The day's news has been full of how ordinary citizens should have a say in how public cuts should be made over the coming months which reminded me of the project we did with Carnegie UK Trust on participatory budgeting and service delivery in rural areas. Commentators have broadly lined up in 2 camps:
- don't trust ordinary people with the decisions as they will be biased towards their own circumstances and
- if you get ordinary people involved you will get some good ideas and everyone will feel that the pain has been shared.
At Cybermoor we have carried out some exercises in on-line budgeting with our community in Alston and the local council to identify where the highways budget should be spent. You can download a report of the consultation at the Carnegie UK website which sets out what worked and did not work. I was always struck by how we had several people join in a lively debate on-line, but then the same people were quiet in public meetings when larger characters dominated. There is a role for on-line participatory budgeting to give people a voice, providing they take on board the facts first.
There is a strong case for pushing decisions closer to citizens but the process needs "scaffolding" to hold it all together and facilitate it. Getting buy in from people in local authorities who may be losing their jobs as a result of the process can be difficult, however, evidence shows that they welcome being involved in consultations to have a say. There is a role for social enterprises to act as the honest broker in this process - not in the public sector or private sector, but batting on behalf of the communities they are closest to.
The day's other interesting news related to rural broadband and how the government are looking at pilot high speed broadband projects in rural areas. This is something we will be pursuing with colleagues at the Independent Networks Co-operative www.inca.coop which focuses on supporting independent fibre optic broadband projects.