The city council of Elche had already been using participatory budgeting with high engagement rates for six years. However, the results in other fields such as fostering associationism were not as promising. For that reason, the council’s department for citizen participation wanted to conduct an analysis of the participatory culture in the municipality. Based on this analysis, they were to come up with a plan of action to improve citizen engagement beyond participatory budgeting.
Kuorum has years of consulting experience with governments of all sizes. To elaborate a good analysis, it is necessary to investigate both the internal context – the city council’s resources – and the external factors – the level of participation in a variety of areas and the current state of associationism.
In the case of Elche, the Kuorum team started with the internal analysis. First, they scheduled interviews with the city council’s personnel. The result was a breakdown of all tasks and the time that the public employees dedicated to each of them. They had a look at the available budget and how the city council had so far allocated it. Finally, the team analyzed the regulations of citizen participation and weighed the differences between the theory in the paragraphs and the reality in the client?s daily business. Soon enough, they discovered that the success of the participatory budgeting came at the cost of too many working hours for the city council. It would be necessary to redesign the process to avoid further slowing down the department. Kuorum suggested the introduction of a support phase – where proposals would be weeded out based on a set of factors like feasibility and expected costs – before the technical revision, so that it would not be necessary to revise more than 3000 proposals every year.
For the external analysis, they applied both quantitative (analyzing socio-demographic data) and qualitative methods (interviews with associations and community leaders). Stimulating citizen participation among the youth would be challenging. The new generations are not as interested in joining neighborhood associations as their older counterparts. For the former, the connection with other people does not depend as much on the place where they live, but much more on the interests and hobbies they share. This is why Kuorum recommended, among other things, to initiate a plan to stimulate sectoral associationism with subsidies and training for these types of organizations.
Lastly, Kuorum wrote up an action plan covering the next three years, which included recommendations which came up during the diagnostic phase. This action plan helped the client to base its work on specific goals, using key performance indicators to evaluate the results every month. That way, not only did they manage to improve the efficacy of the city council’s involvement, but they also reduced the workload of the department. One of the more interesting measures was to make provision for an idiosyncratic study in collaboration with the local university which would analyze the cultural differences of the city’s districts. This would ensure that the action points for the promotion of associationism could be adapted to the actual needs of each neighborhood.
At Kuorum, we know that no two cases are the same. Elche is a good example of the importance of a process that manages both human and technical resources well. If you would like to learn more about cases with participatory processes, we recommend reading about our collaboration with Toledo, Menorca or Manchester.