Evaluation of participatory budgeting activity in Scotland 2016-2018

Impact of participatory budgeting on communities, services, democracy and tackling inequality across local authorities in Scotland.


Through various processes of policy learning and transfer by governments, civil society organisations, academic and social networks, Participatory Budgeting (PB) has been rolling out across the world as a form of local engagement in decision making on how resources are allocated to neighbourhood, city, village, or specific groups of people for over thirty years. Participatory Budgeting (PB) originated in Puerto Alegre in Brazil during the 1980s and is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which communities decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget.

This report is the final output of an evaluation of such PB activity in Scotland commissioned by the Scottish Government in 2015 and which was based upon fieldwork conducted throughout 2016 until September 2018. The specific areas of focus for the evaluation, as determined by the Scottish Government, were the identifiable impacts on local communities, local services, local democracy, and tackling inequalities. The design and approach to the evaluation study is set out in detail in section 1.3. Over a three-year period, the evaluation project included observations of PB activities, participatory action research and multiple in-depth interviews with elected members, council officers and community members engaged in PB in order to analyse how PB is understood, defined and expressed by local authorities and communities. In addition, the evaluation sought to explore perspectives on the future development of PB in Scotland, with a particular focus on how local authorities are approaching the implementation of the 1% target for local authorities by 2021.

The evaluation study commenced in October 2015; by which point the Scottish Government had already been engaged in promoting PB through a funded-training programme with local authorities for over a year. The PB Working Group, comprising Scottish Government and external stakeholders, had been established in 2014 and had overseen the development of the brief for the evaluation of national activity. In its early stages the evaluation ran concurrently with the ongoing training provided by PB Partners, and the evolving formulation of conceptual understanding of PB by local authorities and local communities as well as the character of PB-related activity. At this early stage this activity was primarily focused on small-grants processes at local community level.

The findings in this report therefore reflect a dynamic process of delivering PB through local authorities at the same time as the policy context continued to develop. These developments included the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 being passed and specific measures affecting the character and delivery of PB being implemented from 2016 onwards. In 2016, the Scottish Government committed to continue support for the expansion of PB through the Community Choices Fund, designating substantial resource to support the implementation of participatory decision making, to be known as 'community choices' in local areas. A further significant policy change which occurred during the evaluation period was the development of the Community Choices 1% Framework Agreement between the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA), agreed in 2017, setting "a target of having at least 1% of their budget subject to Community Choices budgeting (PB)" (COSLA, 2017) by 2020/21. The evaluation report aims to reflect the changing policy context and the developmental nature of design, delivery, and development of PB by local authorities across Scotland in the 3-year period under review.

Presenting the findings from the evaluation, this report is structured into the following sections. Part One discusses the policy context of PB in Scotland and the approach to the evaluation. Part Two is the substantive section of the report as it presents detailed findings from the evaluation. Part Three discusses the findings in relation to the conceptual and empirical literature and moves into consideration of the implications for future policy and practice, and some overarching conclusions on PB and specifically implementing 'the 1%'.

A major contribution of this report is the presentation of the 3T's model, developed within the evaluation project as a way of characterising approaches to PB in Scotland as "transaction, transference, and/or transformation" which has been used as a framework of analysis in this evaluation of PB activity in Scotland. This reflects the dynamic nature of continuing development in Scotland as participation in local decision making on public resources moves from a funder-beneficiary model to empowered engagement in mainstream budget decision making. This is particularly the aspiration of the joint Framework Agreement between the Scottish Government and COSLA that committed local councils to the 1% target.

Throughout, the report findings are substantiated from the significant amounts of primary data generated through interview, observation and action research over three years of inquiry and analysis.


Email: kathleen.glazik@gov.scot

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