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Open democracy for all

Participative budgeting for a small-size city
Águeda / Portugal
Size of city: 
47 729 inhabitants


Daniela Herculano
Chief of Staff - Mayor's Office
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Taking into consideration the diversity of its citizens and the diferent social and ethinical minorities on its territory, Agueda (PT) developed a partcipative budget process. It amounts to 500 000 € of the Agueda's yearly public spending. The process runs across all the activities of the Municipality, embedded in the administrative modernisation and bottom-up approach. So far, it permitted Agueda ranking 3rd in the Municipal Transparency Index and 2nd in the Smart City Index. Since 2015, when the initative was launched, 601 projects were submitted, more than 80 000 people voted and 30 projects selected.

The solutions offered by the good practice

The PB-Águeda is in its third edition, revealing itself as a process covering the local government’s entire range of activity. The PB Committee (CAT) is made up of all the heads of Divisions and separate Technical Units, and a member of the Municipal Assembly, under the coordination of the mayor. Each edition of PB-Águeda comprises two cycles, with a duration of one year: the cycle of budget definition and the cycle of budget execution.
The propositions received (from the Internet or participatory sessions) are scanned and entered in the computer application. This process can be done at home by the proponent, using the web services available (site or APP-based).
However, we intend this process to be educational with continuous improvement, therefore meetings are held with the proponents to discuss their proposals and weekly CAT meetings take place. We use a methodology of “action-reflection-action”.
The satisfaction was evaluated using a questionnaire, submitted to the participants in the Participatory and Voting Sessions.
It is important to highlight that the reflection made by both elected officials and technical staff is based on the canvassing of the population.
The propositions not admitted, in both plenary meetings and final voting, become part of a “Bank of Ideas” which feeds a selection or recovery of 5 ideas while drafting the yearly Plan and Budget, either because of their municipal interest or because the number of votes was too close to that of the winning propositions.

Building on the sustainable and integrated approach

“Being Smart” is the challenge of the new millennium. People are at the core of everything: technology meets the needs of citizens and they get the habit of easily accessing many things.
We want people to feel that they live in a human, inclusive, socially, technologically and economically active city, but also that they can follow and engage with the local administration by submitting proposals, which are prioritised and voted upon in order to identify the investments that need to be included in the yearly Plan and Budget.
The emerging path of Águeda as a “Human Smart City” means that the local authority provides a set of technological solutions, allowing an exact knowledge of the requests. Citizens can check the online dashboard of the local budget and follow the meeting of the Municipal Assembly through ÁguedaTV, with chat for comments.
Águeda is thus a smart city, and it has the ability to develop, create and respond to the needs of its citizens. it is important for them to feel that they are an integral part of the city.
An assessment of the impacts of the two years of PB-Águeda leads us to conclude that citizens are concerned with these topics: the environment, tourism, sports, urbanism and education. It is important to highlight that approximately 80% of the projects were not initially part of the options of the municipal board for 2013-2017.

Based on a participatory approach

We collected figures showing the implication of the citizens:
• Propositions presented through the Internet: 21 (2015) and 12 (2016);
• Participatory sessions: 11 (2015) and 11 (2016);
• Propositions in the participatory sessions: 276 (2015) and 292 (2016);
• Participants in the participatory sessions: 435 (2015) and 495 (2016);
• Winning projects after voting: 17 (2015) and 13 (2016);
• Registrations in the Participatory Platform: 3,048 (2015) and 5,131 (2016);
• Visit by about 24 municipalities and a Scottish delegation to learn about PB-Águeda;
• 12 public presentations on the PB-Águeda methodology in national seminars and workshops, e.g. the Iberoamerican Summit of Participatory Democracy;
• PB-Águeda was surveyed by the Secretary of State of Administrative Modernisation for input on the methodology of the National PB.

What difference has it made?

The implementation of PB-Águeda was accompanied by a sociological study, which allowed us to know the reality of the municipality, at the level of:
• The profile of participants, thereby allowing us to have a knowledge of the habits of participation in terms of age, gender, level of education and involvement in the associative movement;
• The profile of the population (we have been confronted with a Roma community of a significant size who didn’t know how to read and write, a reality that was unknown in the indicators of the national census);
• Skills in information and communication technologies;
• Knowledge of the real needs of the population, even those not fitting the regulations of PB-Águeda, made it possible to include them immediately in other support programmes from the local authority;
• The process of PB-Águeda is worked across all the municipal services, which implies that all employees have the same degree of knowledge in the implementation and execution of projects;
• The theorisation of the practice of the processes of participatory budgeting, based on the local experience and the action of benchmarking with 7 national experiences, where the same evaluation criteria are applied.
It is important to highlight that PB-Águeda was awarded the prize for Best Participative Practice in the context of the award of the Network of Participative Municipalities (RAP) with an international judges panel.

Why should other European cities use it?

PB-Águeda assumes itself as a good practice whose replication would benefit other European cities.
The mixed model (both online and face-to-face interactions) and the methodology for the consensus tables, with the support of a team of 47 moderators (employees of the municipality, who voluntarily work for the project after working hours), make this participatory budget process inclusive to people in terms of writing skills, digital literacy, accessibility to the participatory sessions, as well as to the conciliation of family life with the exercise of active citizenship.
In the last edition, we found that 68% of the people in the sessions were participating for the first time, which means that the process is attracting more and more new participants.
The experience of the PB-Águeda can be replicated in areas of low population density, given the mutual trust and closeness that has been established with the citizens throughout the process.
The implementation of this process in other municipalities would have to be rooted in a participatory budget model that would reflect the institutional identity and policies followed by the elected Municipal Board.