The City of Bayswater (WA) implemented a Participatory Budgeting (PB) project in 2018 to provide the community, for the first time, the opportunity to inform the City’s entire operating budget. Council voted in September 2018 to adopt a participatory budgeting approach to enable the community to have their say on how the City’s 2019/20 operating budget would be spent.
An initial desktop review of local, national and independent participatory budgeting projects of differing sizes was conducted. This review looked at the principles underpinning the process, tools and techniques, resources, lessons learned, risks and benefits of the projects. From this, an approach for the City’s PB project was prepared. Delivered in four phases, the community was able to learn about what services the City provides and how much these services cost. They were then invited to provide input into where they think the City should prioritise spending.
To make sure as many people in the community had the opportunity to participate as possible, the project was based on a number of community engagement activities including an online budget allocator tool, drop in sessions and a deliberative community panel. Through the online tool, 250 community members provided submissions; and the broad community engagement phase culminated in a community panel with 31 randomly selected residents, ratepayers, and business owners who deliberated over the City’s budget and provided recommendations to Council on 19 service areas.
The final phase of the project involved advertising the City’s draft 2019/20 budget alongside the recommendations report from the community panel. This level of community engagement is an emerging methodology, with the City being the first Western Australian metropolitan council to challenge the status quo and use it for the budget process.
Community consultation was the crux of this project, and a carefully planned consultation process was designed to encourage as many community members as possible to participate. The City selected the methodology by drawing from the IAP2 best practice community principles, analysis of case study outcomes, and the City’s success in implementing a deliberative community panel the previous year for the Building Bayswater project. This methodology suited the needs of the PB project by allowing participants to delve deeply into the topic in order to deliberate and provide their recommendations.
A comprehensive communications plan was developed during the planning phase of the project. Containing key messages, identified risks and a tailored communications mix, the plan provided guidance for all marketing, promotion and communications throughout the project.
As an organisation, the City of Bayswater is focused on working closely with the community to make sure the City is providing the services they value. The City has made a distinct shift from telling people what they want; to asking, listening and acting on community feedback. Community engagement has become an intrinsic part of City operations – so the introduction of Participatory Budgeting aligns perfectly with the ethos of the organisation and Council.
The City firmly believes that a budget created with community input is better than a budget created without it – and both the community and the organisation benefit as a result.