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.

3. Part Three - Implications for Policy and Practice


This evaluation study has been the most comprehensive analysis of activity around PB in Scotland. Covering three years of activity, within a dynamic policy context and learning environment, as local authorities and other stakeholders have engaged in developing PB activity and in exchanging practice amongst one another.

This section places the findings into the context of the 3T's model developed as part of the evaluation framework and applies these theoretically informed characterisations to practical implications for progressing PB.

Key Points

  • Summarising conceptual definitions and operational challenges for local authorities, third and public sector bodies reinforces the complexity as well as the transformative potential for PB.
  • From the evaluation findings a series of key propositions are formulated to support greater clarity of purpose and direction for PB as local authorities, supported by partner organisations, move towards the 1% target and the challenges of mainstreaming participation in setting budgets and priorities.
  • The 3T's model of transaction, transference, and transformation formulated within the evaluation presents a framework for practitioners to reflect on and design their strategic intent and practical actions in relation to PB.
  • A series of specific actions are proposed that reflect the evidence and findings in the evaluation across the four areas of focus - communities, services, local democracy and tackling inequality.
  • These actions and the implications for practice are intended to support the Scottish Government, local authorities and partner organisations realise stated commitments to advancing the empowerment of local communities through increased participation in local decision making.

3.1. Characterising and rethinking PB: revisiting the 3T's model

Drawing on the rich material from observations, interviews, documentary analysis and fieldnotes, along with concepts and principles from the literature on PB in Scotland and internationally, has informed the analytical framework of transaction, transference, and transformation. The interim evaluation report considered early characterisations of PB activities in Scotland and the extent to which local authorities were constructing PB as a policy instrument or policy device (Harkins and Escobar, 2015). As both the evaluation and the policy direction progressed further into analysis of the implications and implementation of mainstreaming PB, it became increasingly necessary to understand the character of PB activity. In other words, identifying what was actually going on in practice and how that practice relates to the stated policy intention of PB by the Scottish Government and how closely that relates to the established principles for PB.

The introduction to this report sets out the description of PB in the 2017 Framework Agreement between COSLA and the Scottish Government. The 1% target proposed in the Framework places significant demands on the concept of PB, potentially overloading both the concept and how it is operationalised with unrealistic expectations. To recap the 2017 definition, PB is required to:

  • enable active participation of citizens in local decision making;
  • establish a shared expectation that elected members, senior officers, civil society and local communities will use PB to go beyond the current arrangements for consultation and engagement;
  • support the longer term strategic aim of public sector reform that can be achieved by applying spend to the greatest areas of need, where social cohesion can be developed or maintained;
  • deliver a partnership approach to PB whereby mainstream funding is identified across a partnership for mainstream services with an aim to shaping how services are delivered in the area;
  • actively involve local people with the intention of making them "less passive consumers of public services and more supportive of new models of delivery".

(COSLA, 2017)

These multiple aims place a significant burden on the idea of PB and how it is implemented in Scotland, as well as conceptual and organisational challenges for local authorities, third sector and other public sector bodies. The evaluation findings invite those with a commitment to PB as a potentially transformative force in local governance, community participation and budgetary allocation to consider a number of key propositions, as follows:

  • If it is the shared intention of Scottish Government and local authorities to empower communities by changing the nature of decision-making processes at the local level, that requires a transference of power between the different levels of government and the different actors - institutional and community - engaged in the process.
  • If it is the intention of the Scottish Government and public authorities, not only local councils, to reform the structure, design and delivery of public services, then that too requires a transference of power and resources, to effect the transformation implicit in public service reform.
  • If the intention of central and local government and public authorities is to create genuine partnerships in decision making about the needs of people in their communities that are based on the priorities identified by those people, then that requires a transformation in the relationship between all those partners.
  • Transferring the power and resources to be able to identify and articulate priorities relevant to all members of Scotland's communities also requires re-building trust in government and public authorities.
  • If the intention is to support people in Scotland to be actively engaged in decision making and exercising their voice, that requires a transformation in the understanding of the structural constraints that continue to limit inclusion and reinforce the exclusion of many because of their poverty, disability, gender or ethnicity.

Ultimately if the intention is to use PB to achieve transformational aims, then the character of the practice needs to be transformational. In a definition of PB that reflects the transformative character proposed in this model, Goldfranks (2007) offers a clear operational description of PB that could be useful in developing the next 'generation' of PB in Scotland:

"open to any citizen who wants to participate, combines direct and representative democracy, involves deliberation (not merely consultation), redistributes resources towards the poor, and is self-regulating, such that participants help define the rules governing the process, including the criteria by which resources are allocated." (2007, p.92)

In light of the emerging findings from the evaluation we propose this more refined form of the 3T's which policy makers may find useful. The refined "3Ts Framework" proposed here at Figure 2 also allows practitioners and stakeholders in PB in Scotland to identify the varying states that local authorities currently occupy in relation to the implementation of PB. For example, enabling them to consider whether PB is transactional leading to the transference of power to communities in the allocation of budgets for public services, culminating in a transformational approach to PB which is sought by the Scottish Government. Whilst we also note that there are some PB processes that will have aspects of transference, transformation and transaction within them the use of categories helps consider the overall purpose and intention of PB activity.

Figure 2. Expanding the 3T's model

Figure 2. Expanding the 3T's model

The different approaches to PB stem from the different ways it is characterised by the lead organisation or organising influence. Cabannes and Lipietz (2018) offer a useful categorisation of types of PB that highlight the potential differences in PB that is initiated by citizens and that which is initiated by government. They differentiate between PB that is motivated by political change, matters of good governance or technocratic concerns. PB as motivated by political change, as highlighted by Escobar and others (Escobar et al. 2018) frames PB as a response to the need for change in current democratic processes. Such actions can meet the demand for more radical and empowering processes that "deepen democracy" (Cabannes and Lipietz, 2018, p.4), such as the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015 aspires to progress and the Local Governance Review could make possible. Motivations towards matters of good governance view PB as a way to improve the links between public administration institutions and citizens.

Technocratic concerns consider the ways in which PB can maximise resources through efficiencies and optimising resources for the benefit of citizens and to manage reducing public resources (Cabannes and Lipietz, 2018).

The established principles of PB across the international academic literature based on experiences in different contexts globally and in Scotland and the UK are condensed in Table 6.

Table 6. Principles of Participatory Budgeting

Participatory Budgeting Unit

Wampler's Principles (2012)

Harkins and Escobar Principles (2015)


Local ownership

Shared responsibility



Support representative democracy

Mainstream involvement




Social Justice

PB is a long-term endeavour.

PB requires strong leadership, time and resource.

PB should be independently facilitated.

PB enables an authentic representation of community interest.

PB should be a new and distinct approach.

PB must utilise existing community groups.

PB must be clear what form of democracy it will take.

PB recognises the challenges in engaging socially excluded citizens.

PB has realistic expectations of community representation.

PB allocates reasonable funding to a limited number of projects.

Wampler (2012) asserts a set of four core principles which must underpin PB in order to achieve these impacts: Voice, Vote, Social Justice, and Oversight. These characteristics broadly encompass the impacts outlined by the Scottish Government. The principles offered by the Participatory Budgeting Unit and Harkins and Escobar (2015) provide more definition, underpinning the design and delivery of PB as suggested by Wampler (2012). The forms PB activity can take vary from "symbolic participatory gestures to transformational impact" (Cabannes and Lipietz, 2018). It is this spectrum of activity that structures the scope and analytical perspective of this evaluation. Has PB in Scotland been and does it remain symbolic, suggesting a veneer of decentralisation of decision making? Is there a genuine intent and interest in opening up power relations and space to different forms of engagement that will result in a transformation of the relationship between citizens at the local level and the different levels of local governance including councils and other public administration institutions?

3.2. Reflections and ways forward

3.2.1. Introduction

Our core conclusions reflect the findings from observations, documentary analysis, action research, and structured interviews. The evidence and findings reveal considerable good will and positive disposition to improving and enhancing community engagement as a central approach to local authority and wider public sector practice. There is substantial evidence of engaged and dynamic individuals within local authorites, communities, community organisations, and national organisations. There is clear enthusiasm for new ways of working. These factors, and the operational pressures of implementing PB reinforce the need for strategic and institutional commitment to a clear purpose and transformational intent for PB.

3.2.2. Character of PB in Scotland: towards a Scottish model?

This report sets out the findings from comprehensive evidence that reflects the diverse views and experience of local residents, local council officers and elected members, local and national stakeholder organisations. It has informed a proposed framework for analysis in the "3T's" that could be considered as an emerging model to describe practice in Scotland. In this final section, a clear set of implications for practice are proposed. Consistent with the principal areas of investigation, these implications are presented here in relation to communities, services, democracy, equalities, and mainstreaming PB.

This description of PB appears on the PB Scotland website[12], the PB portal funded by the Scottish Government. The text accompanies a promotional film on the implementation of PB and progress towards the 1% target, and the mainstreaming of participation in budget decisions:

"Done well, mainstream PB has the potential to reshape public participation in local democracy, ultimately leading to better decisions that meet the needs of local people.

Working toward mainstreaming is a challenge because it's so new in Scotland.

COSLA and the Scottish Government have committed to 1% of local government's budgets being decided through participatory budgeting by the end of 2021.

To help towards achieving that, we need to decide what mainstream PB can look like across the country - and how we can make sure communities are involved in this process."

Given this articulated intention, how then as PB moves into its next iteration can citizens and institutions make sure mainstream participatory budgeting is done with and not to communities? The following set of actions comprise clear areas of re-orientation and practice by local authorities and partners to progress more inclusive, deliberative, engaged and empowered participation in local resource decision making. They are framed across the four areas of impact that were the focus of the evaluation study (Communities, Services, Local Democracy and Tackling Inequalities), and are informed by the substantial findings detailed in this report. Drawing on the learning and evidence from the evaluation, where possible, indicative activities to implement the actions are proposed. The findings offer a range of learning points from the early PB activities and the opportunities to improve community involvement in the design and planning of events, and the need for the diverse needs and experiences of different members of the community.

3.2.3. Actions for impact on communities

  • Sustain meaningful and purposeful involvement of local communities, including essential preparatory work and local community development by earlier and more proactive activity to engage community residents in what PB means to local communities and what the opportunities to engage could mean for local services.
  • Support inclusion and participation of whole communities by identifying and acting upon their different needs and requirements. This includes consideration of equalities characteristics; different patterns of service usage; and support needs in relation to interpretation, accessible venues and transport, and engagement in setting priorities for services such as social care and transport.
  • Change to more inclusive and localised ways of working that reflect the differences between places within local authority areas in relation to diversity, income levels, and types of services.
  • More closely involve local council officers and other partners in shaping local services, including environmental improvements, use of public space, social care and accessibility of public services and spaces.
  • Resource community and institutional capacity building - that is, the skills, confidence and knowledge to engage in sustainable and meaningful participation so there is a transfer of power and resources that effectively empowers communities.
  • Make more effective use of LOIPs and an integrated approach to community consultation that transforms community consultation and minimal engagement into informed participatory decision making on budgeting, priority setting and resource allocation.

3.2.4. Actions for impact on services

  • Develop the analytical and community development capacity within local authorities by improving local data on equality groups and improving understanding of different patterns of service use and participation.
  • Develop a better understanding of what PB is, and can achieve by working towards cultural change at all levels of local government to enable a shift in power and decision making.
  • Working across local authorities, COSLA and other public bodies will ensure greater coherence of purpose and understanding of PB across the public sector.
  • Address the disjointed and dislocated approaches to PB by working towards an integrated service approach to community participation and decision making through improved alignment of community planning objectives and resource sharing processes.
  • Address the underlying anxieties of public finance managers that participation is a method that needs to be resourced, not an additional service to fund, by investing time and resource in training and building competence and confidence in transference of power and resources to communities.
  • Build internal capacity on analysis and understanding of equalities dimensions of participation through training and awareness raising on equalities with council officers, elected members and partners.
  • Resource equalities implications of services to meet diverse needs within communities by ensuring equality impact assessments, effective consultation and mitigation are regularly and consistently conducted on policy proposals from local councils and public bodies.

3.2.5. Actions for impact on local democracy

  • Build understanding of PB as a concept among local elected members in local councils and community councils through proactive information and awareness raising materials, that explain PB is a way of doing things that needs to be resourced to support better outcomes for citizens, within limited resources.
  • Encourage local authorities and community councils to open up to other forms of citizen participation such as citizens' juries or assemblies, and make more information available in different formats.
  • Ensure clear participatory intent is supported by best practice in participatory and deliberative methods by taking steps to address the issues of exclusion identified in the findings and resourcing more inclusive activity.
  • Build public knowledge and understanding of public finance so that local people are better informed on local government finance, what decisions they can be involved in, and what differences that might make.
  • Open budgetary processes to public scrutiny and participation through improved information available in a range of formats, and providing in advance of budget setting and decision making on priorities.
  • Engage local people in budget setting so that PB is both participatory and involves budgeting by empowering local people with information and accessible opportunities to participate in setting spending and service priorities. These more inclusive approaches from local authorities and public bodies would be a confirmation that participation transforms relationships and services.

3.2.6. Actions for impact on tackling inequalities

  • Improve data and knowledge on local communities so that communication, engagement opportunities, and service design more closely reflect local needs and priorities.
  • Use the PSED as a strategic lever to engage council departments and partners across the public sector in equality analysis and designing public services by consulting directly with people on finance and service decisions. This means improving the practice of Equality Impact Assessments as a matter of good governance.
  • Use the National Standards for Community Engagement as a practical framework to support local authorities, third and public sector partners to engage to reach out to local people across diverse needs and experiences.
  • The Scottish Government could make use of the ministerial duties within PSED in Scotland to support and direct the improvement of equality analysis and practice within local governance by requiring regular reporting on activity to advance equality of outcome and improvements in practices related to empowering local communities.

3.3. Conclusion

The early iterations of PB as a small grants process varied in how they have been presented to communities and the extent to which communities have been engaged in decision making beyond a transactional - funder:beneficiary relationship. Where there is evidence of transference of decision making power over local priorities and resources, communities and councils (and their partner organisations) are responding by changing, or aiming to change, their ways of working around service planning and design. The small grants as a transactional model has had important benefits around community cohesion, transferring knowledge and awareness of local activity, if not power over resources.

The transformative potential of PB is clear but requires significant improvement in the deliberative opportunities and processes for supporting participation in decision making at local level and at the level of council budgets. Uncertainties over levels of funding and stability of resources to councils undermine the ability of local authorities to scale up community participation. Established organisational and behavioural norms also impede innovation and the cultural change necessary to effect the systemic and political shift to increased community participation in budgeting and priority setting. As innovative examples emerge, it can be hoped that local authority elected members and officers will increase in confidence to adapt and to adopt more open and inclusive ways of working. The sharing of such good practice models might usefully be further encouraged.

Without significant shifts in understanding of the relevance of equalities characteristics, and the structural constraints that arise from gender, disability, race and class discrimination, there is a significant risk that approaches to PB will not engage across the depth and diversity of local communities. It is imperative to invest in accessible and deliberative processes, challenge established perceptions and behaviours, and take the lived realities of people's lives as a starting point if participation in public service decision making are to be inclusive and transformative.

Local communities do not all have the same capacity or share the same interests in being engaged in decision making. Capacity can be developed by increasing knowledge, supporting participation and access to opportunities, and by clearly articulating the purpose and rationale for individuals and community members to give their time and effort. Building trust in public authorities and the belief in the commitment to listen and respond are central to improving community capacity. Ultimately, participation requires resources of time and finance from local authorities and other public sector partners to secure and sustain local capacity and interest. As councils develop their approaches to 'mainstreaming' PB, factoring in participation to spend is an essential consideration. Currently, many councils regard participation as an additional cost or that funds allocated to participation are lost to core service budgets. This mindset represents one of the most significant challenges to mainstreaming PB. It requires clear guidance from Scottish Government ministers and officials that participation is both the objective and the process through which community empowerment is to be supported, and community engagement in decision making is to be operationalised.

This report has identified a wide range of positive practice and commitment alongside considerable uncertainties and vulnerabilities. In presenting the analytical framework of the "3T's" - transaction, transference, and transformation - the intention is to offer the Scottish Government and other stakeholders an approach to characterise their own interpretation and implementation of PB. In addition, the model can serve as a way to evaluate the extent to which current practice at national or local level is meeting the aspirations of the principles of PB as a concept, and in relation to the demands placed on it. Ongoing evaluation of the implementation of PB as a mechanism for community empowerment and tackling persistent inequalities should also continue to be part of practice, reflecting the current and future contexts of public finance and public services in Scotland.


Email: kathleen.glazik@gov.scot

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