From Australia, An E-Participatory Budgeting Experiment

(originally posted at TechPresident)

The government of the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), in an attempt to mitigate the effects of the economic downturn and stimulate local economies, has allocated the equivalent of US$30 million to the Community Building Partnership program. Aiming to support local jobs, stimulate growth and improve community facilities, the program allocates between US$260,000 and US$ 350,000 to each of the 93 NSW electoral districts. Under the program, community groups are eligible to electronically submit applications for funding to support local infrastructure and jobs in the district. Once applicants meet the requirements, MPs prioritize which projects are to receive funding.

However, the real novelty comes from the electoral district of Heathcote, where MP Paul McLeay is inviting the district’s citizens to decide through the Internet on the allocation of the funds that the government has made available. On the rather 2.0 MP’s website, the legislator uses video to explain the context of the initiative and invite citizens to prioritize the eligible proposals formulated by local community organizations.

From October 6th, citizens will be able to cast five votes each – with a maximum of 3 votes per project – in order to decide which causes are the most deserving of existing funds. According to a local article on the initiative, a system has been deployed to ensure that only residents of the district vote and to keep the initiative from being defrauded (e.g. multiple voting). In this respect, voting is auditable and, apparently in the same way as Belo Horizonte’s e-participatory budgeting system, votes are only considered valid by the system if the information provided is accurate and compatible with that contained in the electoral roll.

In order to alleviate the effects of the digital divide, the initiative counts on the support of local libraries that have made some of their computers available for citizens to access the initiative’s website. Last, but not least, the website will provide tools for organizations and supporters to lead their online canvassing, such as newsletters and website widgets.

E-participatory budgeting, as it spreads around the world, takes various forms. But, ultimately, it is always about leveraging the dispersed knowledge of citizens to shape decisions that invariably affect their lives. It will be interesting to see how the wisdom of the Heathcote crowd will operate in the allocation of their stimulus funds. Probably better than most earmarks we see around. Any bets?

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