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.

Back to Basics: The Foundations of Participatory Budgeting

October 12, 2017

On 12th October PB Scotland brought together a group of people with a great interest in participatory budgeting to take part in our learning event: The Foundations of Participatory Budgeting, in Dundee. This learning event was a chance for us to go back to basics and explain how PB works and why it matters, and also for those who have been involved in a process, to share their experiences with others.

The morning began with a warm welcome from David Reilly, Development Manager at SCDC who soon had the participants feeling right at ease with a fun, interactive ice-breaker.

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Once everyone was well acquainted, David began his presentation, explaining what PB is and how it can be done which was supported with a little help of a short video commissioned for the Kirk’s Church and Society Council.

David highlighted the values of PB while also stating that:

“PB isn’t always perfect and we shouldn’t judge PB against a perfect ideal. It’s helpful to compare it to what happens now and consider that these decisions are already being taken, but not by communities themselves.”

David’s presentation was followed by an uplifting and inspirational presentation from Jan Pringle, Manager of Burnfoot Community Futures in Hawick, Scottish Borders. Jan shared her experience of PB after Burnfoot Community Futures (BCF) received £40k from Community Choices Fund in 2016 to address social inequalities in response to community needs. This resulted in 26 projects being submitted, with each project having the opportunity to present their proposal at an event held in Burnfoot Community School. Over 300 votes were received and 13 projects were awarded funding. Jan gave the group an outline of how the Steering Group tackled the PB process, which she highlighted wasn’t easy but was well worth it:

“To see folk coming together in our community, being united and the power of the volunteering that went on behind the screens has been phenomenal”.  

Jan couldn’t express enough that the major key success of their project was the Steering Group.

“The power of your community, they know what works”.

Next up we had Rachel Green, Independent Consultant, who shared with the group her experience of PB from the perspective of a Local Authority. Rachel who previously worked for Angus Council gave her reflections of the challenges they faced during the PB process, while also sharing her optimism and encouragement for the future of Participatory Budgeting in Scotland.

Rachel gave an example of an online and offline integration PB process that Angus used in 2016. This was in the form of a digital tool, Dialogue by Delib which offered an online site to help widen participation and which particularly helped to involve the non-English speaking community in Angus by offering different language translations. The site was used to generate conversation and ideas about community needs and the conversation which created the most interactions were submitted to the application process. Once applications were submitted, a voting day took place. Read the case study here.

One of the core challenges, but successes of the approach in Angus, was being able to respond to the Steering Group’s decisions throughout the process. Rachel commented that they were keen to ensure that the Steering Group had genuine control over the process in order to build the community’s trust in developing the participatory approach.

Within Rachel’s presentation she recommended a useful research paper by The Democratic Society (Demsoc) which highlights how digital tools can support PB processes. The report draws from Demsoc’s own research and workshops and discussions with 18 councils currently working on PB around Scotland. Read here.

“PB is about resources, skills, energy, participation and shared responsible, not necessary about spending money”

Rounding up her presentation, Rachel left us with a final thought “PB isn’t perfect but don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good”.

After our two speakers, the participants moved into open discussions and were asked:

  • What are the opportunities for using PB in our own work/community?
  • What are the ‘sticky’ points about a PB process and how can we overcome them?

The responses from participants were gathered and what emerged from the discussion was that people believe there are lots of opportunities for PB in their work, yet there remains to be some challenges in terms of overcoming the perception of risk, particularly within mainstream services. Some key learning which was identified by participants was:

  • PB takes time! And funding a PB process must take this into consideration
  • There are risks, however it is best not to be too concerned about auditing. Participants described a desire to ‘just do it’ and learn along the way
  • PB is about more than just the funds, it is about seizing opportunities and thinking about resources as a whole
  • It’s very important to consider the participation of those sections of the community who may face additional barriers, e.g. minority communities
  • It would be helpful to have a single ‘go-to person’ within councils to support PB processes.
  • It’s important not to forget the starting point for communities – they may require support and time to trust in the process – good communication is key to this
  • It might be helpful to have a single online system for voting in Scotland, based on learning from those what work well, and those that don’t!

The day provided an opportunity for participants to learn from each other to become better informed of what PB is and how it can be used in communities, and to explore some of the challenges and solutions to delivering a PB process. Some comments from the day:

“That was such a clear and useful way to learn about PB- I learned loads, thank you!”

“Very informative and greats advice for us going forward in our community group”

“Really useful information, great speakers and great discussion, feel confident about PB”


The presentations from the PB learning event are now available. Check on the links below. 

David Reilly, Development Manager at SCDC

Jan Pringle, Manager of Burnfoot Community Futures