What is PB?

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a way for local people to have a direct say in how public money is spent.

It's used across the world and now in Scotland, helping communities decide on the issues important to them. Done right, PB empowers citizens, builds trust in democracy and can improve the way public money is spent.

PB can be done in different ways, but usually involves bringing people together through local events and online to learn about specific projects or ideas and then cast a vote. 

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Participatory Budgeting: An Introduction

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Done well, participatory budgeting allows people and communities to identify, priotise and discuss how money should be spent, leading to the wants and needs of a local community being prioritised. It also has wider effects, like increasing interest in local decision-making, community empowerment and confidence. 

"If it feels like we have decided, it’s PB. If it feels like someone else has decided, it isn’t."

PB is one method which can be used as part of a wider approach to advancing a more participatory democracy, where people have influence over what happens to them, their families and their communities. When people are engaged in community life, they are more likely to experience positive health and life outcomes, making a more participatory democracy essential in addressing the inequalities that exist within our society.

At its core, PB is about people and communities having the power to make the decisions that affect their lives; increasing community capacity and reducing poverty and inequalities. 

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PB in Scotland

PB first began in Brazil, and has been active in Scotland for a number of years. In 2015, the Scottish Government invested in PB through the Community Choices fund, which has led to a number of events run by community organisations and local councils across the country.

Since then, PB has grown to become a key part of how Scotland is approaching democratic renewal and addressing inequalities across the country.

You can see some of the different PB processes on the PB Scotland Map >>

What does PB look like?

PB processes look different depending on how they're organised or what type of PB it is. Generally there are two types: small grants PB and mainstream PB.

Small grants

Small grants is probably the most common PB process we've seen in Scotland. While each is unique, small grants PB often looks like this:

  • A pot of money used just for the purpose of this particular PB process. 
  • People submit ideas which are scored by a steering group or the process organisers.
  • Successful proposals are asked to pitch, host a marketplace stall or in some other way explain to voters why their idea should be funded.
  • Voters can be from a specific place, or have specific characteristics (e.g. young people)
  • People attend an event or vote online, picking their favourite ideas - voting can be done in a few different ways.
  • Once the votes have been counted, the money is distributed to the groups with the most votes.

Mainstream PB

Mainstream PB is a way of having local people vote budgets controlled by a public body, such as a local council. These conventional budgets are often much larger and might fund public services such as park maintenance.

Mainstream PB is still quite new in Scotland, so it's hard to say exactly how it would look. However 

  • Money might come from an existing or new budget controlled by a pubic body.
  • People could identify priorities, which are developed using a community steering group.
  • Voters decide which ideas are their favourite, with potentially thousands of votes being cast.
  • Voters could come from an entire town or city, or a specific council ward or area.

Mainstream PB is developing quickly in Scotland, with local councils and the Scottish Government agreeing to have 1% decided through participatory budgeting by the end of 2021

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