Last Friday, NENO conducted its annual Spring School, this time on the topic of Participatory Budgeting.
Participants from NGOs and local municipalities were introduced to the history and practices of participatory budgeting by the head of the Your Local Budget program at Big Society Network in the UK, Oliver Henman. Afterwards, NENO conducted a role playing exercise in participatory budgeting, in which participants got to take on the role of ordinary citizens in a town-hall style budget meeting.
Participatory budgeting is an umbrella term which covers a variety of mechanisms that delegate power or influence over local budgets, investment priorities and economic spending to citizens. The scale of citizen participation has ranged from single neighbourhoods to an entire state (with populations of millions). Discussions are often limited to new investment rather than discussing spending as a whole. It can be run as a one off process, but long-term benefits tend such as social capital and ownership, require a reoccurring, cyclical process.
Participatory budgeting is often undertaken to increase efficiency in the budget and thus save money. The process of citizen involvement in budgets in itself is however costly.
Oli Henman, the keynote speaker, has been involved in participatory budgeting for years, completing his master's thesis on participatory budgeting in Brazil. He is currently an expert at the Big Society Network in the UK, introducing participatory budgeting to local communities via the Your Local Budget program.
Henman introduced the concept of participatory budgeting and outlined different practices across the globe, from Sao Paulo to Chicago and Newcastle, UK.
The Spring School also included a practical component, in which participants took on the roles of local citizens in the (fictional) parish of Ratta, deciding on the allocation of their discretionary funds. After heated debate, shedding the image of stoic, unemotional Estonians, the citizens decided to fund two youth projects, a road reconstruction and a streetlight project. The process was then commented on by local experts from the Estonian e-Academy and the think tank Praxis.
Participants at the Spring School included representatives of various NGOs such as YMCA Estonia, Tallinn City`s Board of Disabled People, Estonian Women's Studies and Resource Centre. Representatives from the Ministry of Finance and 12 different municipalities also attended.