The Administration of Rome had to decide how to use about 17 million euros for public works in the territory of the VIII District for projects concerning the environment, landscape and public green spaces, sustainable mobility and accessibility, urban regeneration and infrastructure, ideas or proposals for transversal projects. The innovation concerns the decision-making approach. For the first time, city users were involved in deciding how to allocate these resources.
To allocate about 17 million euros in the best way in a district of Rome, it is important to involve those that live in this area (residents, workers, students) and are familiar with the conditions of the environment and landscape, the impacts of actions on mobility and accessibility and priorities for urban regeneration and infrastructure of public works. So, the Municipality of Rome decided not only to publish its own proposals online, but also to put in place an innovative system to involve citizens in decision-making about how to distribute the budget, through a process structured in different phases:
(i) select a focus group of 60 citizens or representatives of associations that work on the district to develop a list of proposals to be submitted on the city portal
(ii) each citizen can also write a suggestion and submit it on the portal. To be admitted to the next phase this proposal has to be voted for by at least 50 people
(iii) all proposals, by the administration and by citizens, are published on the portal and can be voted for online
(iv) the proposals with most votes are submitted to a Commission constituted by the Urban Planning Department and the District General Department, that evaluates the proposal's feasibility.
(v) The validity of online voting is guaranteed by authentication and each user can vote for a maximum of 6 projects
(vi) Finally, taking into consideration the outcome of the Commission and the economic aspects, a group of projects are selected to be implemented.
The innovation is complex and relates to the participation process by integrating different points of view: the Rome Statute was changed to improve participation, transparency and inclusion - namely through facilitating the processes and introducing participatory budgeting; the online platform to vote is put in place; citizens know and contribute to the evolution of the decision-making process. Not only citizens, but also the administration benefit from this innovation that easily allows the sharing of ideas, the improving of citizens satisfaction and selecting the best approach to urban regeneration. This approach is scalable in that it can be applied to a wide range of projects, and it is institutionalised through clear regulations and procedures.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The described process is more innovative than what has been tried previously at the Municipality of Rome, for several reasons:
(i) the Statute was changed to facilitate citizens' participation
(ii) the “let’s participate” section was created on the institutional portal
(iii) digital participation was introduced.
In Italy and in other countries, other local public administration did the same.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Citizens and civil society organizations are our first target to listen to. We also involved the innovators that are employed at the Municipality of Rome because real change starts from within. For some specific projects, to stimulate private and public partnership, we also involved companies through open agreements.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Citizens and Civil society organisations are affected by this innovation via their involvement from the beginning of the project. One of the most common benefits for each target is transparency improvement that enhanced citizen trust and participation.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
The participatory budgeting process lasted more or less 6 months in total. 2256 city users voted. 80 projects were selected to be implemented, 43 proposed by the administration and 37 by citizens and focus groups. 17 million euros are now allocated in one district. It was the first big experience and we will adopt this participation method for other similar projects.
Challenges and Failures
Never before had a participatory budget been implemented in Rome, so the first challenge was to introduce this new approach and the bureaucratic process was not easy to navigate. Removal of silos and collaboration among administrative structures was necessary to realize it. The real challenge was to balance the dynamic nature of participation and citizens' expectations with administrative processes and regulations that remain highly rigid.
Conditions for Success
Policy and rules are necessary to introduce participation processes and to guarantee privacy (ex GDPR too), and the selection of citizens that intend and have a right to be involved in the process. Motivation is a must-have for any successful initiative.
Participation processes were applied not only for the budget but also for any digital innovation we introduced. For example, we asked citizens their opinion about layout and services of the new institutional portal and we did the same for the new open data portal. Together, we built the guidelines for the Municipality’s digitalization.
We involved citizens in the Urban Plan for Sustainable Mobility.
We also understood that digital participation is not enough. For this reason an Innovation Forum was created. It is both a physical and online place where administrators meet quarterly with citizens to discuss about digital competences, smart cities and open government.
For a local public Administration it is crucial to listen to citizens and civil society through an open dialogue, but often it is not easy to establish the boundaries of the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder. So the most important lessons learned are:
(i) always check the feasibility of the proposed solutions
(ii) never give false expectations to citizens. Trust is the key word for effective participation.
(iii) listen, accept and answer all comments and criticisms.