Participatory budgeting is a new method to enable direct citizen participation. This year it is trialled city-wide for the first time in Tampere, and even during the coronavirus-related restrictions the process has started swiftly.
The 15th of May is an important date for the participatory budgeting process, since it marks the end of the first innovation stage. The number of ideas suggested has been growing in the mun.tampere.fi website from the beginning and has reached circa 200 when there is still a couple of days to go.
The City of Tampere has budgeted 450 000 euros for the promotion of well-being of children and young people, to be used through participatory budgeting. The proposals already submitted include things like hangout places, leisure activities and services to support mental health.
– It is especially great that so many of the ideas emphasise shared responsibility. This makes it very clear that people see the well-being of children and young people as truly everybody’s business, says Project Planner Jari Mäkäläinen.
Direct influence in the use of tax revenues
A growing number of Finnish municipalities implement participatory budgeting projects, lead by Helsinki with some extensive investments. The projects are not completely similar but share some characteristic features. First, residents generate ideas, which will be developed further together and finally, local residents vote to select the best plans.
– Everyone is free to choose how to participate. One may be an ideas creator while another prefers to develop them. Voting suits some of us best, and there are people who are happy just knowing there are all these options available, says Planning Officer Lilli Siikasmaa.
It is not a novelty to ask residents for local development ideas. But, in participatory budgeting, the funds are already there and all that’s needed are the co-created ideas. Residents will have a direct influence in the use of tax revenues and the process is transparent allowing everyone to see what is happening at any point.
– It is important that, for example, the criteria for evaluating the ideas are openly available. Also, every idea will be given reasons why it is or is not feasible, says Siikasmaa.
For the City of Tampere, participatory budgeting is a significant investment and also an opportunity to learn more about open, transparent processes and co-creation. Additionally, it increases the City’s understanding of things that the residents consider most important.
Digital participation, another tool in the box
The participation team started by studying good practices from other municipalities. That’s how they found out about Decidim, an open-source digital platform for citizen participation that had tested well in Helsinki. It was used to create the mun.tampere.fi website for the Tampere participatory budgeting process.
– At the moment we are examining if the website could bring together a larger variety of tools for citizen participation, says Siikasmaa.
Digital participation is another option in the citizen participation toolbox, and it doesn’t exclude workshops or other meetings in person. Often digital participation needs human facilitation as well.
– Young people have a lot of ideas, but registering in the system and submitting them for everyone to see may need encouragement. The Youth Services have done a very good job by supporting the young to participate, using virtual means because of the coronavirus restrictions, says Mäkäläinen.
What happens next in the process?
Having collected the ideas, the City evaluates their feasibility. An idea has to comply with the laws, be within the scope of the City of Tampere’s authority and fit in the budget to move forward. It doesn’t have to be perfect, because these ideas are meant to be co-created into feasible plans.
Some members of the Tampere Children’s Parliament and the Youth Council will help assess whether the ideas comply with the theme and will promote well-being of the target groups.
In November 2020, Tampere residents will vote on the co-created plans. Anyone aged 12 or older (including those turning 12 this year) will have two votes. Voting requires strong identification, and for younger voters this means using their educational institutions’ Wilma credentials.
– The use of strong identification gives credibility to the process and ensures each voter has an equal chance to participate. This is, after all, the use of tax money that is voted on, says Mäkäläinen.
The City of Tampere is committed to putting the winning plans into practice during 2021.
Tel. +358 40 658 7593
Photo: Laura Vanzo