PB Charter Learning Event Report: What's the difference between dialogue and deliberation?


Proper dialogue and deliberation is vital for people taking part in PB to come to the best decisions for their communities. But how much deliberation is really happening as part of participatory budgeting (PB) in Scotland?

This event was part of PB Scotland’s launch of the PB Charter for Participatory Budgeting - the charter sets out seven key features showing what a fair and high quality PB process should look like.

Deliberation is one of those key features:

“PB supports communities to access information, share ideas, listen to each other and consider different views.

Sharing ideas and views helps people to learn more about different issues and leads to informed decisions that are best for the whole community.”

To explore this further we heard from two contributors and brought more than 60 people together to share their ideas and experiences from across Scotland.

Oliver Escobar Senior Lecturer in Public Policy, Politics & International Relations at University of Edinburgh. 

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Oliver brought us through the context of PB and participation so far in Scotland, exploring the importance of deliberative democracy where it’s more than ‘counting heads’ and instead about supporting discussion on an equal and inclusive basis - deepening participants’ knowledge of issues in play. 

But what’s the difference between dialogue and deliberation? 

  • Dialogue is a form of conversation that focuses on building and understanding and relationships...

  • Deliberation includes reflection on preference, values and interests...

What’s crucial, Oliver said, is combining the both into the ‘D&D’ model. In the context of participatory budgeting, this allows for more exploration, discovery, learning  and scrutiny. It means PB:

  • Helps to reach decisions that are well justified

  • Builds understanding and consent for decisions we may disagree on 

  • Can transform uninformed views and preferences through open and inclusive conversations 

  • Can avoid ‘groupthink’ and the ‘echo chamber effect’ (i.e. law of group polarisation)

“Talk without action can be toothless but action without talk can be mindless.”

Sandra Ross, Community Learning and Development, Aberdeenshire Council

Sandra spoke about her experiences in Aberdeenshire Council working through participatory budgeting and mini publics. Dialogue and deliberation were key parts of these processes, with three mini publics being run in the Aberdeenshire area. 

Participants were paid £50 day and session were designed to ensure people could attend from a range of backgrounds / needs.

The event in Fraserburgh focused on child poverty - a big issue in the local community, where 12 people were asked too contribute their views. Through this process participants developed ideas around the the issue of school meals and food poverty.

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Through contributions from speakers and deliberative discussion, it emerged that some children might go home Friday and not get a full meal until the following Monday. One change that came from the mini public process was having schoolsmeals available earlier in the day, so young people didn’t have to wait until lunchtime, as well as developing breakfast clubs with local businesses.

The key learning from Sandra was…

  • The topic can change - the methods are flexible. 

  • Timings are vital 

  • Be clear to speakers about what they're asked to do

  • Not all participants can make every session, so don't be disheartened. 

“Mini publics one of the most valuable engagement tools I use in my work.”

Discussion and wrapping up


Following both inputs we came together in groups to discuss what we’d heard and delve into three questions:

  • How might we use dialogue and deliberation in our practice?

  • Who supports and facilitates to make this happen?

  • Where does dialogue fit in a PB cycle?

This led to some great discussions and feedback, with the range and depth of knowledge of PB and other participative methods on display from those in the room. Some of the issues raised included:

  • The importance of accessibility of PB events

  • Openness and clarity of information 

  • The amount of time and resources dialogue and deliberation can take

  • Online deliberation - how does that work?

  • The importance of a diversity of voices, but how difficult that can sometimes be for public authorities 

  • How much we can learn from youth focused PB 

  • How well do we do dialogue? Do we have the skills? Do we rush into decision making?

  • The need for good quality facilitation to enable deliberation to happen.

  • Community involvement in deliberative processes

  • How do we move from the ‘quick vote’ appeal to PB towards longer more in depth processes?

  • Ongoing cycle of PB - less about yearly cycles. Getting it into the DNA of how we work.

A huge thanks to everyone to spoke and contributed throughout the day!

You can download the slides from the day here.

Event report: Digital Participatory budgeting - 25 March 2019


How can we combine in-person and online participatory budgeting methods? That’s the question more than 50 people took on at this PB Scotland learning event.

Jointly hosted by PB Scotland and COSLA, the event featured inputs from Young Scot and The Democratic Society, with the loads of questions, ideas and discussions from people in the room.

Setting the scene

David Reilly from SCDC (which hosts PB Scotland) kicked off for us, providing some context for the day outlining why PB practice is core to achieving more empowered communities:

David stressed the importance of our decisions and practice being value-driven, and the opportunity to widen participation through using PB to boost our efforts to achieve equality, empower communities through good processes, and make better decisions on public money.

Whatever our mix between online and in-person PB, we should take a co-productive approach with communities having an equal seat at the table when decision are being taken.

Gavin Crosby, Young Scot


Our first input was from Gavin Crosby who spoke about Young Scot’s work around digital participation and PB, highlighting their online voting system has been used for PB processes from North Ayrshire to Moray.

Gavin made it clear that we don’t need to choose between in person and online voting – we can and should do both. They can support each other. He also talked about the balance that has to be struck between achieving low cost + robust vote security + high turnout - and just how hard that can sometimes be.

We also need to compare online with face-to-face PB and not let perfect be the enemy of the good. He used the example of voting security, but pointed out that we’re not talking about hyper secure technology - instead it’s about being robust enough.

Simon Cameron, COSLA


Simon’s role supporting local authorities to carry out PB puts him in a great position to introduce the Consul platform and talk about its role in moving towards ‘mainstream’ PB in Scotland.

Simon stressed that digital means of PB, participation and engagement are an enhancement to our efforts and are not the only approach to take. We should not be ‘digital by default’ as this risks a whole host of people being excluded because they don’t have the skills or access to engage digitally.

Consul, a free, open source platform used across 33 countries, has been developed as a single tool for local government participation and is now being piloted with 16 local authorities in Scotland. In Madrid, where Consul has been adopted, PB is seen as the least of what the platform does as it allows a range of different ways people can engage with decision makers.

Kelly McBride, Demsoc

The Democratic Society offers support and shares learning about digital approaches to PB across Scotland. Kelly McBride, Head of Scotland, offered her insights after a day of ‘active listening’, sharing some of her reflections about how we can develop digital PB in Scotland.

Kelly reflected on some of the key issues on accessibility and inclusion in digital PB - and the importance of making sure digital tools don’t add to the barriers people already face.

She also mentioned the recently published report from Demsoc which reviews the last two years of digital PB activity in Scotland, providing valuable learning about different tools, techniques and ideas. Crucially, it also offers some solutions in next steps of digital PB practice.


Connecting Letham – Multiple ways to vote

Connecting Letham – Multiple ways to vote

Paul Nelis reflects on Letham4All’s approach to voting. The community-led group used multiple methods of voting to engage the wider community. At the voting event in February 2019 they had collected 1,452 votes by using ballot boxes, online voting and in person voting.  Around 10% of the population had their say.

Read More

#PBFest18: Video highlights barriers disabled people face trying to get involved in PB

Glasgow Disability Alliance has published a video which outlines the barriers disabled people when trying to get involved in participatory budgeting (PB).

Disabled people face a range of issues which prevent them participating in local decision-making - the video, and accompanying report, details examples from the experiences of disabled people. These include fundamental things like accessible venues and transport, as well as negative attitudes, along with the consequences of poverty, isolation and a lack of confidence.

Despite this, disabled people overwhelmingly want to be involved in deciding how local money is spent and decision-making processes are losing out on the voices and experiences of disabled people.

The video features practical solutions from disabled people about what can be done to address these issues, as well as highlighting the wider societal inequalities that disabled people face.

The full report is here and there’s more on the GDA website.