Voting leads to engagement – when it is about money

Getting a high turn out for local elections is tough … and usually even tougher for public meetings. Why bother – does it change anything?
On the other hand a lot of people will be interested in how money is spent in their neighbourhood. Could you link the money, voting and engagement?
It seems so, from a conversation I had at the recent Your Square Mile launch with Richard Edwards from Manton – an estate of some 6500 people in Worksop, Nottinghamshire. Richard works for Manton Community Alliance, which since 2006 has used participatory budgeting as a way to involve people in decisions about the future of their area. You can read a case study here.
As Richard explained, there’s nothing like walking down the street, and seeing a tag on the new litter bins showing that’s what you voted for, to demonstrate it is worth the effort.
Last year one in four people were involved in voting – and the secret of success has been to tailor the method to individual preferences, including knocking on doors, holding small group discussions, or using Facebook.
Richard says: The key thing is you have to suit your engagement method to people’s life style – if you don’t do that they are not going to take part.
The budgeting process has led to an increase in voting in local elections, and also shown an increase of people’s involvement in the area in some way, from a very low base to over 60 percent.
After listening to Richard I wondered whether a similar process might be appropriate on a wider scale. Why shouldn’t it be applied by the Big Lottery Fund, who supported Your Square Mile, and who grant millions of pounds each year to local groups?
I find that they do, as you’ll see from this link to the Big Decision page.

Channel 4 is following The Big Lottery Fund as it asks the British public how they would spend £10 million of lottery money. The results of this nationwide debate will help directly determine which projects or charities will benefit from a huge cash injection. You can follow the discussion on Twitter #C4BigDecision
What does this country need the most – more recycling, better educated youngsters, stronger community spirit or new investment in science?
If you were in charge of spending £10 million of lottery money to ensure it reaches the places and people who need it most, where would you spend it? Post your comments below.

On the page you can see video clips about five Millennium themes, and a real time discussion about people’s preferences.
The funding for Manton’s participatory budgeting runs out at the end of this year. I vote for them and other participatory budgeting projects to get some continuing support.
UpdateThe People’s Budget is a new campaign on participatory budgetting supported by the PB UnitChurch Action on Poverty, New StartJoseph Rowntree Charitable Trust and Urban Forum. Blog posts from Toby Blume and Julian Dobson.

  1. Participatory budgeting is great, and has the potential to encourage groups of people to work together and support each other in ways that they wouldn’t if they weren’t all part of one big conversation about sharing resources. I am in support of the Big Lottery using the process for just this reason. Church Action on Poverty are holding People’s Budget events across the country to encourage campaigns for some council budgets to be decided through participatory budgeting processes – see (though note the Dudley date is being changed from 10 Nov to later in the month)

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