Much debate exists in the ‘civic tech’ world about which platform or technology best supports participatory budgeting. One of the most exciting ideas is around the use of maps and other visualisation tools.
Mapping for community development has deep roots. Back in the 1970s and 80s this was often paper based, collecting directories together and manually putting information onto printed maps.
The use of digital technology has made this much easier, and online mapping, often generated directly from and by citizens are creating a whole new set of possibilities. Some are already familiar, like the PB Scotland Map, that lists all the initiatives where PB has happened. But at a more ‘granular’ level, maps are also being used within PB processes.
One developing model is the New York City PB map. In New York community members directly decide how to spend at least $1,000,000 of the public budget within participating Council Districts. They can also share ideas on a map for how things could be better in their community.
After submitting an idea on the Idea Collection Map, it is handed to community volunteers, called Budget Delegates. Budget Delegates work in each district to turn ideas into real proposals for the annual ballot, with input from city agencies. These proposals will then be up for a community-wide vote.
Every idea is colour coded against predetermined themes, such as Housing, Transport and Recreation. And each dot gives more information. Such as:
‘Rosemary’ has suggested a Parks and Recreation idea: For the 85th street park in Queens, New York. Her project idea is: Fixing the sprinkler on 85th street park so that kids can have a cleaner and safer play area.
Mapping is of course not unique to New York. In Kenya the massive Kibera Slum was mapped by community volunteers from the Map Kibera project. Placing an otherwise unrecognised ‘city within the city’ of Nairobi on the map helped with improving sanitation, made it safer for local residents and enabled them to access services and find information. The online map was also presented as a set of painted murals.
The same idea has now been taken up by Makueni County in southern Kenya. Whilst they previously used paper maps for their PB ward meetings, they are also now experimenting with this new technology to make data more open and accessible, and government more accountable. The costs don’t have to be great, when using open sourcing mapping sources, and simple to use smart phones and geo locators.