Innovation Exchange

Midlothian CPP: Community Involvement Through Participatory Budgeting


Key activities

Benefits and impacts


What was the problem or issue?


Making a start on participatory budgeting in our target communities; making use of the resources available within the community work team to pilot this approach.

Theme: Community Planning and Empowerment

The community work team piloted participatory budgeting in deprived communities in Midlothian. Received match funding from NHS Lothian Health promotion and Scottish Government 3 pilots then a second phase of 3 further pilots on topics decide locally in each of the 3 communities. The team worked hard on developing and reviewing the process to make it as open and democratic as possible and had an external review after phase 1 undertaken by SCDC. Participants’ feedback was gathered and short YouTube clips made to present the work to wider CPP and public (online).

What helped us to improve community participation?


There is a longstanding good relationship between the community work team and the third sector and there are ongoing honest conversations. People in the community who have been actively involved in participatory budgeting have been very positive. It has brought a lot of networks together to have important conversations.


What were the barriers to improving community participation?


Unexpected sources of challenge emerged including disagreements internally about this form of PB within the council, and between the community work team and third sector. The third sector forum was not keen on the community voting for who was going to receive funding. PB use in grant making posed a threat to funding of the voluntary sector because it was seen that it might take away links to policy priorities and evidence of need in using micro funding. The TSI argued that panels including professional staff form third sector and council make a more informed decision compared to the public as their decisions would be based on research and data whilst the public would back only popular causes. Elected members also wanted to have a say in who receives funding and PB seemed to some of them to be a threat to their democratic mandate to make decisions about public money. The challenge here is the balance between representative and participatory democracy which PB needs to address explicitly as it is developed   and the balance between evidence based and public engagement approaches to funding.



The complexity of power shifts between community, elected members and the professional staff in council and third sector. We are learning more about Participatory Budgeting. PB is intended to be a deliberative process where voting takes place after all voters have been fully informed and engaged with evidence of need, demand and ability to deliver have been understood . In practice this is a very high standard of participation to expect and requires significant amounts of staff resource to deliver leaving questions of long term sustainability. The use of small grants as a pilot has not yet had any impact on the wider expectation of council allocation 1% of the total budget through PB model, but has raised the profile of the key challenge which is around a shift in power and control, investment in public engagement and trust in shared decision making approaches.

Case study added to site: November 2018

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