Future of Participatory Budgeting in Scotland: framework

Setting out a shared ambition, intentions and priority areas for development where there is energy and enthusiasm for the differences participatory budgeting can make.

National Participatory Budgeting Strategic Group

Context: where we are

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is part of a movement which has grown up across the world over the last thirty years which is helping to strengthen and deepen deliberative democracy, supporting high quality decision-making with public funds and rebalancing power. 

Over the last decade there has been interest, energy and investment across Scotland in PB as part of a broader commitment to democratic and community renewal and tackling inequalities. Scotland’s PB story has been marked with ambition, good will and has included engaged and dynamic people within communities, third sector organisations, local and national government. PB Scotland has brought together a community of practice of over 1,300 people to test and learn from PB. Citizens have responded to opportunities for a direct say in budget decisions that affect them with at least 122,000 people taking part in processes associated with the Community Choices programme.

It remains an aim that people across Scotland will have a direct say in how council funds are invested in their communities, with local government committing that at least 1% of local government mainstream budgets will be subject to PB. Much work, however, remains to be done. Despite aspirations to tackle poverty and inequalities, these remain stubbornly engrained and there is evidence of a declining percentage of people who believe that they can influence decision making in their communities. 

Our National Participatory Budgeting Strategic group has deliberated on our shared ambition, intentions and priority areas for development over the next five years where there is energy and enthusiasm for the differences PB can make. We have been inspired by the pandemic response where people, communities and public services came together with a spirit of collaboration, resilience and compassion. Our framework reflects calls for action from, amongst others, Social Renewal Advisory Board report and COSLA’s Blueprint for Local Government to shift the balance of power so that communities of place and identity have more control over decisions that affect their lives – including through an extension of participatory budgeting. 

As well as focusing on building an effective culture and leadership which will enable PB to build on strong foundations, our focus has been to undertake a series of deliberations into areas where significant potential for PB exists. These are: education, health and wellbeing, housing and an emerging strand around tackling climate change.

We see PB as having the potential to support the development and delivery of action across a wide range of policy areas, supporting them to deliver change as part of the overall ambition laid out in Scotland’s National Performance Framework. 

To do this we want to encourage use of PB as a method that can lead to positive change in people’s lives. We want to encourage PB process that are co-produced with communities on an equality basis and encourage take up of PB across the public sector and government. 

The National PB Strategic Group

The National PB Strategic Group was established in September 2020 with an initial focus on establishing an overall framework for Participatory Budgeting over the lifetime of the next Scottish Parliament. It is envisaged that the group will be refreshed to ensure that proposals laid out within this framework can be most effectively delivered. 

Ambition: the big picture

Our shared ambition is that in five years’ time Participatory Budgeting is part of the core infrastructure of a constantly renewing democratic and community life across Scotland. 

Our intentions: how this is going to happen

This framework is not an attempt to control practice from the ‘top down’, rather we propose that PB contributes to existing efforts to improve people’s lives by being developed in areas of policy and place following key principles of co-production and equality. 

To fulfil this ambition, we will: 

  • be committed to programmes and processes which address power relations in decision making and tackle inequalities
  • have focused energy in those areas where people and communities are currently furthest from the ability to exercise power (e.g. in our economically most marginalised communities, with marginalised communities of identity and/or interest and with young people)
  • develop a deeper understanding of the impact of PB across Scotland alongside an inbuilt commitment to addressing weaknesses, encouraging improvements and sharing best practice in how PB operates
  • identify ways in which PB can inform system change as well as policy and practice across the public and community sectors, including how budgets are set and decisions are made 
  • have strong alliances with others committed to democratic and community renewal, both within Scotland and internationally, focused on achieving our wider shared ambitions

A shared understanding 

Our shared understanding is: ‘Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which citizens decide directly how to spend part of a public budget.’

Acknowledging that no definition of PB will ever be perfect, our focus is on one that draws on international experience, is straightforward and can be adopted by the Scottish Government and other partners. Any definition must continue to be shaped by experience and expertise, and be anchored by the features outlined in the PB Charter for Scotland

PB is one way of supporting a more participatory democracy. It sits alongside community engagement, community empowerment and representative democracy. These approaches are  distinct approaches that can support better outcomes together. They all recognise that marginalised groups are under-represented in and excluded from all forms of democracy and decision making. Our intention is that PB addresses this inequality. A democracy that doesn’t include all citizens in participation and deliberation opportunities is an inadequate and unequal democracy.


The National PB Strategic Group will report regularly to the Minister for Public Finance, Planning and Community Wealth. We will work closely with the Community Empowerment Team within Scottish Government, the PB Unit within COSLA and with PB Scotland. 


Alongside a clear reporting structure, the National PB Strategic Group will seek to influence and support implementation of good, impactful PB practices in the areas of education, health and wellbeing, housing and tackling climate as well as other evolving areas. We will seek to draw links and learning between these and other areas to prevent siloed approaches. 

We will seek to be influenced by best practice and academic expertise as well as by those who are currently marginalised from decision-making in relation to protected characteristics as well as economic circumstances, location and intersections. 

Culture shift, leadership and long term thinking 

Priority 1

We recommend the following overarching definition of PB:

  • ‘participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which citizens decide directly how to spend part of a public budget’

This definition is informed by the features outlined in the PB Charter for Scotland and will be best  communicated with appropriate messages developed for different audiences. By ‘a democratic process’ we mean: the process of expressing political rights through decision-making. It must include effective and equal participation, deliberation, and agenda control and we recognise that resources are needed to build capacity for participation.

Priority 2

We recommend  that the links between the National Performance Framework, community empowerment and PB are made much more explicit. To engage and align and integrate PB with wider policy development and implementation such as the Local Governance Review, Community Empowerment Act, New Democracy Bill, Children’s Rights legislation, National Health and Wellbeing Outcomes and Scottish Government’s participation framework.

Priority 3

We recommend that PB is constantly tested against a broader ambition of ensuring that our democracy is addressing and constantly responding to the exclusion of marginalised groups right across representative and participatory democracy.

Priority 4

We recommend the development of a continuous learning culture which includes: 

  • evaluation of individual processes agreeing common indicators of progress toward equality and empowerment outcomes
  • learning shared across a community of practice 
  • systematic learning through research including action research and lived experience evidence, to identify national patterns 

Priority 5

We encourage the Scottish Government to identify opportunities to hold PB processes directly - initial opportunities exist around tackling the climate challenge. In doing so we look to ensure that PB is located amongst a range of methods supporting more participatory democracy.

Cross-cutting priorities

Priority 6

We evidence the long term impact of PB processes and the benefit of empowered participation in a range of areas including health, social care, education and housing as well as on democracy. This may help to address what the Poverty Truth Community describes as ‘the poverty of participation’. In a health and wellbeing context this will develop our understanding of the public health value of PB processes. 

Indicators of progress includes:

  • an improved understanding of the positive consequences of better participation including impact on democracy, sense of influence, health, wellbeing, safety and belonging
  • an improved understanding of what best practice for PB looks like by checking practice against the PB Charter and exploring the potential to develop a kite mark
  • in the longer term; evidence of improved services better equipped and informed to meet needs (following from Christie Commission)

Priority 7

We find the best role for PB in a cross-cutting issue of climate justice with a focus on a Just Transition with opportunities for participation in tackling climate change. 

By ‘cross-cutting’ we describe ways in which, for example, climate justice may intersect/weave well together with/through other themes and through PB help create or strengthen conditions for a Just Transition. Engaging people meaningfully in these areas is particularly important given the long term nature of the work and challenges faced.

Indicators of progress includes:

  • we test green participatory budgeting
  • people from marginalised communities take opportunities to participate in decisions around investments in tackling climate change

Priority 8

We lead the way to develop PB that compliments and supports equalities and rights based budgeting to achieve better outcomes.

Indicators of progress includes: 

  • better links with statutory duties of equality impact assessments.
  • participation of those with protected characteristics affected by budget decisions
  • equality considerations and rights based budgeting is involved in shaping PB processes from the start

Health and wellbeing 

Priority 9

We focus on how public sector partners can use PB to collaborate and work more effectively with the community to support health and wellbeing. This could include Police Scotland, Transport Scotland and other public bodies.

Priority 10

We support the use of PB to create opportunities for direct participation in decisions around sustainable transport options that reduce inequalities whilst contributing to efforts to mitigate the climate crisis.

Priority 11

We support the recommendation of the Independent Review of Adult Social Care in Scotland for better participation in decision making by exploring PB as a way to share power over decisions about mainstream budgets. By doing this we might bridge locality planning and the work of Integrated Joint Boards.

Indicators of progress includes:

  • more public sector partners are testing and developing good, accessible and empowering PB processes
  • an increasing level of active citizens (measured by numbers, diversity, experience and stories of impact)
  • people and communities report feeling listened to, valued and are able to participate in decisions on policies and services that affect them. Benchmarked against national evidence to capture benefits and outcomes of PB processes
  • evaluation of both process outcomes (how people have benefited from taking part) as well as the difference in decisions taken associated with PB
  • more Integrated Joint Boards piloting and embedding PB processes, with increased numbers of citizens participating


Priority 12

We support high quality PB processes in education where everyone can contribute equally in setting the agenda and making decisions, and where PB supports a policy or budget that is locally identified as important. 

Indicators of progress includes:

  • young people and the wider education community report feeling listened to and are able to participate in decisions on policies and services that affect them. Benchmarked against national evidence to capture benefits and outcomes of PB processes
  • equality of access is tested by measuring participation in school PB processes by relevant characteristics including free school meals eligibility/gender/disability. A sampling or case study approach may be most proportionate  

Priority 13

We encourage a focus on developing PB further in secondary schools, building on good participatory practice in primary schools. Encouraging PB activity in areas identified together by pupils, parents, school staff, education authorities and partners.

Indicators of progress includes:

  • an increase in the quantity and quality of PB in schools over the next 5 years, assessing the numbers of schools involved and spread amongst local authorities
  • inclusion of ASL or high and complex needs related schools
  • work together to develop long term indicators based on a logic model

Priority 14

We advocate for the ongoing development of PB as a tool to address challenges of poverty and inequality experienced by children by supporting the Pupil Equity Fund and Scottish Attainment Challenge. 

Indicators of progress includes:

  • PB is seen as a core tool to achieve the aims of Scottish Attainment Challenge
  • ideas and practice generated through PB become mainstream
  • involvement of young people experiencing poverty and disability in this process

Housing with links to the environment 

Priority 15

We use PB processes as a mechanism for housing providers to engage with their tenants and the wider community in the allocation of funds that contribute to the wellbeing and place based agenda. Achieving outcomes identified by communities and tenants by working in partnership with communities, tenants associations, Third Sector Interfaces and Community Planning Partnerships. 

Indicators of progress includes:

  • more housing providers are using PB as part of their place-based work
  • community members and tenants and others are more active in their community
  • measurements of social capital, including tenant satisfaction have increased as people feel part of and proud of their community
  • an increasing number of housing providers are engaging with a broader place based approach

Priority 16

We develop ways to include PB within efforts to end homelessness; believing that this is best done through a co-productive approach alongside people with lived experience of homelessness, front line workers, services and communities.

Indicators of progress includes:

  • people with lived experience of homelessness and front line workers have a direct say in how relevant budgets are best invested
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