In Tower Hamlets, a Participatory Budgeting project known as “You Decide!” was carried out across the whole Borough in 2009 and 2010. The Cabinet allocated £2.38 million per year for a two year period (total of £4.76 million) with £300,000 added by the local Primary Care Trust (PCT) in year two. A total of over £5million over the two year period.
The aims for the project were:
- To improve perceptions and performance of local services by giving residents the power to design and choose services through the process and then shape those services through the Steering Groups.
- To develop participation within the Tower Hamlets community to help people from all backgrounds not only to get involved in this process but also to learn from the participatory experience to improve levels of involvement in other council services and generate a skill set around participation within the Borough.
- To improve the level of involvement and engagement amongst Tower Hamlets residents in all walks of life, and not just in relation to council services. This includes the joining of voluntary organisations and local associations as well as encouraging involvement in politics.
Tower Hamlets is a dense urban Borough in the East End Of London. Despite being only about 5 miles across, it contains nearly 220,000 people speaking 110 different languages. The Borough is split into eight Local Area Partnership (LAP) areas and these formed the basis of the project.One You Decide! event was held in each LAP, and the LAP Steering Groups (made up of residents, councillors and service providers) had a particular role in monitoring and shaping the services that are provided in their local area. This made the project both Borough-wide and very local at the same time.
The Tower Hamlets participatory budgeting project was branded as ‘You Decide!’
The PB team asked for ‘bids’ for services that could appear on the ‘You Decide!’ menus. All services had to be mainstream council services. In addition, they had to meet one of the five cabinet priorities or one of the LAP priorities identified by the LAPs over the past year. These services were then presented to Cabinet before being put together in the “menu” given later to event participants. In total, the value of the services on the menu was just under £750,000.
Each LAP had £280,000 to spend, so they had to make decisions about trade-offs under the categories of: ‘Reducing Levels of Youth Unemployment’, ‘Tackling Anti-Social Behaviour’, ‘Raising GCSE results’, ‘Improving the Quality of the Public Realm’ and ‘Improving Cleanliness’.
An advertising campaign was carried out, involving both ‘above’- and ‘below’-the-line advertising. In other words we mixed traditional advertising techniques (such as adverts, press releases, posters and leaflets) with a more networked approach. The networked approach relied on councillors, members of the LAP Steering Groups and our Neighbourhood Management team reaching out to community groups, individuals and other key local contacts and asking them to spread the word.
As people heard about the campaign they were encouraged to register for the ‘You Decide!’ events that were to follow. Each event had capacity for at least 100 people. Pre-registered participants were allowed in first, followed by others who had turned up in as well. 815 people attended the eight events. The mix of communication techniques also helped organizers reach out to a diverse mix of individuals.
You Decide events were split into three parts:
i) Inform: This took place in two parts. Initially, the co-chairs of the LAP Steering Group introduced the LAP priorities and why they were important for the local area. Then, the service heads who would deliver the 33 services on the menu presented their services to the residents (as the menu items were grouped under headings, this meant that only 3 senior managers presented at each event). The idea was to give information about the level of the problem, what services were already provided and what difference the additional funding would make. At the end of each presentation there was time for questions.
ii) Deliberate: When the people arrived they were asked to sit at tables around the room in a café style. Each table had a trained facilitator on it and during this part of the event the facilitator worked to encourage the residents to talk to each other about which services they favoured and why they considered them to be important for their local area. The discussions took place over food, adding a level of informality to the process.
iii) Decide: The final stage involved voting. Each participant had a “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”- style quiz-pad. In the first round of voting, all participants were asked to vote for the service they considered to be most important. The item that received the most votes was purchased, the money for that item removed from the total and another round was opened. In each round, the item with the most votes was purchased and this continued until all the money was spent. All votes were displayed on the Big Screen as they happened and the items purchased were shown on another big screen alongside the remaining choices and the total budget. This made the process instantaneous and very open.
Delivering the projects:
After the events had been completed, all of the LAP Steering Groups (although only resident and councillor members could attend) and all of the services that had been purchased were invited to an evening event nicknamed ‘Service Speed Dating’. Each service was invited to bring along a rough outline of what they were planning to do with the money allocated to them (providing more detail than had been available at the events). The LAP Steering Groups could then negotiate with the services the sort of changes they would like to make. This led, at the end of the event, to a rough blueprint between each Steering Group and the services purchased in that area as to what was going to be delivered. Many of the services were changed quite considerably because of resident involvement and many of the Steering Group members welcomed this as a way of shaping services for their local area.
After this event, the service providers had a mandate to go and deliver the services. Each month the services fill in a basic highlight report which is monitored by the central Strategy and Performance (S&P) team. The report is also sent to the Steering Groups who are invited to comment on the report/service and submit those comments to the S&P team. These reports are then passed to the Cabinet on a quarterly basis.
The project was funded for two years following an annual cycle:
- February – April 2009: Decision events where the budget for financial year 2009-10 is allocated.
- April 2009-March 2010: Projects from year 1 are delivered and monitored.
- January – March 2010: Decision events where the budget for financial year 2010-11 is allocated.
- April 2010 – March 2011: Projects from year 2 are delivered and monitored.
No two LAPs were the same in their preferences. Every one of them purchased substantially different services with their money. However, there are several popular items:
- Youth inclusion programmes
- Early GCSE’s in a mother tongue
- Street lighting
- Drug outreach workers
- Extended learning and family based learning
- Youth disabilities projects
- Greening projects such as shrub beds
According to the evaluation of the 2009 events:
- 62.2% of attendees felt the process helped strengthen their level of influence over local services.
- 67.2% of attendees felt that the event was a good way to decide where money is spent on local services.
- 77.2% want the council to repeat the event in the future.
- 60.5% felt that You Decide! helped to improve their level of satisfaction with their local area, with the majority of others undecided.
The second year of 2010 You Decide! events was also a success. The events attracted 770 residents from a broader set of communities than in 2009. The feedback from the events was a marked improvement over that achieved in 2009.
- The majority of participants felt like they have developed skills linked to empowerment.
- The community as a whole got the impression that they could influence their local environment and services, at least better than it would have been without the events.
- Introducing the residents to the real decision-making process and providing them with the information about present and potential services motivated them for a future involvement in other participatory mechanisms.
In general, PB process in Tower Hamlets has shown good results in three areas that indicate empowerment success: a recognisable impact on participants, a recognisable impact on communities, and a recognisable impact on decision making.
- Case study taken from Participedia