Digitization of Chengdu Participatory Budgeting: Community Support Fund E-Platform
Social Equity and Participation Center(Participation Center)
Non-governmental organization (NGO)
Our practice is to create an online system to digitalize the budgeting cycle of Chengdu participatory budgeting(PB), boosting citizen engagement by mobilizing younger working adults as well as vulnerable groups like migrant works and housewives that is usually absent from traditional PB participation, also improving the efficiency of government budget to reallocate money and resources into the most needed public service by vulnerable groups, to further build a more sustainable community and city. Participatory budgeting was first introduced in Chengdu in 2008 as part of a reform to address the uneven development between rural and urban areas by building an annual public fund allocated to the rural villages, which was eventually scaled-up to urban areas. Residents participate in managing this fund by proposing community service oriented projects that are selected through deliberative meetings to be implemented in their communities. After 12 years of development, it now encompasses 3043 villages and communities, involving the participation of more than 16 million local residents, as well as involving a total annual budget of more than USD 232 million. Participatory budgeting has enabled the residents to have a say in improving the public services provision in their community and helps to enhance local governmental responsiveness toward the residents’ needs, also creating more transparency in local governance. However, some challenges do beset this participatory innovation, like information access, elite capture, social exclusion. Socially vulnerable groups such as women, elderly and the handicapped are excluded from the participation in most occasions, not to mention also the lack of participation from the younger working adults and rural migrant workers. Meanwhile, information disclosure still appears to be lagging and not transparency enough, causing some communities to manipulate voting results to select projects of their own benefit. Community staffs were also complaining about the massive workload of the funds due to huge population. With the rapid development of electronic technology and communication technology, as well as widespread popularity of smart-phones and applets in China, to address the above problems, Participation Center combined online technology with traditional PB process, creating an online PB system called Community Support Fund E-Platform (referred to herein as the E-Platform) for all citizens to participate by simply tapping on a phone and for communities to manage funds in a much more efficient way.
The E-Platform has been developed, piloted and implemented under the lead of Participation Center, Chengdu Municipality has offered great support to push it forward. It was built from a scratch when Participation Center realized problems found in the traditional PB process last for years and need something innovative to tackle. With the thrive of smart-phones and WeChat applet in China, Participation Center came up with an innovative idea to bring PB to WeChat. This whole practice consists of four main works. 1.Devloping PB WeChat applet. Participation Center has been actively involved in PB projects for over 18 years. Based on the accumulated project data as well as the field research of PB over the last 10 years, the initial version of Community Support Fund E-Platform was created on WeChat by tech team in 2018, for communities to manage the funds, for residents to participate in the decision-making process, for organizations or entities to implement projects. 2.Pilot operation in fields. The pilot phase started from December 2019, taking approximately 12 months to collect feedback from communities and residents to finally developed a revised version for official implementation, more than 90 program adjustments and modifications executed. During pilot phase, communities embraced the new technology as it indeed alleviated the their burden, especially when collecting and categorizing proposals submitted by the residents. 3.Organizing offline trainings for local community cadres and residents. Community cadres are the front-line of promoting E-platform. Before and after pilot test initiated, to help them understand how to use the E-Platform, 36 offline trainings were held, involving 500 community cadres. Other than offline trainings, live streaming, Din Ding and WeChat groups were adopted to provide online assistance to workers from over 30 communities. Moreover, posters and brochures were made to teach local residents how to get access to the E-Platform. 4.Official implementing and system maintenance. After receiving approvals from pilot communities, official implementation was put on the agenda at the end of 2020. Once communities and residents started to use the E-platform, tech team need to stay online to make sure platform is fully functional, and also help with any complaints and questions raised by users.
The E-Platform serving as an online PB approach has been implemented in 73 communities by Jan 2021, with 57,273 residents registered in the E-Platform. it is scheduled to reach all 3043 villages and neighborhoods in the next 6 months, benefiting more than 16 million local residents directly. It has improved the quality of public service with residents of all groups expressing their needs that are displayed instantly on the phone, solving the real urgent problems facing the community. More than 200 projects were selected from residents proposals through open votes on E-Platform for the last year, concerning road building, public space planning, community planning, infrastructure construction, capacity building of community organization, etc. Furthermore, it has created a direct participatory channel connecting residents to the government, making it possible that the voices of citizens, especially those social vulnerable groups could be heard and considered into future community development policies. More importantly, the E-Platform has promoted openness and transparency of Community Support Funds. All proposals are instantly uploaded to the platform and displayed on the front page. Latest news and information of every steps of the funds would be updated timely to the platform on each day. Transparency guarantees that community and residents share the same level of information, resulting in residents’ higher participation towards community affairs and better supervision upon the community.
The success of the E-Platform is due to several enabling factors: 1.Active Support from local authority. AS Chengdu has always been working to achieve SDGs, and laid down series of policies of building a international, balanced, smart and resilient city with public service of high quality, making PB a considerable policy approach to Chengdu government, hence showed great support towards the E-Platform, whether providing financial opportunities or coordinating pilot communities. 2.The booming of smart-phones and Apps in China. In recent years, smart phones and messaging service apps have a overwhelming coverage in both rural and urban communities in China. Technically and financially speaking, creating an App applet is now technically sophisticated, easier and cheaper, it provided the perfect technical environment for Participation Center to digitalize Chengdu PB. 3.Years of research and project implementation in Chengdu PB. Participation Center has been working on Chengdu PB since 2011,conducting field research to detect policy deficiencies and implementing PB projects to promote urban development and governance. It provided abundant materials for Participation Center to fully understand the framework of Chengdu PB and apply it effectively into WeChat applet. Despite the success of E-Platform, there are still constrains and challenges found during practice.So far, the E-Platform can only serve as a supplement and not a replacement of the offline PB process. Synthesizing the PB processes as well as integrating the information online and offline could be a challenge in the future. Digital gap is another new challenge, though Participation Center has noticed the challenge and developed approaches to minimize the new inequality trigger.
The digitalization of PB could be replicated much more wildly in all public budgets that requires: 1) effective transparency; 2)citizen engagement in a mass; 3)local public services. Chengdu PB has been implemented and continuously improved for more than 10 years, being an essential part of public policy to promote local governance and community development. With the upcoming era of internet and 5G technology, online citizen participation could be irreversible trend for the future. The E-Platform will continue to receive support by the authority and prepare to cover all Chengdu villages and communities in the next few years.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in Chengdu, lockdown was willingly imposed in most communities to prevent virus transmission, bringing human life and activities close to a complete halt. Events like traditional PB that might cause crowd gathering were prohibited. Fortunately, the E-Platform provided an illuminating account of how creative solutions involving technology can circumvent limitations on traditional citizen participation, even in a precarious period of the pandemic. Communities adopting E-Platform manged to initiate a new round of PB on the platform while other communities had to wait. Residents proposed, and voted online to select projects that could help build a more sustainable, resilient community and supervise the whole process at home.
SDGS & Targets
Deliverables & Timeline
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The beneficiaries of the E-Platform are 17 million Chengdu residents. Participation Center has cooperated with tech company on the development of the E-Platform as technical support. When it came to the pilot and implementation phase, a partnership was established between Participation Center and Chengdu Municipality, as a Government-NGO partnership. Communities using the E-Platform are also the key stakeholders of this initiative for their cooperation and feedback play a vital role in shaping and upgrading the E-Platform.