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Engaging local people in budget decisions



What is participatory budgeting about?

As local councils and other public agencies face serious spending cuts, stretching not only into 2013 but also far beyond, they need to get popular acceptance for the difficult savings they have to make. Simply consulting with everybody on where to make the cuts won’t bring a productive debate – people generally just suggest cutting the services that are used by OTHER people.

Governance International has therefore developed the Community Insight Toolkit, an effective community engagement approach that supports local councils and government agencies in bringing service users and citizens into the process of deciding the difficult choices that have to be made.

Most citizens are not financial experts - but they do know stuff that public officers and councillors don’t know. They know when they are getting services that don’t work – or that they don’t need – or that cost far more than they should. It is essential that these insights are embedded in the budget decisions of public agencies. Failing to do this up to now has been one of the reasons that the public has a low esteem of government and public officials. Meaningful engagement on budget priorities isn’t about talk shops with the ‘usual suspects’. And it’s not about asking people which services used by OTHER people should be cut. These are common approaches – even though they are dead alleys. Public engagement in budget decisions has to start from a very different standpoint.

So what SHOULD it be about? The answer is simple – but challenging. It has to involve ALL people with a view, talking to them on the issues they know and care about. Asking them about things they know about means that we get informed views. And asking them about things they care about means that we focus on things that matter, not services and issues that are incidental and unimportant to the people we are involving.

And because all people experience public services differently and get a different mix of outcomes from them, it does not make sense just to ask a small number of people who are easy to reach. A far more wide-ranging approach is needed.

The Governance International Community Insight Toolkit focuses on a three step process:

  1. Community-Wide Insight Search - allowing you to identify which services add most social value to the lives of local people

  2. Community-Deep Insight Search - giving you savings proposals from those who know and care about the services and issues concerned

  3. Community Priority Insight Search – providing you with savings priorities from those service users and communities who will have to live with the consequences

Depending on your context, each of these tools may be used separately – but they are particularly powerful when combined. Furthermore, working with our social media partner, Podnosh, we can embed them in a powerful communications strategy that will reach a much higher proportion of your citizens in a really meaningful way.

What we offer

Governance International has a ten year track record in providing advice, training, facilitation and independent research to help local councils, public agencies and nonprofit organisations in the UK and elsewhere in Europe to engage with service users and citizens on public budget decisions.

Our portfolio of engagement services includes:

  • In-house training on your participatory budgeting strategy, using the Community Insight Toolkit

  • Advice on making your participatory budgeting initiatives practical and cost-effective in co-operation with Davy Jones

  • Embedding international good practice into your approaches to participatory budgeting and other participation initiatives

  • Helping you to consult on smart funding schemes for third sector organisations

  • Embedding your budget consultation in a social media-based communications strategy and open government strategy

Our Customers

Consultation on new funding scheme for voluntary sector organisations in Argyll and Bute

Participants debating possible changes to the current grant system

When Argyll and Bute council faced a reduction of overall funding for children and family services of 15%, Governance International was commissioned to provide expertise and independent facilitation for a consultation event involving about 30 voluntary organisations. We ran several workshop sessions to co-design a more streamlined and efficient funding system with the participants. After the new funding scheme had been put in place, the council asked Governance International to run an evaluation and learning event for third sector organisations in order to improve the scheme further. For further details on the kick-off event click here or download the report of the learning event here.

We asked Governance International to facilitate a consultation event for providers of children and families services in Argyll & Bute. Given the budget reductions we are facing, this was a real challenge but the Governance International team helped to keep the event positive and constructive and it was highly successful, providing some really valuable ideas which we are taking forward together with the providers.


Andrew Nisbet, Councillor for Argyll and Bute Council Spokesperson for Social Affairs

Introducing participatory budgeting in small councils in the state of Oberösterreich

Elke and other participants showing off 'Agenda 21' banknotes

The Regional Agenda 21 Network of the Austrian state of Oberösterreich commissioned Governance International to run an inter-active workshop to brief local councillors, directly elected mayors and managers of the state government on international experiences with participatory budgeting. After the officer event, we also facilitated a roundtable discussion with engaged citizens, councillors, mayors and officers at a major evening meeting of the network attended by 70 participants, after an overview on international approaches to participatory budgeting by Elke.

Other recent engagement projects have included:

  • Training workshop for officers and councillors on new funding schemes for sports clubs and cultural associations in co-operation with the KDZ, Austria.
  • In-house training on participatory budgeting for Darlington Council, UK.
  • Research on ‘influence strategies’ for the National Audit Office (UK) for its report on “Promoting Participation with the Historic Environment”.
  • Keynote on international best practice in citizen participation at a conference by the State Government of Baden-Wuerttemberg attended by 250 public officers and citizens.
  • Design of community engagement strategies for local government in Turkey, commissioned by the UNDP Office Turkey.
  • Research for the Cabinet Office on international best practice in “Citizens’ and Users’ Entitlements in Public Services”.


Good practice cases

Have a look at our case study on participatory budgeting in the city of Recife, Brazil – probably the world’s most participative public agency (click here).

More good practice cases on participatory budgeting can be found at

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