Participatory budgeting. Moving towards transparency and deeper democracy
The Project “Public budgets from A to Z: greater civil society awareness, access and participation” is tasked to involve the general public, the media, and civil society organizations (CSOs) in public finances monitoring and drawing up the state and local budgets. The Project was being implemented (2016-2018) by East Europe Foundation and the Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation PAUCI funded by the European Union.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PROJECT
One of the Project's key component was aimed to develop participatory budgeting in 8 Ukrainian cities: Drohobych, Dolyna, Bila Tserkva, Severodonetsk, Mykolaiv, Kropyvnytsky, Mirgorod, Energodar and 2 ATCs: Bilozirskaya ATC, and the Balta ATC, chosen on the competitive basis through open invitation out of 78 applications.
PAUCI experts focused on the development of two dimensions of the participatory budgeting: e-democracy and deliberative democracy. E-platform helped to raise local resident’s role in the budgetary process and increase the number of participants in the projects selection process.
Deliberative approach (widespread discussion of decisions) was designed to form local teams to coordinate the process and provide support for project authors in project management and problem solving.
Ukrainian and international experts reviewed the process of improving PB from different perspectives: implementation of information campaign; dialogue and partnership among key stakeholders; multi-sectoral trainings for local government officials, civil society organizations and active citizens.
Well-designed communication policy is the crucial part of the participatory budgeting process, therefore, one of the areas of support was focused on methodological and financial support of information campaign. Information about PB stages was disseminated through different channels of communication: radio, TV, newspapers, flyers, announcements, town hall meetings, etc.
RESULTS OF THE PROJECT
First of all, it is worth emphasizing the growing of PB financial strength, namely, amount of money allocated for the implementation of winning projects. In Mykolaiv, it was increased from 10 million UAH in 2017 up to 12 million UAH in 2018; from 5.3 million UAH to 7.2 million UAH in Bila Tserkva; from 3 million UAH to 5 million UAH in Kropyvnitskyi, from 750 thousand UAH to 900 thousand UAH in Mirgorod and from 250 thousand UAH up to 500 thousand in Drohobych.
Continuing all-Ukrainian trend, activity of the project authors decreased. Only Dolyna showed the growth - 17 projects in 2018 and 3 in 2017.
At the same time, another trend persists - number of winning projects increases in the majority of communities.
Another equally important indicator is a number of residents involved in the voting process. It helps to assess the quality of information campaign implementation and communication policy of the local authority.
To analyze PB impact, PAUCI Foundation conducted a survey that points out that PB became an effective tool for communication between local authorities and the community.
During the survey, impact assessment on governing quality was carried out according to the following criteria:
1. Informing about the needs of residents and increasing the efficiency of public tasks.
In Sievierodonetsk, Mykolaiv, Drohobych, Biloziria ATC, a number of projects which for one reason or another were not admitted to voting or not received enough votes were recommended to be included in the relevant programs or to allocate part of the city budget to solve the corresponding problems.
2. New ideas.
Local authorities got an analysis of the most challenging issues and more importantly, ideas that help to resolve them. In Energodar, city departments received a list of problems, as well as promising ideas that can be implemented within existing municipal targeted programs.
3. Public monitoring.
In Mykolaiv high level of interaction of the local authorities with community and projects authors is noted, which is carried out at all stages of the implementation of PB.
4. Improving the efficiency of administration.
Implementation of PB becomes an additional burden for the various departments, but coordination of PB process allows to increase professional skills in the field of social communication and public administration for the relevant departments.
5. Well-balanced decisions.
In Balta ATC, Drohobych, Energodar, Kropivnitsky, high attention is paid to deliberative processes. Increased number and quality of consultative meetings with activists allows to engage a broader range of stakeholders and creates conditions for the further development of deliberative processes in the community. As a result, new leaders, initiative groups are emerging. Participatory budgeting made it possible to unite previously unknown people around their ideas and interests. It formed an active community in the city, provided greater credibility and allowed for a more effective dialogue and cooperation between the community and local authorities.
Impact assessment on the local community has its own criteria:
1. Participation in decision-making process, emergence of new leaders and initiative groups.
The surveyed communities pointed to strengthening community participation. Mobilization of the community around project authors can be observed in Balta ATC, Energodar, Kropivnitsky. It should be noticed, that project authors actively use other forms of public participation: public hearings, local initiatives, e-petitions. PB became a real school of civic education in Severodonetsk, Mykolayiv and Energodar. In Drohobych local administration managed to intensify the involvement of young people and students in the social and political life.
2. Improving knowledge and skills of civic activists.
In general, project authors understand budget process better through their participation in the PB process and got new skills in project management. For example, in Myrhorod residents after participation in workshop on the project preparation, prepared a project, in collaboration with the Polish sister city to be funded under the program of the British Council's Cultural Bridges in Ukraine.
3. Increased level of trust to local authorities.
Common search for solutions to tackle local problems increases trust between community and local administration. An example of cooperation can be found in the "mixed" format of working groups, which include representatives of civil society, local authorities and local elected officials.
According to those interviewed, the biggest challenges are the following issues: participation of educational institutions in PB processes, monitoring of the implementation of projects, as well as control over paper ballot voting.
Project's experts identify the following possible directions of improvement of the PB process: strengthening the PB practitioners’ network; strengthening formal and informal ties through the holding of International PB Practitioners' Forum, Regional Forums, and other events; assessment and evaluation of the PB process; introduction to the new participatory practices that will meet the needs of local communities and development of the national PB standards.