One of the objectives of What Works Scotland is to understand how public services in Scotland learn from international evidence. When the chance came for us to witness international learning between public services in Scotland and Paris in the fast-growing area of participatory budgeting (PB), we were delighted.
This blog by What Works Scotland research associate Richard Brunner describes how the visit arose and offers three early insights into how public services learn through international visits. It complements two other blogs by participants in the Paris visit from public services in Glasgow and Fife.
Getting ‘backstage’ in Paris
Using a collaborative action research (CAR) approach, What Works Scotland has been supporting a group of public service and third sector workers in Glasgow to create an evaluation toolkit for PB. The group has drawn on international evidence, and on examples of evaluation from various domestic PB initiatives, including from Fife, with whom What Works Scotland has also been conducting CAR.
Both Glasgow and Fife are exploring the potential for moving from project-based PB to mainstreaming PB. Paris is Europe’s leading city for mainstreaming PB, the current mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, having committed 100m euros of capital funding to be spent through PB over five years – a total of 500m euros. Mainstreaming PB has implications for how public service officers work; for how technology is used to support the process; for evaluation; and for equality and diversity outcomes. Glasgow and Fife wanted to learn how their Parisian peers had mainstreamed PB, so that they could plan for these technical issues.
So What Works Scotland worked with Paris to devise a two-day fact-finding visit. We arranged for six officers and one councillor from Glasgow and Fife to meet with peers from Paris responsible for planning, implementation, digitisation and evaluation of PB. What Works Scotland sat in on all the formal meetings and many of the informal conversations too, observing the learning.
Three insights into how public services learn on international visits
What did What Works Scotland learn from witnessing how public services in Scotland learn from international evidence through fact-finding visits? Three early lessons:
1. Planning international visits is an intensive and collaborative process
The visit was initiated through the interests of the Glasgow PB CAR group, made possible through the international PB contacts of Oliver Escobar from What Works Scotland, and then made real through email conversations with the Paris PB lead.
This required What Works Scotland to clearly establish the aims of the visit from the Scottish perspective, convey these to Paris, and make sure that Paris was also able to get something from the visit.
In practical terms, this required:
- translation of multiple emails (using the goodwill of a French colleague at University of Edinburgh)
- negotiating visit dates that would suit both Scotland and Paris
- agreeing a formal schedule with Paris
- coordinating an interpreter to be part of the visit, and
- agreeing protocols with all parties, for example on use of social media during the visit.
This collaborative approach paid off, because, as well as locking-in visit aims and logistics, communication cements relationships.
2. International learning is about establishing relationships as much as about exchanging information
We set up only four formal meetings in two visit days, with various PB officers and with the PB Steering Group for Paris. This created space for Glasgow and Fife to also have informal time with Paris officers. It also gave the visitors from Scotland time with each other – during the day, at breakfast and at dinner. The potential for securing strong and lasting relationships requires a human dimension, which is helped by having informal time together. This complements formal knowledge exchange. The long-term payoff from the visit for Glasgow and Fife will come from their being able to contact not only Paris but also each other on an ongoing basis, as their mainstreaming PB plans develop and they adapt their Paris learning. International visits create the opportunity for developing informal relationships, which videoconferencing exchanges are less likely to achieve.
3. Employing an interpreter with specific knowledge and experience beyond the language adds value
What Works Scotland commissioned an interpreter, resident in Paris, who had previously worked in Scotland and had an interest in PB. This meant that she could interpret in formal meetings with knowledge of the Scottish context which saved time (e.g. ‘by Conseils they mean something like Community Councils’), and she could interpret very detailed and technical issues related to PB policy and practice. We also commissioned her to accompany the Scottish group for the whole two days of the visit. This provided the space for her to clarify formal learning with the group in informal settings and to help the group efficiently navigate the city.
So, investing time in collaborative planning, nurturing human relationships, and understanding good international communication as being more than simply about language, all helped to make this fact-finding visit work.
See the other blogs about the study trip:
- Paris and Participatory Budgeting: reflections from Glasgow on the PB study visit to Paris
- Paris and Participatory Budgeting: perceptions, participation and parallels from the Fife perspective
Also see other What Works Scotland resources about participatory budgeting here