting and context is different and needs will vary significantly. As a consequence, any participatory budgeting process will need to be specifically adapted to the needs of the local community.


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