What problem was it trying to solve?
The City of Melbourne People’s Panel was the second stage of public engagement which was informing the development of the city’s 10-Year Financial Plan. This aimed to maintain both the city’s strong financial position and its’ status as one of the most liveable cities. It took a participatory budgeting approach to inform long-term spending priorities1.
Who were the participants? How were they selected?
Prior to the People’s Panel there was a process of broader public engagement which included 600 participants either submitting budgets or attending workshops. The People’s Panel randomly sent out 7,500 invites to Melbourne citizens. After a 3-week period, 2000 people had responded. From this cohort, 45 Panellists, stratified for gender, age, location and ratepayer status, were selected. In an effort to reduce bias in the participation process, each Panellist was paid $500 for their contributions to the Panel so as to be inclusive of a Panellists from diverse socio-economic backgrounds.
What was the process?
Having been informed by the broader public engagement done prior, the People’s Panel was designed with four stages: learning; understanding; focus; reflect discuss and deliberate. This process was designed to allow sufficient time to learn from and digest the information packs provided and the insight from various experts in attendance, with each stage being separated by 3 weeks. This time is important in quality deliberation as it allows members of the public to meaningfully engage with complex and potentially unfamiliar issues. Without this time there are significant risks of the public panellists experiencing information overload or feeling rushed in their decision and thus only offering a top of mind answer to the topic.
During the learning stage, the Panellists set out principles for the Panel and discussed how it could achieve its’ goals and engaged with the subject matter. The understanding stage saw the Panellists engage with what issues the city faced and what information was required to answer them. During the focus stage, a structure and outline was agreed for the report which would be delivered to the City of Melbourne. In the fourth stage, reflect, discuss and deliberate, the Panel drew up a longlist of collective priorities. After another week reflecting they returned to decide by voting on recommendations they would make to City of Melbourne. To be taken to the city, a recommendation had to have 80% approval from the Panel, a threshold which 11 recommendations reached.
What was the conclusion?
The design of the People’s Panel was to collaborate with citizens in developing the City’s 10 Year Plan, not to guarantee that every recommendation produced would immediately implemented as policy. Instead the recommendations were used as key building blocks upon which the final plan could be built, engaging with a range of issues from borrowing to bike lanes. After a number of months considering the 11 recommendations, 10 of them were accepted by the City of Melbourne Council for the 10 Year Plan. Each were publicly shared and the reasoning for accepting, editing or rejecting them was also published for the general public2.
What was the impact? Did it solve the problem?
The number of People’s Panel recommendations which were accepted by the City of Melbourne Council is evidence of a successful and impactful process of participatory budgeting. It was a policy success because it filled a budget hole of between $800-900 (AUD), a success with regards to Panellists experiences as 96% of them highly rated their experience as part of the People’s Panel and it was also evaluated to have met all IAP2 Core Values for Public Participation3. This achieved dual goals of both producing quality policy and improving people’s relationship with decision-making.
Photo credit City of Melbourne 10 Year Financial Plan