Digital Participatory Budgeting in Scotland

Innovative use of digital and online opportunities has made it easier for people to have a greater say in local decision-making in Scotland. A unique cross-sector collaborative approach was taken to developing digital, with collective solutions and sharing of learning achieved through an open, iterative and experimental methodology. The Scottish Government encouraged rapid growth of participatory budgeting and digital, in line with the ambitions of open government and strengthening democracy.

Innovation Summary

Innovation Overview

Since 2014 the Scottish Government has been supporting and promoting participatory budgeting (PB) as a tool for community engagement and as a resource to build on the wider development of participatory democracy in Scotland.

The Scottish Government identified that PB supports the principles of Public Service Reform and also complements the aspirations for the Community Empowerment (Scotland) Act 2015, giving communities more powers to take forward their own priorities and ambitions. It also helps to deliver the Public Sector Equality Duty by advancing equality of opportunity and fostering good relations between different groups.

In 2016, the Scottish Government invited The Democratic Society (Demsoc) to consider how digital participation could play a role in meeting these goals. On the basis of its research - set out in Digital Tools and Scotland’s Participatory Budgeting Programme - they recommended that digital participation could help local PB processes to: reach new audiences; involve more people in decision making; be more flexible in their engagement processes, by overcoming barriers of time and place; speed up engagement processes; and connect local networks to engage with the government and each other.

The innovation
The integration of digital elements in PB processes has been identified as a way to widen involvement in decision making, gather more data about that involvement, and to bolster councils’ and community groups’ expertise in using digital engagement and decision making tools. PB and digital PB were commitments in Scotland’s first Open Government Action Plan in 2017 , along with improving access to information, public accountability and civic participation, technology and innovation for openness and accountability.

While isolated examples of PB have been attempted across the UK before, this is the first ever programme - to our knowledge - to introduce in a sustained way the development of digital participation for participatory budgeting, where a growing number of local authorities and communities have been involved in trialing and then developing the use of digital participatory budgeting.

Objectives of the innovation
To help to widen involvement in participatory budgeting - by making idea generation, deliberation and voting online available to a wide variety of community organisations and local authoritie.

To develop the skills, resources and engagement in digital participation practice - to integrate these into an existing participative practice and to understand how these can be mainstreamed across Scotland.

Who benefited
Local authorities - enabling the development of digital engagement and participation skills particular to the digital participation platforms and practices for digital PB. Engendering a culture of openness around spending that remains relatively new.
COSLA (the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities) is a key part of the programme, helping to develop collective learning and approaches to PB and digital PB for local authorities. This has led them to develop central participatory budgeting expertise staff unit, and now exploring multi-function digital participation platforms for use across Scottish local authorities.
Community organisations - empowering a variety of organisations working with communities to develop their own digital participatory and participatory budgeting practices.
Members of the public – an alternative way to participate, in theory, from their own home without having to attend in person voting events or deliberative events. Feedback was sought of members of the public to find out how they felt about taking part online – if they took part, or if not, why not. Feedback was also taken on the ease of use, the style and whether or not would use similar again to take part. High-level findings are reported in the above mentioned learning report for each council and in detail reported in linked case-studies.
Scottish Government - in developing its understanding of and commitment to open government practices, as well as the fulfilment of the first Open Government Action Plan commitment to participatory budgeting.

The aim is for digital participatory budgeting to become a ‘mainstream’ activity - along with PB - for the whole of Scotland. By the end of the current Scottish Parliamentary term, Scottish local authorities collectively have set an ambitious target for growing participatory budgeting: they aim for at least one percent of their budgets to be decided through participatory budgeting - and to achieve this, many are investing in digital participation. To date, approximately 20 of local authorities in Scotland, out of an existing 32, have used digital participation tools for their participatory budgeting.

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  • Implementation - making the innovation happen
  • Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
  • Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways

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