Empowering Participatory Budgeting in the Baltic Sea Region

Project duration:

01 Jan 2019 - 31 December 2021

Lead partner:

University of Rostock, Chair for Accounting, Management Control and Auditing: Prof. Dr. Peter C. Lorson

Countries involved:

Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia

About EmPaci

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic decision-making in which ordinary people take part in preparing and adopting a municipal or public budget. In the Baltic Sea region, only a few municipalities have applied participatory budgeting to date.
A typical type of citizen in such a process is male, politically active, well-educated, and 35-65 years old. The objective of EmPaci is to get more municipalities involved and mobilize different types of citizens by building municipal capacities, transnational clusters and municipality citizens cooperation.

Enable Participatory Budgeting through Information Technology

Photo (c) Free-Photos Pixabay  

Setting up a new Participatory Budgeting (PB) process is challenging – and many decisions need to be made. No PB is like another, and each process is highly adapted to local laws, political goals, or the demography of citizens. However, this does not mean that it is not possible to learn from other initiatives.

Almost all of today’s processes, be it in the business or public sector, depend on information technology (IT) for their execution. PB is no exemption. IT can help create a more participative and interactive experience for citizens, and strengthen their engagement. The “Empowering PB in the Baltic Sea Region” (EmPaci) project, supported by Rostock University, has conducted research on IT solutions best suited for the support of PB. The PB feature matrix tool and corresponding documents have been released and presented to the PB stakeholders on the EmPaci project webpage.

The feature matrix is an online tool that analyses 50 different cities for 47 process and usability criteria in total. The idea is to compare and learn from other PB initiatives all around the world. It is meant for cities that currently plan to implement or improve PB to be able to answer the following questions:

  • What kinds of cities implement similar features? For example, which cities also implement an upload functionality for files?
  • What can we learn from each particular example?
  • Which capabilities are implemented by a majority of initiatives and can be considered “state of the art”?
  • Where can we find the homepage of these cities and their PB initiatives online?

Three complementary documents have been released to describe the underlying data.

Document 1 contains a manual of the feature matrix and describes the filter and download capabilities in detail. It helps to understand how to access the information and how it is structured.

Document 2 presents usability analysis based on the feature matrix as the database. It derives state of the art usability features of participatory budgeting websites with an additional focus on e-inclusion criteria, to assess the accessibility of webpages for visually or physically impaired citizens.

Document 3 provides a feature catalogue of process-related IT capabilities for PB initiatives. It allows cities that are interested in PB to inform themselves of the possible PB process items and their importance, as well as enables them to build an individual process that fits their needs.

Training videos on the PB Base network YouTube channel.

Follow the EmPaci project website www.empaci.eu to find out more about the project, which aims to get more municipalities and citizens involved in PB via building municipal capacities, transnational clusters and municipality/citizen cooperation all over the Baltic Sea Region. PB is a process of democratic decision-making that we believe in, where citizens take part in preparing and adopting a municipal or public budget. In the BSR, only a few municipalities have applied a PB process on a regular basis. If you are interested in getting support to develop your PB initiative, please contact your national or the nearest EmPaci partner. More information about the project can be found at www.empaci.eu.

Together we can gain more power in decision-making within local, regional or national public institutions!


Photo (c) by Wokandapix from Pixabay

Sharpen The Focus: Identify Process Steps Of Participatory Budgeting

Following a Status Quo Analysis of participatory budgeting (PB) in the Baltic Sea Region, the “Empowering Participatory Budgeting in the Baltic Sea Region” (EmPaci) project introduces its second project output targeting administrative staff, local councillors and other decision makers in local governments in the BSR.

The document PB Type Groups aims to provide insights into design principles of PB and to reflect on ideas for how PB can be implemented based on specific preconditions of the municipality and its citizenry.

The background for Participatory budgeting evolution is as follows: Since the 1980s the number of participatory budget initiatives rose and currently thousands of different processes are implemented around the world. None of them are like another again, and the differences are in the details. Therefore, categorisation is difficult but necessary, in order not to “get lost in a thousand and one examples”.[1]

All-round categorisation is impossible. Therefore, this document takes a different approach and sets up a “construction kit” that provides more detailed information about factors related to citizens and the municipality that influences the possible PB-process phases.[2] The contribution lies in the short guidance tables and the resulting “PB type group construction kit” table. To show the application, the construction kit table is filled with the case of the successful PB process of Stuttgart.

The provided overviews raise awareness of complex issues in PB implementation. Practitioners will get advice on many important questions, such as:

  • Which phases are possible for a PB process?
  • At which phases do legal restrictions influence the process design?
  • Despite lower financial resources, what are the cost effective actions to perform?
  • What are the topics for specific citizen groups?
  • What do possible proposal restrictions look like?
  • What should a project team for PB look like? Could citizens be included in the project team?
  • Is the workload for the administration staff considered?
  • Why is a feasibility check important?
  • When should the feasibility check of the proposals be performed?
  • What is the possible timeline for the process steps?
  • Which incentives are possible to encourage high participation?
  • When is feedback possible?
  • After everything, is transparency of the whole PB process ensured?

Even if there is no advice in a specific field of the construction kit table (yet), it is open for expansion and raises the question for every user and practitioner: “Should I think about this? Is this field really empty?”

[1] Sintomer/Herzberg/Allegretti/Röcke (2012), p. 5, “Participatory Budgeting Worldwide”, URL: https://www.buergerhaushalt.org/sites/default/files/downloads/LearningfromtheSouth-ParticipatoryBudgetingWorldwide-Study_0.pdf

[2] Based on a literature research and interviews with PB practitioners.

Before developing, find out where you are

Photo (c) by Luisella Planeta Leoni from Pixabay 

After long and detailed work, the “Empowering Participatory Budgeting in the Baltic Sea Region” (EmPaci) project is ready to uncover and introduce the first project output - Status Quo Analysis.

To give an idea of how Participatory budgeting (PB) can be implemented, this Status Quo Report aims to provide insights into the current state of citizen participation (CP) in general and PB in particular. It focuses on each of the EmPaci project partner countries - Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia – as well as Denmark, Estonia and Sweden.

First, on a national level, a short general description of the countries and definitions of CP and PB, a description of successful PB projects and potential hindrances and ways to foster PB in these countries, are provided. Secondly, the Status Quo Report proceeds with specific information about those municipalities, districts or planning regions, in which the EmPaci project is planning to either implement new or redesign already existing PB processes.

The following nine locations have been selected for the EmPaci PB pilots: Lahti (Finland), Bützow (Germany), Vidzeme Planning Region (Latvia), Rietavas and Telšiai (Lithuania), Bielsko-Biała (Poland) as well as Moskovskaya Zastava/Moscow region of St.Petersburg, Suoyarvskoye Urban Settlement in the Republic of Karelia and Gatchina Municipal District in the Leningrad Region (Russia). These places are very different in terms of their surroundings, financial possibilities, characteristics of their citizens and legal frameworks. They have different stages for PB implementation, from no experience to several successful cycles of PB. Consequently, all locations deal with different challenges, from getting something new started to improving something existent. By making such information, knowledge, and practices available, stakeholders may find relevant inspiration applicable to their own region or municipality. Respectively, one can consider building a vision of “What could PB look like in our municipality?” “What could we change to improve our PB process?” This document, therefore, seeks to build capacities to implement PB in the BSR.

Status Quo Analysis is just one of the first results of the EmPaci project. Soon, in the coming months, further materials are planned for publication:

  • A guidebook PB Blueprint: Successful PB projects, also beyond the BSR, will be analysed, and the best practices presented;
  • Guide and description of the PB approaches (i.e. local adaptations);
  • Guidebook for practitioners on how to implement PB;
  • Public Budgeting Tool Feature Matrix with interactive selection and filtering capabilities;
  •  Online Manual and different Training materials to support PB organisers in educational activities;
  • Communication and Dissemination Plan (CDP) for a better understanding of how to organise these processes.

Follow our web page www.empaci.eu to find out more about the project and the latest outcomes or social accounts of the national partners involved in the project.

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic decision-making we do believe in, where ordinary people take part in preparing and adopting a municipal or public budget. In the BSR, only a few municipalities have applied a PB process on a regular basis. If you are interested in getting the support to develop your PB, please contact your national or the nearest EmPaci partner. More about the project can be found on www.empaci.eu.

Together we can gain more power in decision-making within local, regional or national public institutions!

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