Poland has the highest number of participatory processes in Europe. One of these is participatory budgeting (PB), an approach that the city of Rybnik has prioritised now for over 10 years. Situated close to the Czech border in the south of Poland, Rybnik was previously the centre of the Rybnik Coal Area and is a leader in other participatory processes, too. In the interview, Mayor Piotr Kuczera talks about how participatory budgeting is implemented in Rybnik.
Mr. Kuczera, what motivated you to start Participatory Budgeting in Rybnik?
Participatory Budgeting in Rybnik started in 2013. But the initial idea came in 2009-2010 when a local NGO – the Social Initiatives Development Centre (CRIS) – implemented an innovative citizen participation project aimed at two very different districts of Rybnik.
The goal of the project was to increase the engagement of residents in their districts’ affairs via public consultation. Those two districts received grants of 11K euros each. The residents could decide what they would spend the money on – there were three categories: events, education and investment. The residents were able to vote the traditional way or online. Eight distinct projects were implemented as a result.
Since then, participatory budgeting processes have evolved in terms of the amount, types and rules governing the choice of projects.
For example, from 2015, online voting became possible, then in 2021, we allowed offline voting too and now in 2022, a multi-functional platform has been developed which allows Rybnik residents not only to vote but also to submit their projects via this platform. Public officials then evaluate these submissions according to the eligibility criteria.
What distinguishes your Participatory Budgeting from other similar projects?
Participatory Budgeting in Rybnik empowers residents to meet their own needs. There are no limits to the number of proposals one citizen can submit and no limits on their age or their right to vote.
Our electronic voting system means that voting has become more direct and there can be no cheating. It also makes it clear that every vote counts – sometimes one vote can make the difference between winning approval for a proposal or not. It means also that you can vote almost anywhere – at school, on the bus, at home, via your mobile phone, with help from your grandchildren for those who are less digitally literate – it’s all possible.
Participatory Budgeting is also an educational tool. It helps citizens to understand local government and the tasks and rules they must follow. It also works the other way – public officials start getting to know the citizens and their needs better too.
How do you encourage people to participate? What are your participation rates?
It is a very hard task, with regards to both the call for proposals and the voting. Residents are encouraged to share their ideas at an early stage. Recently we have implemented a project with the Optimum Pareto Foundation, called, “Synergistic Rybnik – Participatory Budgeting as a lever of the city’s strategic development”. This project has involved dozens of meetings, workshops, most of them online, in an effort to reach as many citizens as possible.
We also use social media (Facebook), schools, churches, district councils and even our local magazine to spread the word. You will also find information on posters, billboards and in local buses. We organise civic lessons at local schools and we have also had Youth Participatory Budgeting programme running for 5 years now.
There is still a lot to do regarding the participation rate – it is currently around 12%. But we see that the online voting numbers have been increasing every year – in 2022, 96% of all people voting, did it online. Moreover, we know that 70% of online voters used mobile devices to do this.
What have been some of the most memorable proposals that were implemented?
There have been a lot of interesting ideas during the last 10 years of Participatory Budgeting in Rybnik. The most common are development projects like a water playground for children, an olympic sports centre or a football pitch.
The biggest success of our last round of participatory budgeting, was the so-called Eiffel tower – built in a district called “Paris” (recently Netflix made a commercial there).
We have also had some interesting educational projects involving language, theatre, IT labs, music, dance and culinary workshops. So quite a range of projects – large and small!
What are your recommendations for a city that is thinking about implementing participatory budgeting – what has experience taught you?
Participatory Budgeting is a whole year process, you must understand that in order to manage it well. It is also vital to involve the citizens at every stage and to follow-up with evaluation in the form of questionnaires etc. This helps to refine the process each year. It is important to provide support for digitally excluded (mostly older people).
Timing is also a challenge. Selected projects are typically implemented the following year. This means that prices can rise in the interim and everything costs more than originally planned. This means that the municipality must be prepared to make additional investments in order to ensure that projects can go ahead.
What are your next steps or plans for the future for PB in Rybnik?
We want to develop our online platform – particularly the communication, verification and assessment aspects. We also want to continue to improve participation rates especially for young people. In order to do this, we want to improve the quality of our technological offerings to make them more attractive to the youth.
We also need to work more closely with citizens and make them familiar with the Rybnik 2030 Strategy. This will allow us to make clearer links between the project and the main objectives behind them.
What does it mean to you to be a finalist in the Innovation in Politics Awards
Being a finalist means appreciation for all of our participation efforts. Some might still say that it’s better for the government to take the lead and make the decisions – that you don’t need to consult with everyone. But we decided to ask citizens, talk to them and consult their needs. As officials we had to learn how to use new communication tools and new ways of implementing these processes. Today this award is a confirmation for me that it was worth making this effort!
The article was originally published on Externer Link: democracy-technologies.org