Iceland was one of the worst hit countries of the international banking crisis of 2008, with many of its major banks bankrupted. Since then, whilst going through some hard times it has been recognised as bouncing back. Participatory democracy, including forms of participatory budgeting, has been at the core of its strategy to re-engage citizens and re-build its democratic system, and its faith in citizens been widely seen as very successful.
As the stock market plummeted so did people’s trust in their government. The country’s banking bubble had burst, unemployment tripled and there were rumours that the supermarkets might run out of food. However through listening to its people, and getting them behind much needed reforms the Icelandic turnaround has been remarkable.
In May the open source community platform Better Neighborhoods was declared a Nordic Best Practice Challenge winner in the category of Public Communication at the recent Nordic Best practice convention. As reported on the Icelandic ‘Citizens Foundation’ website that is behind Better Neighbourhoods..
“The project is awarded for being an innovative, small scale and transferable initiative with positive implications for the dialogue with the residents. The aim of the project is to improve the quality of the inhabitants’ surroundings. Through this inventive project, the residents are offered influence beyond what is normally seen in a representative democracy. The City of Reykjavik has truly found a successful strategy to enhance public participation in the municipality.”
300 million ISK (about £1.4m) is allocated each year for ideas from citizens on how to improve 10 different neighbourhoods in the capital city of Iceland each year. Citizens submit their ideas for projects they think will improve their neighbourhoods and City of Reykjavik evaluates the costs and feasibility of each project.
Then citizens vote on the ideas. This voting helps citizens understand the realities of public budgeting. tens of thousands of citizens have participated and over 300 projects have been delivered in the last three years.
After the voting City of Reykjavik executes the most favoured ideas. Some happen in a few weeks but other ideas take over a year. And citizens use the results from benches to footpaths, dog parks, better lighting and playgrounds.
Citizens Foundation, the organisation behind the project is a non-profit organisation based in Reykjavik, Iceland. Citizen Foundation’s mission is to bring people together to debate and prioritize innovative ideas to improve their communities. They believe that without participation there is no democracy. Citizens Foundation also developed the online open source e-democracy platform Your Priorities and has used it to promote online, democratic debate and increase citizens’ participation in their community in Iceland and worldwide.
- More about Iceland’s economic turnaround in the Independent newspaper
- Learn about the various projects of the Citizens Foundation
- Download the report on better neighbourhoods