Glasgow PB blog 1What Works Scotland supported a two-day study visit to Paris for members of the Glasgow Participatory Budgeting (PB) Collaborative Action Research (CAR) group plus a Glasgow City Council elected member, along with staff from Fife Council and What Works Scotland. In this guest blog post Evelyn O’Donnell from Glasgow City Council describes some highlights from the visit and some early learning points.

Highlights from the visit

Tuesday 13th December
Glasgow PB blog 2On arrival we headed to the Citizens Participation team’s office where they presented the Parisian process and explained how they deliver an annual €100 million capital funding PB Programme (5% of Paris’ investment budget). Parisians choose how they spend that budget, in the city as a whole and in their neighbourhood. They do this by proposing projects in January of each year and then after a period of deliberation they vote in September.

Wednesday 14th December

Glasgow PB blog 3Staff from Paris’ Smart City Technical Team gave an overview of their system, developed for an online digital PB process and explained front and back office systems. Paris has the whole process simply stored and administrated in a web application. They were able to show us how the web application functioned. Catriona Morrison (Glasgow’s Access team, responsible for I.T) said “I liked how the web application operated; it seemed pretty straight forward and easy to develop.”


Glasgow PB blog 4In the evening we attended the Department for Town Planning’s Steering Group meeting at the Hôtel de Ville. This building houses the City’s administration and has been the headquarters of the municipality of Paris since 1357. The discussion included a presentation of the report: “What are Parisians Dreaming About?” which gave an overview of the 2015 PB programme – over 5,000 project ideas were submitted. As a contribution to the Paris visit Coryn Barclay from Fife Council prepared an English translation of the report.

Thursday 15th December

Lea from one of the Neighbourhood Councils presented on Paris’ participatory democracy process and how they input to the PB process.  Any neighbourhood with more than 84,000 inhabitants has to have a Neighbourhood Council.  Each arrondissement has a mayor who is responsible for liaison between the town hall, elected members and the Neighbourhood Council.

Learning points

1. Mainstreaming PB

The Scottish Government has asked local authorities to allocate 1% of their budget to Participatory Budgeting. As Lead Officer for developing PB in Glasgow, I learned lessons on how to accelerate from our small grants PB process of approximately £350,000 per year in 2016 to delivering PB at a much larger scale of potentially £24 million per annum or more.

2. Resourcing

PB cannot be delivered effectively at scale without sufficient staff resources. Paris has a team to co-ordinate the delivery of PB and they liaise directly with a designated member of staff in each council department. Paris relies on assistance from their Volunteer Service to boost their PB work (16-25 year olds volunteer as part of a community assignment for at least 6 months, 24 hours a week and receive a €500 monthly allowance – 300 volunteers were involved in PB last year).

3. Participatory Democracy

We heard examples of how the local mayor; elected members; neighbourhood councils and officers work in collaboration with residents to generate ideas; support applications and implement successful PB projects. There are opportunities for people to come together; develop ideas and share ambitions/local vision; and collaborate with all parties to improve their neighbourhood through PB.

4. Co-producing Projects Using a Digital Platform

Once proposals are live on the PB website (, Parisians can comment and collaborate with the project proposer to further develop any proposal. Submissions with similar themes/geographies are asked to collaborate on and offline for a month to co-construct one proposal to go forward to the voting stage, including attending a workshop to further develop their idea before submitting a final proposal to the voting stage.

5. Do, Think, Review

Paris has adopted an approach which moves away from the standard risk-averse model of plan, do, review, to a do-then-think approach. There is a reasonable amount of planning in place to provide a framework and avoid risk but a willingness thereafter to let things go and deal with the consequences. In doing so they recognised this would inevitably lead to a period of uncertainty but on balance see this as a risk worth taking. For Alex Byers (Glasgow Life’s Community Engagement Manager) this showed a willingness to make bold decisions and a confidence in their own abilities, and Parisians in general.

See the other blogs about the study trip:

Also see other What Works Scotland resources about participatory budgeting here

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