The first participatory budget of the city of Angers ended in early November. This is an opportunity to review this experience and establish best practices to make this essential consultation a success.
Designing a participatory budget, mobilizing citizens, defining the role of administrative services… Let’s take a look at good practices for building the city together!
Angers has entered a growing club: 90 French cities conducted a participatory budget (PB) in 2018, compared to only 25 two years earlier. In addition to providing itself with a digital tool to manage its approach, the city was therefore able to benefit from the experiences conducted elsewhere. These lessons have directly benefited the municipal team, and the success is a success: the figures below place Angers in the high range of the first editions of a municipal participatory budget.
Find here the article from Le Monde detailing the French context of the PB.
The 7 successive phases of this first angevin PB extend throughout 2018 (if we do not count the realization of the winning proposals). As you can imagine, they allow residents to propose projects and then choose those to be carried out by the city the following year.
Achieve a successful participatory budget in 7 phases
The precise division of a BP into seven steps secures all stakeholders, both citizens and city services or political power.
Phase 1. Design: how to ensure the impact of citizen participation?
Once the political will had been established — this is the first essential basis — we were able to start designing the approach itself. The advantage of a participatory budget is undeniable for citizens who, by participating, decide how to use part of their city’s budget. They are guaranteed that their expression is transformed into impact. Understandable and sequenced, the steps build a citizen journey amplified by digital technology that promotes participation through its clarity.
In Angers as elsewhere, the definition of criteria for the admissibility of proposals and the assembly of an effective project team are the two points that need to be specified and clarified before the launch of the scheme. It is on the basis of these criteria that the city will have to decide whether or not to accept the residents’ proposals and transform them into projects submitted to the vote.
In advising the institutions with which we work, we ensure that these criteria are objective and easy to analyse in order to prevent the emergence of arbitrary or subjective biases. The city of Angers adopted the regulations for this participatory budget before the platform was opened. This eliminates the risk of misunderstanding or even frustration with the process and mechanically increases residents’ confidence in the exercise.
Coordinating the smooth running of a participatory budget requires a significant involvement of the administration. It was therefore necessary from the outset to assemble a project team. At the heart of all consultation processes, the Citizen Participation Mission brings together the various skills and responsibilities. Our team trained and supported her over the weeks for optimal use of Decidim.
Phase 2. Proposal: how to encourage contributions?
Between early February and mid-April, the phase during which residents could directly propose their ideas for the participatory budget was intended to open up different channels of expression for the Angevins. It is the hybridization between face-to-face participation and digital participation that was particularly highlighted during this stage. While the majority of the proposals were submitted directly online by the carriers, six meetings were held in March, covering all the city’s districts, to attract different audiences by diversifying the methods of contribution.
The proposal submission functionality is one of the most advanced features of the Decidim platform, with its automatic comparison of similar proposals, and the possibility for the user to enter a category, a district, an address and an attachment. Some proposals were really enriched by long exchanges of comments between several interested residents.
Phase 3. Evaluation: which proposals should be filtered?
Once the proposal submission phase is complete, the evaluation phase is the responsibility of the municipality. By exporting directly from the platform, it consists in verifying that the proposals comply with the admissibility criteria defined and indicated to the public as soon as the participatory budget is launched. The Angers City Hall, through its Citizen Participation Mission, has worked hard on transparency requirements during the implementation of the participatory budget. Thus, as part of the evaluation stage, each user who submitted a proposal received a public response directly on the page of their proposal.
Phase 4. Feasibility: to what extent should projects be anticipated?
After the first filter of criteria, the Citizen Participation Mission distributed and transferred the admissible proposals to the competent services in late spring so that they could assess their technical and regulatory feasibility, as well as their cost. The project leaders, after having received a private message directly from the City on the platform, had the opportunity to exchange and meet the department in charge of analysing their proposal during an appointment, which also helped a lot to ensure transparency.
Carried out over the summer months in the case of Angers, this work is intense for the administration, particularly when it was necessary to go back and forth with the project leaders in order to specify and possibly merge certain proposals. However, this workload can be greatly mitigated by developing good interactions with the various departments that review the proposals.
Phase 5. List of projects and Voting: how to maximize citizen engagement?
At the beginning of the school year, the final list of projects submitted to the votes is presented to the residents on the Decidim platform and in a printed brochure. Each project contains a budget rating, a detailed presentation, an illustration and, to ensure the traceability of the process, a link with the citizen proposal(s) that inspired it. The vote then takes place: during this phase, Angers continued to combine digital and physical participation, by installing an Agora in the Place du Ralliement, the largest in the city.
The Citizen Participation Mission was also more widely present physically in all the city’s neighbourhoods to allow everyone to vote for 18 days (three weekends), with each inhabitant choosing the five projects that they considered most relevant to the city’s future. The proposals are located on a map of the city and can be filtered by category and neighbourhood.
These events allowed the carriers to present their projects and the participants to vote by paper ballot or online on the Decidim platform with tablets; direct contact is an essential key to mobilize the maximum number of inhabitants.
Phase 6. Validation: how should the political agreement be promoted?
As soon as the voting phase is completed, the counting of the results begins. During this phase, the Citizen Participation Mission carries out the counting of the paper ballots, in the presence of elected representatives of the majority and the opposition. Paper and online votes are compiled to obtain and present the final list of winning projects by the mayor at a public event accessible on the platform.
In the participatory budget regulations, the city undertook to integrate the projects that won the 2018 vote and their amounts into the investment section of the 2019 initial budget, which will be proposed to the City Council for approval in March 2019.
Phase 7. Achievement: how to enable the collaborative transformation of the city?
The last — and longest — stage is the culmination of this year of participation by the Angevin-es in writing the future of their city. The projects must be carried out within two years and the carriers of the winning projects will be involved in this last stage. The “Accountability” functionality will be activated on Decidim to document at regular intervals the completion of the winning projects.
We are proud and happy to have supported the city of Angers in this first intensive and successful participatory budget process. We are already passing on the good practices implemented as part of the participatory budget of the city of Angers to other institutions. After the Loiret department and the cities of Romainville (93), Nanterre (92) and Saint-Jean de Braye (45) are launching at the end of 2018 in their first participatory budget on Decidim.
Open Source Politics works with Decidim, a true digital common good, which has in its DNA shared governance and the sharing of successes. We are therefore building step by step with our Club of French-speaking users of the platform a support community in which each member organization can benefit from the know-how of others, thus making it possible to launch itself by increasing its chances of success.
You can find the original version of this article here (in French).
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