Open Budget Allocation

The Future of Government 2030+: A Citizen Centric Perspective, is a project on New Governance carried by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) in collaboration with the Directorate General for Communication Networks, Content and Technology (DG CNECT). The main aim of the project is to zoom in changing relationships among citizens, governments, and businesses. Furthermore, we contextualized our work based on open democracy model, on ‘grassroots co-production communities’ future scenario prepared by the JRC, and on challenges proposed by the Camden council to create a new governance model, having more participation from the citizens than it is today.

The scenario shared by JRC shows future as a time when “the societal gap has been radically increased. The state is financially weak and public services are very limited. The poorer majority of people engage and help themselves by co-creating formerly public services or top-up public services that are of low quality. Digitalization helps the grassroots initiatives to reach out widely. People’s participation is possible, but the power of government is limited.”

The Camden council has predicted a set of challenges to be solved by 2025. The concept developed is then used to solve one of the Camden’s challenges, specifically focusing to make Camden-2025 safe, strong and open place for everyone.

OPEN DEMOCRACY — WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR US

Open Democracy is a system of governance that believes in freedom and equality between people, in which power is held directly by themselves without any restrictions on those who are allowed to participate, not concealing one’s thoughts or feelings.

CONCEPT

What is it ?

Based on the above insights, we proposed the concept called ‘Open Camden’. It is an open platform for every citizen, who wants to be a part of the decision making in the borough. The platform is based on hyper-reality technology, which will increase engagement and civil participation in borough life itself.

How does it work?

Citizens, Businesses, and Civil Society Organizations work together to create and improve public services. Any citizen can propose ideas, get suggestions, approval or disapproval from other citizens. If successful, form communities to deliver the changes. To facilitate and coordinate these interactions, there are 2 other very important players on this platform: Councilors and AI, the technology operated, maintained and monitored by the councilors.

The AI is an algorithm-based system to serve all residents and work for Camden’s welfare. The database of AI considers the laws, regulations, and rules set by the councilors. In addition, it gets continuous data of citizens(whatever they wish to share) and services. Thereby, monitoring and providing feedback in real-time to make sure all proposals and actions are based on clear evidences and oriented towards expected outcomes.

The counselor’s primary role is to take feedback from all citizens and maintain the integrity & operations of AI. The councilors represent different political parties and are elected through voting. They hire developers, data scientists along with other officers to run the council. The changes in AI are decided by the councilors based on discussions and debates in the parliament. The other important role of Councillors is to facilitate the projects proposed by the citizens.

OPEN BUDGETING

Budget Allocation should happen in 4 steps:

1. COLLABORATIVE GOVERNMENT PLAN:

Every year, citizens will have the chance to review the local government plan collaboratively, working together to define what will be the borough’s objectives during the next years. During a planning period, they will be able to make changes in the investments allocated to big areas (like Education) and specific Objectives (like ‘everyone should have a place they call home’). After this period, the budget will be locked in the specific goals and long-term projects.

The AI will manage those cycles and recommend budget allocation to citizens, according to the last cycle results.

2. INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS

There will always be a part of the budget that is not locked and can be allocated to individual projects suggested by citizens.

Between planning periods, citizens will have the opportunity to propose specific projects related to each one of the objectives determined for this period. They can suggest changes in policies/ services or new policies/services.

There are 3 filters that every suggestion should go through before being implemented:

  • Outcome test: The system (AI) will test the idea to see if it’s able to contribute to the objective that it relates to, and if it is evidence and outcome-based. If the idea do not pass one of these tests, the citizen must review it.
  • Citizen test: Citizens will discuss and debate the idea and vote if they want it to be implemented or not — the AI will notify citizens who are specialists on that issue and the citizens who will be most affected by the idea.
  • Funding: The proposer of the idea will then decide if it should be funded by public budget, citizen crowdfunding or partnership with organisations. If it decides for the first option, the system will give options of from which projects the budget could be re-allocated from. — citizens then vote to decide if the resources should be re-distributed.

3. REAL TIME EVALUATION

In order for the system to work in the most effective way, the AI will be always evaluating each project result in real-time. The citizens will have a timely perception of how each objective is performing and how each project is contributing to reach that goal. This evaluation allows the AI to make precise suggestions of where the the money could be better used and where it could be re-allocated from.

4. PREDICTIVE BUDGET ALLOCATION

The real-time evaluation and a machine learning algorithm, which learns with the outcome history of every time the money is allocated to a specific purpose, will allow a outcome-based predictive allocation.

This means that the system will be able to identify every time the money is not being well-invested, measuring the outcomes and comparing it to other projects that have the same goals. This will allow the AI to make predictions and suggest changes on budget allocation every quarter, always getting more intelligent and making better recommendations based on the outcomes. The councillors will be the ones responsibles to approve these re-allocations.

Case Study: Library scenario 2030

Proposal sent by a citizen of Camden to the Open Democracy platform

Idea proposed by: Carlos (58 year old)

He is a family man, he has two kids and a wife. He owns and runs a community and common supermarket. Community supermarket is a hub where people come and talk and buy specific products and it connects the community in his neighbourhood. He is very strongly involved in technology as well as interacting with people who are not aware of technological advances.

What happens is that Carlos has double hat, he’s not only managing supermarket and listening to the voices of his community, but he is also an influencer, because the CSOs have shifted their roles and became the intermediaries between citizens and governments in trying to create structures where people can gather in mini-publics.

The library in the camden borough has been short of funds as the AI recommended less fund allocation to the Libraries because:

  1. People have access to information in different digital formats at their disposal anywhere and anytime they want. Therefore, the usage of libraries decreased with time.

0 to 25 years old — Most of them have never touched a literature book. They are not aware of what libraries are meant for. Their classes are run in the VR/ AR world. The behaviour of moving away from the physical world realities has concerned their parents and experts. They are used to believing the information that is available online to them at their disposal. Their views change depending on what they see and have a short term memory.

25 to 50 years old — They have seen libraries still being relevant and important in history from their younger days. They have been part of the transition, in which libraries were relevant and sought after, to losing out to digitization. They are worried that closing of libraries will be the last nail in the coffin to access authentic original information. They are concerned for their kids and their aging parents, as libraries used to be a place for kids to learn (what can replace reading?) and elders to socialize.

50 and above: They have despised the digitization in the world that took place like a storm in the last two decades. They miss the real human interactions from their younger days. Reading books in Libraries is an attractive activity for many as they connect with writers and find tangible books more trustworthy.

2. The books in the Libraries are huge in numbers and are just kept there now without much use. There has been continuous debate whether they should be disposed or if not, how can they be utilised?

3. The budget for Libraries, including staff, utilities and maintenance has been lowered every year and therefore, participation of the regular Library visitors has diminished drastically.

Idea Proposed

Nintendo, a multinational VR tech company, has innovated a new technology that reads a written script and projects in the virtual world. The new innovation has helped to translate big texts into virtual reality format, and bring revolution in the education industry.

Carlos suggests to use this technology in all the libraries across Camden. He suggests that kids can learn from the vast books available in the Libraries even if they do not read them. This will at least give them access to original texts in research and develop their own perspectives. This service can be made a paid service and thus help the Library to generate revenue in an additional way and be self- sustainable.

Improved environment in the Library will encourage the elderly to participate and socialize with others. The retired elderly can also be helpful to narrate if needed, test and monitor the visualization.

Budget Analysis

The cost of each machine costs 3000, and a machine each in the 10 libraries across Camden will be sufficient to initiate the project. All other charges, including maintenance would cost an estimated 1000 per month overall in the 10 Libraries. Therefore, Carlos proposes a budget of 36,000–40,000, including the maintenance charges for the next 6 to 10 months.

Recommendations, Debate, Approval and Execution

People have approved the idea. The AI shares its recommendations and Carlos has to consider them to find better alternatives to execute his plan. AI has recommended few startups that have developed similar technology but will charge less fees than Nintendo. Along with that, AI also connects Carlos to investors interested in the business plan. After budgeting is finalised, the councilors approve the business plan, including team allocation.