The participants of the three participatory budgeting workshops held on 25 Oct, 29 Oct and 30 Oct delved into the question of how next year’s development budget of €100,000 should be spent with excitement and a torrent of ideas. ”This is exciting, but in a way it also feels difficult,” commented one lady standing at the door of the library group work room. It’s very true that the atmosphere in the workshops was not all fun and games. At times, ardent discussions were needed to bring about consensus. There was also a lot of joking and laughter. But more than anything, there was a lot of work to be done and a fantastic result: four pilot projects will be launched by the library next year.
Decisions made by enthusiastic library developers
For the very first time, the Central Library offered Helsinki residents the opportunity to collectively decide how €100,000 of development funding was to be spent. The residents came together in participatory budgeting workshops to decide which library pilot projects would be launched next year. The pilot projects were based on Central Library dreams collected from city residents during the past year, and they had been pre-budgeted. Lively conversation, exchange of opinions and brainstorming took place in the workshops. Different city residents from a Herttoniemi housewife to a computer coder, from a city activist to a literature enthusiast got to share their views. The participants were clearly some of the most competent and eager library developers the city has to offer.
Voting by shows of hands, negotiations and hearty laughter
The atmosphere in the workshops varied from the intensive exchange of opinions and thorough discussions, even negotiations, to good-humoured joking and uplifting of team spirit. Anticipatory suspense and, on the other hand, the excitement of making a difference clearly showed that the participants found it refreshingly different to be the ones making the decisions regarding the budget. One of the participants made the following comment: ”I had a horrible day at work today, but after the workshop, this turned out to be a great day!” Another participant was pleased to see local democracy being practised in such a concrete way: ”It was great to see that it really works.”
The importance of making decisions about common issues
”The name ‘participatory budgeting’, however, might drive some people away, because it sounds like you practically need to be a professor to take part, and that the minimum requirement to participate is that you must be able to justify your opinions like a professional politician,” pointed out one of the participants. ”But that’s exactly how it should be!” replied another. The whole group discussed how the number of participants in the workshops could be increased. ”What is it that compels busy people to give up their own time at home to come here and make decisions about issues that influence us all?” In other words, how can we make all city residents see that making decisions about common issues is important?
The result of all three workshops:
- New forms of digital culture: Urban Workshop at the Meetingpoint
- Services for families and children: Storybook Birthday Parties at the Library
- Relaxation, silence and slowness: Boundless Space to Allow the Mind to Rest
- New concepts of literature: Lost and Found – contemporary writers bring the classics to life
- Visualising the reading experience: How books move us
- Events and adventures: Library by night – a singles event between the shelves
- The customer as an active participant: Singing room at Library 10
- New forms of peer learning: Learn from others -festival
The pilot projects chosen to be implemented are Urban Workshop, Storybook Birthday Parties, Boundless Space, and Lost and Found which make for a total budget of €108,000. To stay within the framework of €100,000, the participants decided that Boundless Space will be implemented in a lighter and more inexpensive way. The Central Library will launch these pilot projects in 2013.
The participants also brainstormed two completely new pilot project suggestions: paying library fines with Community Exchange System currency and a project that develops online democracy among the elderly and the adolescent. Participants also further developed some of the existing pilot proposals. The ideas for further development and the new suggestions can be explored at www.keskustakirjasto.fi/osallistuvabudjetointi.
- The Central Library on Facebook
- The City Library’s financial data on the Openspending platform
Photos: Johan Björn, Virve Miettinen
Text: Virve Miettinen