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How Blockchain Voting Can Enable Participatory Budgeting in Scotland

Exploring the role technology will play in enabling new models of participative democracy.

In this webinar presentation Evgeny Barkov of Polys explores the role Blockchain-based digital voting can play in transforming our democracies.

The Blockchain simply provides the underlying technology infrastructure, to deliver on this large vision we also need to pioneer new models of democracy.

Participatory Budgeting

A keynote example is ‘Participatory Budgeting’. Champions of this in Scotland include PB Scotland, where they describe:

“Participatory Budgeting (PB) is about local people having a direct say in how public money is spent. PB can support active citizenship, helping build more active and stronger communities that are better able to take decisions on where public funds are spent, more likely to take part in community activities and are better informed about public budgets and decision making.”

Since 2015, PB can be characterised by the dispersal of relatively small amounts of public money within a community (small grants) or by, increasingly, communities having a say in deciding where larger sums of public money are invested in pure public services and infrastructure (mainstreaming).

Ideally, PB should combine community involvement in small grants models with the potentially more far-reaching mainstreaming models.  Both can exist side-by-side and support each other. PB will only be effective in achieving change if done with and not to communities.

Case Studies

Polys have pioneered the use of their voting platform as an enabler of Participatory Budgeting – Two key case studies include:

Participatory budgeting voting in the Volgograd region – More than 185,000 people voted for initiative budgeting projects.

Residents of the Volgograd region, in the south of Russia, chose which projects would receive money from the municipal budget. The main problem was the difficulty of conveying the idea of participatory budgeting to a large number of people.

The authorities had previously held general meetings in the administration buildings of cities and towns, but no more than 200 people at a time participated in them. Online voting would make it possible to increase the number of people involved in the decision-making process, raise awareness of participatory budgeting and help choose the most suitable projects.

Online voting in 45 districts of the region Voting took place on a special site and lasted 14 days around the clock. Voters logged in to the system using a phone number. To access the vote, citizens had to enter a code on from SMS, after which they could cast their votes. Each voter could cast one vote for a project in each district of the Volgograd region (a total of 45), not just for the district where they lived.

Voting across the region in record time 185,000 people took part in the voting. A total of 207,000 votes were counted. This result exceeded all expectations of the administration of the Volgograd region; a year earlier, 112 votes were cast. In the past, conducting a meeting for 200 people required approximately one day of work; doing so for 185,000 voters would have taken more than two years.

Dmitry Zavyalov Chairman of the Finance Committee of the Volgograd region says of the project:

“The Volgograd Region has been voting for projects of local initiatives for the second year in a row. The results show the demand for the project and the method of their selection: the number of votes cast for projects has almost doubled compared to last year.”

Participatory budgeting voting in the Nizhny Novgorod region – Residents decide what to spend the regional budget on.

The project “You decide” heralds a new practice in participatory budgeting. It involves the use of budgetary funds only, without any co-financing from residents or sponsors.

The primary challenge was a lack of communication between residents and authorities The project was initiated by the head of the region, Gleb Nikitin, in order to improve communication between residents of the region and the municipal government, and was the first project of its kind in Nizhny Novgorod region. All the local districts prepared proposals that the money from the regional treasury could be spent on.

Polys Pilot Voting Voting took place on a special blockchain platform and lasted 15 days. Voters entered a mobile phone number on the site and logged in using a code sent via text message. Residents could vote for one project in each district. This was done on the assumption that people are not only interested in projects in their immediate vicinity but also in areas where relatives and friends live.

More than 160 thousand people voted A total of 161,391 people took part in the voting, while 250,473 votes were counted. The organizers gave a positive assessment of voter participation; in some areas, turnout exceeded 30%.

Yuri Shalabaev Deputy Minister of Finance, Nizhny Novgorod Region describes:

“The Polys online voting system made it possible to conduct a large-scale pilot vote for budgeting projects and bring municipal relations to new level.”

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