In 2013 City of Greater Geraldton commissioned two participatory budgeting panels to improve the public's feelings of trust and legitimacy in difficult budgetary decisions.
They wanted to find a more rigorous process for allocating funds with the voice of the people included. The city had engaged in several methods previously as part of their “2029 and Beyond” strategy. However, there was still dissatisfaction within the community at the allocation of funding and prioritisation of projects. To address this dissatisfaction the City of Greater Geraldton Council, alongside the Curtin University Sustainability Policy Institute implemented a participatory budget (PB) with two PB panels.
The first panel was the 10 Year Capital Works PB which was asked to “determine a priority list of projects for inclusion in the City’s ten year capital works plan” as well as a set of criteria that the City Council would be able to use to assess future capital works.
The second was the Range and Level of Services PB which was tasked with recommending “the community desired range, level, and priority of services to achieve minimal rate increases, or reductions, within the budget limitations set by the Council’s adopted Long Term Financial Plan”.
Who were the participants? How were they selected?
Participants for both panels were chosen through a stratified random sample with age, gender, indigenous and multi-cultural background and location used as criteria. They were recruited by a local, independent demographer. In total 25 people were selected for the first panel and 35 for the second.
What was the process?
The panels were run consecutively on Saturdays between November 2013 to April 2014. The 10 Year Capital Works PB was run over 4 full Saturdays. The Range and Level of Services PB was run over 8 full Saturdays.
The Panel activities included small group work as well as plenary sessions. In addition, to help with the decision-making both panels had some elements that were open to the public. In the Capital Works PB panellists were presented with capital works proposals from community and industry groups. For the Range and Level of Service PB the Panel were able to present their draft recommendations at a community forum and gathered responses from the public.
What was the conclusion?
The 10 Year Capital Works PB
The Panel recommended a list of priorities including both City and Community initiated projects. They also created a set of criteria for the City council to use to assess future proposed projects. The Panel recommended that projects be subject to two rankings the “City rank” and “Community rank”. The Panel also endorsed a plan further community participation.
Range and Level of Services PB
The Panel made recommendations to the City council on services which included whether to increase, decrease, or keep the current level of service as now. These services included rubbish collection, parks, libraries, and community development. A detailed list of the recommendations to increase, decrease or keep the same can be found in the report at the bottom of this page.
What was the impact? Did it solve the problem?
Both reports were endorsed by the Council and were implemented in some way. The result of the Capital Works PB was that the prioritisation would be implemented and the council would use the Panel’s suggested rating system for future works. The result of the Range and Level of Services PB was that the recommendations were used to form the 2014/2015 budget. The final budget was passed by an absolute majority amongst council members.
Participants as a whole shifted significantly in their feelings of trust towards the City council. They conducted interviews with panellists after the PB and found that most interviewees said they now had a greater understanding of the “complexity and size” of the issues that the City had to deal with.
In addition, an outcome of the panels is that they show the importance of having decision-makers involved from the beginning.
It is the decision-makers who need to find new ways to share information, and to find the space for opportunities to share in decision-making, especially when there are wicked problems to address where there are no easy answers.
The 10 year Capital Works report and recommendations can be accessed here.
The Range and Level of Services report and recommendations can be accessed here.