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From small idea to big change: challenging domestic abuse and hate crime through Participatory Budgeting

This blog is one of a series published on the PB Network pages following the 2016 International Participatory Budgeting Conference attended by MutualGain in October, 2016. Here, Dr Andrew Fisher gives reflections on his workshop presentation:

Two weeks ago I presented a workshop at the International PB conference on the use of PB in relation to community safety.   This is one of those subjects where, on a Friday afternoon, you wonder whether anyone will come.

But come they did and I had an enjoyable 45 minutes sharing my thoughts and experiences of using PB in relation to this important issue.  At this point I should state that my experiences of PB come from south of the border, but this did not seem to present an issue as those present wanted to learn about the process, the results and the challenges.

My evidence for using PB in relation to community safety came from PB processes undertaken with Greater Manchester Police, Durham Constabulary, Coventry City Council and Cheshire East Council.  The focus of the PB processes varied from addressing public health to organised crime and everything in between.  After showing a film of events in Salford, Greater Manchester and Seaham, County Durham, I provided some facts and figures in relation to the sums involved, the projects supported and some of the results.

There was interest in terms of the number of projects funded and the processes adopted for evaluating them over time.  Evaluation is an important part of PB and my advice was build your evaluation process in at the start.  It’s too late at the end to start to think about how to evaluate.

There are often spin offs from PB processes.  Andrew from Durham Council mentioned the PB process that had been undertaken in Sacriston, County Durham.  This process had been supported by MutualGain and was delivered in partnership with the police, council and voluntary sector.  Following their event they have seen an increase in citizens wanting to get involved in community work across the town and broadening of their informal networks.   Additional impact is often something that is missed when evaluating PB and this is why it is important to set your evaluation criteria early.

There were also questions in relation to the role of council officials and Councillors, a theme from another blog.  I have worked with councillors and officers who have been supportive of PB and want to learn, and those who are totally opposed believing that it is their role is to make budgetary decisions.  Don’t let the latter group put you off. Seeing is believing and on many occasions Councillors, officers and police officers have changed their mind once they see PB in action.

There was also a lot of interest in relation to the themes emerging and how they were determined prior to the PB planning starting.

Pre cursor events have taken place before many of the PB processes that I have been involved in.  These include World Cafés, focus groups and Asset Mapping.  Each has enabled those planning the Small Grants process to determine a theme or area to focus on to ensure the budget is spent with a specific community on a topic that ultimately achieves mutual gain.  They have included, community cohesion, organised crime and health and well being.  This gives a baseline for your criteria setting and makes the process more manageable.

Given the subject matter, my background as a retired police officer and organisations that I have worked with, there was understandably a focus on the crime results.  These included better knowledge and information about how to tackle or work with:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Hate crime
  • Loan sharks
  • Armed robbers
  • Brothels and
  • Other criminal activities

The two areas that drew the most interest were domestic abuse and hate crime.  There is an excellent case study in using PB to address domestic abuse that came out of a PB process in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester.  As a result of the process, an organisation called Safe Spots created a community led domestic violence drop in centre which provides advice, guidance and support for those who suffer this horrible crime.

The development of the process was the idea of a neighbourhood inspector who worked with a local Councillor, a group of survivors of domestic abuse, and MutualGain to get the project off the ground.

Overall a significant number of women have benefited from the programme and its cause has been picked up by the deputy leader of the Labour Party, Tom Watson, who mentioned Safe Spots in his speech to the Labour party conference a few weeks ago.  Safe Spots is a great example of how a small idea can develop into a scheme that has a specific focus on community safety.

The PB process that bought the services for the drop in centre was attended by local people, some of whom will undoubtedly benefit from the services being provided by this great work.

Questions in relation to hate crime related to the fact that this is the focus of a planned PB event in Edinburgh.  Police Scotland and a partnership team that includes third sector and active citizens are using the process to address hate crimes that are being directed towards Asian women.  Post Brexit figures have shown an alarming rise in hate crime, so the Edinburgh theme is very welcome.  Planning for the event is moving along with support from PB Partners and I am sure that the Edinburgh team will deliver an event that matches the standard of those that have already taken place across Scotland.

At the conclusion of workshop I was approached by two ladies who both identified the fact that there needs to be a culture change within community safety as they have found it to be difficult to access and move forward.  They both saw PB as an ideal vehicle due to the mandate from the Scottish government and the support that they are receiving from PB Partners.

As Marco Biagi said, there is bad PB as well as good PB.  So make sure yours is good PB by building on the expertise within the UKPB network.