Open North's Citizen Budget Simulator Boosts Pioneering Citizen Engagement Project

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The citizens of Saint-Basile-le-Grand are voting this week - not to elect representatives but to choose which of their 11 projects their council will build - a radical exercise in direct democracy. The town is one of the first in Quebec to allow its citizens to put forward project proposals and vote directly on which one of those will get funded. Last year it launched its Participatory Budgeting initiative by setting aside $200,000 which funded the people’s choices - a public square and a safer street crossing. This year, for the towns’ repeat experience of the Participatory Budget, the Citizen Budget software provided by Open North was tailored to make it possible for voters to choose the construction projects through an interactive online interface rather than on paper, which will make it easier to vote and to calculate the results.

Additionally, the municipality expanded the scope of direct citizen involvement using Citizen Budget. Not only has $200,000 been put aside once again to fund citizen-led construction initiatives, the town has also used Citizen Budget to consult residents on 17 key financial decisions the council has been considering.

By using Citizen Budget, members of the public could see instantly the difference it would make to their taxes if, for example, the budget for the arts festival or the number of hours the library would be open was raised or lowered. It also allowed them to indicate their preferences in detail (for example indicating by how much to drop or raise the budget of the town fair). This gave them a direct voice in decisions on the council’s whole $22m budget, and will be fed directly into the council’s budget deliberations.

Mr. Pelletier, 64, one of the citizens who used the budget simulator, and the proposer of the public square project that won last year’s competition, said he found it an “excellent educational tool”. He added that the fact it was done online was helpful because it isn’t always easy to fit participating in conventional public consultations into a busy schedule. He felt that previous online consultations had been too superficial but this one “was user-friendly, simple and well-illustrated” and he felt his voice had been heard.

Jean-Marie Beaupré, the town’s City Manager said, “Encouraged by the success of last year’s initiative, we wanted to give our voters more opportunity to understand and influence how their council’s money is earned and spent. Thanks to the Citizen Budget tool, they were able to put their choices in perspective by instantly seeing how their decisions affected our bottom line. The resulting feedback has been invaluable in helping us plan next year’s spending. We strongly believe in being responsive to the public’s views and these new tools have been a great way for us to stay connected.”

Beaupré was given a “City Challenge” excellence award in May by the Corporation of Chartered Municipal Officers of Québec to recognize the importance of this initiative.

Nearly 50 cities in Canada and elsewhere, including Seattle, Kiev, Edmonton, London, Saskatoon, Victoria, Regina, as well as the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer are using Citizen Budget to boost their budget consultations.

The concept of Participatory Budgeting, where part of a public budget is allocated to projects put forward by and voted on directly by citizens was pioneered in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989 and has since been used by more than 1,500 organizations around the world. [Participatory Budgeting] (http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/about-participatory-budgeting/where-has-it-worked/)

For more information or to find out how to implement a Citizen Budget online consultation in your own community, contact citizenbudget@opennorth.ca.

Members of the press can contact: info@opennorth.ca

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