Source: Vechirniy Kyiv publication
Participatory budgeting has become an integral part of Kyiv’s life, and every year the city’s residents submit many projects in various fields, which are then implemented by local authorities after examination and voting. However, quarantine changes everyday life in all areas, including the mechanism of participatory budgeting.
We talked about this and the future challenges for PB practitioners with three experts and organizers of the V International Forum of Participation Practitioners:
Anna Nikolenko-Bayeva, director on organizational development of the Association of Communities Participatory Development. Her area is public activism, development of participatory practices in cities and ATCs.
Leonid Donos, executive director of the Association of Communities Participatory Development, mentor at the Global PB Hub, and a co-author of the World Atlas of Participatory Budgeting.
Ihor Lepyoshkin, senior expert and program lead of the “Partnership for Local Economic Development and Democratic Governance (PLEDDG)”.
The activity of the Association of Communities Participatory Development is focused on participation and its practice and implementation in various areas: local budget, social sphere, and urban planning.
PLEDDG is being implemented by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) with the support of Global Affairs Canada and focuses on the support of 16 partner cities in 4 regions of Ukraine. The main areas are open democratic governance, support for small and medium businesses, as well as interagency dialogue and decentralization in Ukraine.
Leonid Donos, Anna Nikolenko-Bayeva, Ihor Lepyoshkin
– For many people, the word participation is unfamiliar and hardly understandable, what does it really mean in simple words?
Hanna: This is when, for example, the authorities address the public in order to resolve some issues. They have a dialog and then they solve some common problems. This is public participation in community life.
Leonid: Participation is taking part and being involved. That’s to say, there are just polls, there are questionnaires, there are consultations – when the government asks, but still decides whether to take into account the opinion of the community or not. Participation differs in that all decisions developed by residents must be implemented.
For me personally, it is a procedure that is full of humane senses and which has a place for trust, when the authorities and citizens learn to trust each other, learn more about themselves.
– Tell us about the International Forum of Participation Practitioners, what topics were discussed there?
Leonid: It lasted for three days, which were dedicated to various topics. The first day focused on democracy. It is being held back by quarantine, there are no face-to-face meetings, and you can often see that some things can be lost in online communications, there is a loss of communication.
Some Ukrainian cities and ATCs suspended participatory budgeting, other cities and ATCs made changes – that’s about 40%, that is, they transformed all stages into online voting, but some continued to carry out participatory budgeting in the way it was before. Interestingly, new practices are even being introduced in Ukraine, such as the school participatory budgeting.
By the way, several cities began to implement it before the quarantine. School participatory budgeting is when students come up with projects independently and decide which of them are to be implemented. In September-October, this process was launched, meetings were held whenever possible, and now everything has been made online. This way, we believe, we are preserving democracy.
– What happened on the second day?
Leonid: On the second day, we talked about building trust, reviewing various practices, both in Ukraine and worldwide. In particular, our colleague Urszula Majewska, who works at the Social Innovation Lab in Gdynia (Poland – ed.), a fairly progressive city, she presented the experience of deliberative participatory budgeting, that is when some projects are submitted to the city council after certain discussion procedures. This practice has been preserved, some of the meetings have been held online.
Also, our colleague Roman Nikitenko from the NGO Kyiv Center for Public Communications presented the experience of the United States, he mentioned quite interesting cases of the involvement of residents in spatial planning, that is, it was a kind of platform for sharing experience.
– Has school participatory budgeting already been implemented anywhere?
Leonid: This practice already works in two cities of Ukraine, which are implementing it: the city of Kremenchuk with the support of PLEDDG and the city of Balta in the Odesa region.
Ihor: Ivano-Frankivsk and Vinnytsia are also working on it, but they have not yet adopted the regulations.
– Who allocates funds for school participatory budgeting, and what does the procedure look like?
Leonid: The city authorities make the decision; they allocate the funds. There are various funding mechanisms, more often it is transferred to the education department as an urban target program, which then distributes them to all schools.
Next, the school’s task is to determine the procedure by which students will submit their projects, then they are checked by the school administration, whether it is possible to implement them, and then students vote. What is chosen will be realized.
Most likely, these are projects that are aimed at improving the school, the educational process, gyms.
– Is it possible to involve young people in public activism this way?
Leonid: There are several ways to attract young people, school participatory budgeting is one of them. I know that in Kyiv a lot of projects were submitted directly by schools that were aimed at improving the school environment. But that’s within the city’s participatory budgeting.
School participatory budgeting is an in-depth practice, that’s why a separate program is created specifically for such purposes, to improve the educational process.
Ihor: However, there are several functions of participatory budgeting. One of the functions is the implementation of some important projects for the city community. But there is another component, no less important. It is the activation of the community, where young people should probably play a leading role.
If we bring up active citizens with a proactive public position, then in the future it will be a dividend for our country. In most cities, an age requirement has been introduced because there is the ID-passport or other identification that children do not possess. Therefore, part of the community essentially cannot participate in the voting.
– In Kyiv, there are often complaints that either local deputies’ projects or school renovation projects win. Is this a real problem?
Hanna: I am from Chernihiv myself, I’m a member of the working group for the implementation of participatory budgeting at the city council. Chernihiv, in general, was one of the first cities to introduce participatory budgeting. We faced the problem in the first year that almost 90% of school projects were to repair classrooms, toilets, or replace windows, doors, or floors.
We then introduced the principle of public availability and such projects cannot be submitted. They must be accessible to all, not to any particular category of students who study in that particular classroom.
Our schools have since submitted other projects, such as the installation of gym playgrounds on the school grounds, but they must be open to everyone. That is, children from the local district may come and play either football or basketball.
But still, in Chernihiv, we encountered a problem – the administrative resource is still used. These educational projects are winning more and more often every year.
There is the example of Severodonetsk, they have allocated part of participatory budgeting for educational projects. Thus, there is a thematic division.
There are many solutions, but some communities have made the exception that schools cannot participate. Each community, each city makes decisions independently.
– There is also the example of “Plast”, which submitted a project but could not withstand the competition…
Ihor: This situation in Kyiv is to some extent predictable for large cities. As for the so-called deputies’ projects, I do not see this as a particularly large problem, in fact, why are they the deputies’? Maybe because deputies are active and have access to the information? As for them using some kind of administrative resource, well, I’m not sure they do if it’s an open vote.
This means that these projects are really important for the community. These deputies deserve respect because they understand those problems. This is a process of formation, 5 years is not that long of a time, not everyone has understood it yet.
We have almost one and a half thousand communities, while only 250 are implementing participatory budgeting. The room for improvement is still very large, and each city must go its own way. Using someone’s experience, but their own way.
Leonid: Whether deputies may or may not submit their own projects, is an open issue to me. I think they can, but transparently and without any corruption components. If residents were involved in the budgeting, if they saw how the budget is used, if the gender-oriented approach was taken into account, vulnerable groups were included, then this would be a non-issue.
We cooperate with Polish practitioners and they say that a deputy as much as a person as anyone, they express public interests, it is impossible to artificially exclude them. If they are excluded, they will still take part, and if they do not, they will be offended by this process, and the deputies are the ones who decide whether participatory budgeting happens or not.
Hanna: If we consider not just the cities, but ATCs as well, deputies there are generally both active, and leaders of public opinion. If you just exclude them from this process, then there will be absolutely nothing left.
Ihor: Our institute of deputies is “voluntarily incomprehensible.” I once did an internship in the United States, toured the largest cities in Canada, where a deputy is a slightly different person than ours. Deputies have a certain salary, but it is below the average in the region. But each deputy has their own office, has well-paid assistants who work very professionally. Therefore, the system is completely different from ours, but the deputies there also defend the interests of the territories in which they were elected.
– Ihor, you were in Canada, is there an analog of participatory budgeting there?
Ihor: It is a bit different there, you know, there are different policies. Participatory budgeting in Ukraine is an expression of initiative, it makes people participate more actively in the life of the community, but just a small piece of the budget is allocated for this. And in Canada, the whole budgeting process is transparent and residents are involved in its formation, discussion, and adoption at all stages.
Participatory budgeting is one of the multitude of projects we are implementing in our cities. We are more focused on involving citizens in all stages of the budgeting process.
– How to engage more people in participatory budgeting?
Leonid: Well, there is always a good information campaign in Kyiv, advertising in the subway, citylights, awareness-raising, people in the capital use digital tools more, they can get involved more. Another thing is how to make this procedure simple and accessible. This challenge is always present, and not only in Ukraine. We had colleagues from both Portugal and New York, for them it is also a challenge.
For large cities, a good practice is to divide participatory budgets into districts, there should not be a single amount allocated for the whole city. For example, Warsaw is divided into 27 districts and each essentially has its own participatory budget. The smaller the area, the more likely it is that residents will be involved.
There is a very wide range of such projects in Kyiv now, and it seems to me that this hinders the development of the process. For a big city, the focus has to be on the territory or the subject.
Ihor: Now Kremenchuk and Berdyansk have followed this path, there are city-wide and district-wide projects. This is a very, very good practice.
Talking about Kyiv, there are many problems. One of them is the population, a little less than three million people are officially registered in the capital, while about 5 million actually live there.
If a community register is made correctly, the picture will be completely different in terms of population. And our entire budget system is built on standards that depend on the population number.
Hanna: As for the division of cities into districts, big cities don’t use it, but when it comes to ATCs, they use it more. They divide the budget between the administrative center and the districts, although the amounts there are meager.
Leonid: They understand that if they don’t share the budget with the village, people just won’t vote. In the cities, everyone has a phone and the Internet, but not in the village.
Actually, Kyiv is very lucky, groups of experts who focus on participatory budgeting are concentrated there, in particular from the Council of Europe, who work with the school participatory budgeting and the public budget commission. We can see an ongoing lively discussion, including about the division into districts.
– Is there an alternative to a competitive approach to participatory budgeting?
Leonid: The exclusive feature of Ukrainian participatory budgeting is competitiveness. Apparently, we as a community of practitioners did not want that. We would like the basic principle of participatory budgeting to be implemented – to meet the needs of the residents. But we have what we have.
We have the example of two ATCs: Tomakivska and Chernihivska, they allocated funds for projects in starosta districts and held meetings and forums there. They gathered the leaders and the administration, active citizens, and through discussion decided which project was to be implemented. That is, the decision was made not by voting, but by reaching a consensus. It seems to me that nothing prevents large cities from implementing a similar approach, but not in the city as a whole, of course.
Ihor: I believe that there can be no project approach without selection. In addition to participatory budgeting, we work on a variety of tools and help implement them in communities. One of the directions is the work on community development strategies and programs.
But from each strategy, an implementation plan is developed, which consists of a list of projects. There, we do not hold a competition, but an expert selection of projects.
Believe me, some suggestions can not be implemented at all, or they are very expensive. But the expert consensus approach is more interesting than just voting.
Another nuance is the subjects of the projects, Ukraine is not the richest country in Europe and the main part of the proposals concerns some tactical problems: to pave a strip of the road, install a playground, some benches. I think that one day, we will live to have development projects, and everything else will be done through the ordinary budget.
Hanna: In terms of the “battle of the projects”, there are positive examples when the authors agree, unite, and conduct information campaigns not just for their proposals, but also for others’, there were a lot of such cases in Kyiv.
Leonid: Competitiveness also has its advantages, because people get used to the fact that they have a great idea, they made a good project, but they still have to conduct a promotional campaign, on their own.
Interviewed by Mykhailo Zahorodniy