On March 15th I went down to Lucan-Palmerstown to observe the South Dublin participatory budgeting project.
I spoke to Independent Mayor Guss O’Connell, who has been spearheading this project for years, and who finally succeeded in getting 300k EUR set aside to be put into projects that local people initiate and decide upon under the tagline “300k: Have your Say”.

As it turned out, Guss and I agreed on a lot of things, such as the desirability of basic social income and the undesirability of parish pump politics, where votes are being traded for fixing potholes. And, of course, what we agree on the most, is that people should be given a say over the policies that affect their lives.
It’s taken Guss (and his supporting colleagues on South Dublin County Council) a long time, but “300k: Have Your Say” looks pretty good, and I really want to get behind it, so that we can start rolling out participatory budgeting to other parts of Ireland (like Fingal…:-))

Thus far, the project has been very well-organized and is attracting a lot of good ideas. I’m rarely impressed by anything, but I was pretty impressed with this.

Here’s how it goes:

It was possible to attend one of three face-to-face meetings in March to submit ideas on how to spend the 300k. At least 50-60 people were in attendance at the meeting I went to, which is quite substantial for local politics.
There is a perception that mass decision-making involves endless bickering, but,in my experience, mass decision-making exercises are the only events I’ve ever been to that run with military precision.
This event was no exception.
It was short and sweet and very sensible.
Some of the projects that were suggested included: a shuttle bus service for the area; new equipment for the Order of Malta ambulance service; a mental health service for young people; restoration of a local bridge, etc.
I’m sure there will be many more options on the final list.
What’s great is that if you live in Lucan-Palmerstown you get to decide which of them gets done, kind of like an unexpected present.
Normally things just happen.
Or don’t happen.
Or you are left wondering why a) got done when b) was more urgent.
Or why someone blew a pile of money on c) when d) would have been way more useful.
With participatory budgeting, this happens no more.

In this project, if people were unable to attend a meeting, they could also submit an idea online. As someone who gets how hard it is to participate when you’re working and commuting, I really like this. Participation should be easy, not something that has to come at the cost of having to book a baby-sitter and order take-out so that you can drive straight from the office to wherever you have to be just to exercise your basic rights. So, I’m very excited that SDCC are down with the needs of modern life and are going the extra mile to facilitate time-poor people to take part.

All suggestions are now in the process of being costed (after all, one aspect of participatory budgeting is the budgeting) and will shortly be open for voting (again online and offline).
If you live in the Lucan-Palmerstown area or know anyone who does, please encourage them to get online at: http://www.southdublin.ie/haveyoursay/

Participatory Budgeting

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