July 13, 2017
Guest blog post by Juraj Melichar, Slovak coordinator for public finance at CEE Bankwatch Network and participant in the People´s budget campaign.
Participatory budgeting is a tool to improve communication between people and the places in which they live.
I first learned of participatory budgeting five years ago on a sunny day in Bratislava’s main square. A few people from town were collecting ideas about what could make the city a better place and were inviting locals to a meeting to further discuss these ideas.
According to an European Parliament briefing, more than 8 million EU citizens were actively involved in participatory budgeting in a total of 1300 places. It can be an inspiration for the new EU budget in how to understand real people´s demands and address local needs.
What is participatory budgeting?
Participatory budgeting is a process that gets people together to analyse their problems, facilitates discussions and project preparation to solve them and supports that financially.
Public authorities and municipalities facilitate discussions with people on issues related to their own street, district or city. This gives them possibilities to provide valuable local insights, suggest solutions, co-operate on them. It also gives them the responsibility to allocate its limited finances. Learning about the challenges other communities face is an important first step to finding the solutions for the problems facing your own communities.
One of the main advantages of participatory budgeting is that people do not compete for grants, like those from corporate foundations, but create projects together so that municipalities and communities save money by sharing tools and experience.
Revitalisation and integration in Bratislava
One example of this co-operation is the revitalisation of an abandoned school garden accompanied by a project with homeless people led by the civic association Vagus.
The homeless built raised garden beds so that children can learn gardening skills and discover that vegetables do not grow in supermarkets.
When the Bratislava municipality allocated a limited amount of money for all of the projects proposed through the participatory budgeting in 2012, the coordinators agreed to decrease the budgets of their projects in order to realise as much as possible. They wanted to spread the idea of public participation and started thinking beyond their own problems and project.
Slovakians usually assume that dealing with public authorities and municipalities means exhaustive bureaucracy. But participatory budgeting simplifies communication with officials and benefits from the specific knowledge offered by locals. Examples from cities like Porto Allegre, Paris, New York and the national participatory budgeting scheme in Portugal highlight the potential of this method.
The EU can solve local problems
The participatory budgeting schemes have for the last five years not only solved many local issues, but also contributed to increasing transparency, gender equality and support for civil society.
In addition to the free roaming and Erasmus+ programme, the EU has a chance to show that its budget can address (also local) needs of its citizens.
Pictures: civic association Vagus