Since 2014 the Scottish Government has invested over £4.7 million in a range of measures to support the introduction and development of participatory budgeting ( PB) in Scotland. Financial support has included project and match funding for Scottish local authorities, with allocations in 2014 and 2015 to support training and practice development, fund resources to support community involvement and the delivery of participatory decision making on local resource allocation. In 2015, the Community Choices Fund was introduced as a means of direct financial support and match funding to public authorities and community organisations to support local activity and services. Part of the investment from the Scottish Government has included funding a national support programme that to date has comprised the development of a national knowledge exchange network and website; funded training and consultancy for public authorities and communities through PB Partners; support to introduce digital voting mechanisms; this evaluation study and a wider evaluation programme; an international conference in 2016; learning events and publications; and a recently introduced facilitator training programme. The third call for applications to the Community Choices Fund has an allocation of an additional £1.5m for 2017/18 to be split between public authorities and community organisations for activities to promote and advance PB.
Originating in Puerto Alegre (Brazil) over thirty years ago, the concept of PB has travelled and transferred across the world, adapting to local policy and political contexts. In essence, PB aims to enable local people to decide on the issues that matter to them and to help them to understand public spending, put forward their own ideas and vote on them ( PB Partners). The Scottish Government describe PB as "a way for local people to have a direct say in how public funds can be used to address local needs" and consider it to have important potential in helping individuals feel connected to each other and to their communities and can instill a sense of ownership, trust and connectivity. The Scottish Government is supportive of PB as a tool for community engagement that fits with the objectives of the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 and considers it an important resource to build on the wider development of participatory democracy in Scotland (Scottish Government website). The Scottish Government has framed its policy on PB through policy and legislative provision for community empowerment and since 2015 the funding stream and related activities have been referred to as Community Choices.
Between inception in 2014 and commencement of the evaluation project at the end of 2015, 20 local authorities in Scotland were directly engaged with the Scottish Government though funding support for training on PB practice and to develop awareness of PB and practical implementation. This activity was part of the 'first wave' of the currently funded PB activity following political commitment from the current Scottish Government. PB as a concept pre-dates the current Scottish National Party government, and is an established method in community engagement globally. Practice among community-based or community-led organisations and some local authorities in Scotland also pre-dates the current drive to increase PB activity.
This summary presents the initial findings of an evaluation study of PB activity in Scotland, with a particular focus on local authorities, by researchers based at Glasgow Caledonian University ( GCU) between October 2015 and June 2017. It identifies any impact that PB has had on local communities, local services, and local democracy in Scotland across 20 local authority areas with more detailed analysis of 6 case study local authorities. The research methodology can be characterised as participatory action research, which ensures that the perspectives of distinct actors (institutional and community) are incorporated into the focus, process, and analytical activity of the evaluation project and that questions of voice, diversity, and representation are not only addressed in the research activities but form the central methodology – of interviews and focus groups.
Email: Jacqueline Rae