Category Archives: #ParticipatoryBudgeting

“Jobs for the Boys” – addressing men’s wellbeing

Head of Society Programme Antti Halonen blogs about the Institute’s new education project.

After co-organising the highly successful Oppi learning festival earlier this year and a  precedent series of education seminars, the Finnish Institute’s education programme is taking a slightly new direction.  

According to latest education outcome surveys, such as OECD’s biannual PISA survey, girls in Finland outperform boys in almost every core skill. Similarly, the gender gap in university enrolment has continued to widen in favour of female applicants. Male students are outnumbered by females in almost every subject, including traditionally male-dominated subjects, such as mathematics and medical studies. Subsequently, boys lack crucial skills and confidence when applying to higher education and when starting their working careers. A recent study, in fact, found out that for the first time in Britain women in the age group of 22-39 enjoyed higher average per hour salary than men.

Swedish scholar, Svend Dahl, argues in a recently published report that in Sweden school has simply let boys down. There is a huge difference in learning outcomes and boys struggle especially in reading and social skills, but also increasingly in mathematics and science. Furthermore, according to Dahl, society’s sketchy attitude towards boys’ problems is a growing cause for alarm. Boys’ catastrophic learning outcomes have not gathered enough interest and this negligence is now pointing towards a society where a growing number of men are increasingly excluded.

Simultaneously, we need to bear in mind that men are still disproportionately overrepresented in executive-level jobs, such as CEOs and board members of publicly traded companies and also in other key positions in society. Overall, the pay gap is still in favour of men and needs to be diminished. However, in terms of fairness and equality, it is important to engage both female and male voices in discussing equality and to address problems faced by all genders. A project focusing on men’s well-being does not mean belittling the efforts of improving women’s equal rights.

Men’s well-being touches a number of areas in society, not only in Sweden but similarly in the UK, Ireland and Finland. The problems of men are visible for instance in education, health care, mental health services, the job market and crime prevention. Improving the conditions of young men is crucially important for the sake of society’s overall well-being.

The issue has gradually started to gain space in the British media, with observations from highly respected commentators from right and left alike, such as Telegraph’s Fraser Nelson and Guardian’s Owen Jones. Furthermore, Dr Pasi Sahlberg, the author of award-winning book Finnish Lessons: What Can The World Learn From the Educational Change in Finland, has copiously argued in favour of renewing the Finnish education system whilst Finland is still on top of the global PISA rankings. He has identified the lack of motivation and passion for learning and increasingly differential learning outcomes between girls and boys as some of the key challenges facing the Finnish education system. Communication and social skills, in particular, are amongst the skills boys have lacked so far.



 

The Finnish Institute will start searching for solutions to men’s problems in Finland, Britain and Ireland using the means of social sciences, art and communications. The “Jobs for the Boys” project started in September 2014 with a brainstorming session, in which the project plan was outlined and different means of influencing men’s well-being were discussed. Based on ideas stemming from the session the following action plans were formed:
Being a Boy/Man Today – video campaign about the challenges of everyday life faced by boys and men
  • a series of video interviews to be shared on Twitter in which Finnish, British and Irish boys and men tell about their perceptions on men’s challenges
  • possible topics: social pressures, challenges of manhood, education, mental health issues

Exercise in participatory budgeting for Finnish and British boys:

  • a Finnish-British collaborative project in which the boys are given the power to decide how to use a predetermined amount of money to improve their own well-being
  • participatory budgeting has had positive results in past and it is vitally important that young people get to experience direct influence in matters concerning themselves
Structural changes and young men’s employment:
  • a discussion or seminar organised in Britain with topics such as adapting to structural change, creating new jobs or supporting entrepreneurship
Study: new ways of supporting boys’ learning and employment:
  • a survey of how boys’ learning and employment issues are being tackled in Britain
  • the objective of the research is to produce new information on how boys’ challenges in learning and employment has so far been addressed and to produce tangible suggestions of policy ideas
  • a discussion event on boys’ learning

It is crucial that men are not left alone with their problems. There needs to be a culture change in regard to perception of manliness and men’s role in the society. With these project ideas in mind we start to bring together a various group of societal actors: individuals, universities, charities and NGOs with a goal of raising awareness of boys’ and men’s challenges. Should you wish to take part or should you have an project idea you’d like to discuss with us, please don’t hesitate to contact us at antti.halonen(at)finnish-institute.org.uk.

Placemaking, Community Projects and Citizen Participation

Maija Bergström blogs about redevelopment of the King’s Cross area. This is the second part of a series of posts about King’s Cross, the new home base of the Finnish Institute in London.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about the role of history and culture in the development of places, drawing examples from King’s Cross. This post will look into a more communal way of developing places, especially the so-called placemaking approach I referred to earlier.
Regeneration in London can not be examined without acknowledging gentrification. As I explained in my previous post, it refers to the changes where inner city working-class areas start attracting middle-class people. This is followed by rising rents, which eventually force former inhabitants to move out. Gentrification takes different forms in different areas. It is connected to a certain type of aesthetics and the presence of the so-called creative class, and an altered use of old buildings. (1)
Gentrification also threatens the established communities that have formed to an area if it leads to the displacement of lower income households. Gentrification can also happen in a state-led manner, following the so-called social mixing policy that most of the European cities – including London – practice. Gentrification can be seen as a positive phenomenon, as it could mean more diverse services to the area, better public services that benefit the existing population as well. These arguments are often combined with the notion that richer mix of people would mean more contacts between them, which would eventually lead to a harmonious but lively neighbourhood. There is quite strong evidence that this is not always the case, unfortunately (2).
The so-called contact hypothesis assumes that living side by side with people from different ethnic groups or socio-economic groups leads automatically to communication between these people. However, quite the opposite might happen; the boundaries between groups can also become stronger. (3)
If we want to support the formation of communities that include different people, it is important to provide them with means to participate in decision making. Gentrification researcher Loretta Lees writes: “My feeling is that if people prefer to live with people like themselves we should not be forcing them to mix, because ultimately this will fail; rather, we should be keeping the possibility for mixing open to them. This means a refocus on urban design, disallowing fortress-style architecture and gated communities and rethinking the architecture of insecurity and fear.” (2)
The need for including people is becoming more and more important in city planning and decision making, and we need to find new tools for that. Community development refers to an approach where public authorities give communities more power over their area, and provide support and training for that.

Community projects are collaborative practices where the responsibility of the main coordination is on a public authority, charity, or an organised group of citizens. They can also collaborate with businesses and other organisations. Britain has a long history of community projects, and it offers good examples that could be adapted to Finland as well.

Placemaking and community projects can be fitted together. Linda Rutherford wrote a blog post in Project for Public Spaces about placemaking: “I like to think of it as crowdsourcing meets urban and community planning”(4) and I find this comparison a very good one. Community projects could be a good way for crowdsourcing the information and know-how needed for building interesting and diverse public spaces.
There are several community projects at King’s Cross. One of the most interesting of them is the Skip Garden, a moveable organic garden built in old skips and placed next to York Way (and the Finnish Institute’s new office as well). The project is run by charity Global Generations (5) who work with young people, training them and supporting them in running ecological micro-businesses.  Their cafe provides a meeting place for local inhabitants and people working in the area. They also host several events in the garden and offer sustainability training for businesses.

King’s Cross environment is a local news media that provides citizen perspectives  for emerging issues (6). A very interesting entry (7) was made recently, where they claimed that “The King’s Cross Wikipedia entry has long been controversial with authors of this site having had references deleted as they did not fit with the ‘new’ view of King’s Cross. ” There is also a concern for the name King’s Cross used only for the new area, King’s Cross Central, and thus excluding the older residential areas to periphery. This could be seen as a battle for the ownership of the area and the call for a more diverse view to the area.

There are several cultural institutions and interesting businesses located in King’s Cross that could spread their know-how wider at the area, such as the British Library, Guardian newspaper headquarters and King’s Cross impact hub that promotes social entrepreneurship. Google is also building their new office to King’s Cross. There is a really dense and diverse knowledge capital in the area, which takes the form of organisations and companies of very different scale and forms a so-called “knowledge quarter”(8).
King’s Cross has a prime opportunity to make use of the innovative organisations, businesses and local community that exists and is developing in the area. The area’s developer, Argent,  is paying attention to this and supporting local projects in many ways, which I find very encouraging. Finding ways to engage the local community to participate in the development of the area is of the utmost importance, and finding the right tools for this is essential. Community projects like local media and gardens can bring diverse groups together and make them pay attention to their neighbourhood.
Laura Sillanpää wrote a report on participatory budgeting in the UK.  “The clearest benefits include improved service delivery through contributing to the variety of service delivery and especially receiving information about communities and its needs.” (9)  Participatory budgeting could offer another tool for the local people to have an impact on the development of King’s Cross.
Other community projects can have similar benefits for the community too, as those listed by Sillanpää. In my next blog post, I’ll be looking at the benefits perceived by the people involved in the community projects at King’s Cross.
(1) TC Chang. ‘New uses need old buildings’: Gentrification aesthetics and the arts in Singapore Urban Studies 0042098014527482, first published on March 18, 2014 doi:10.1177/0042098014527482
(2) Loretta Lees. Gentrification and Social Mixing: Towards an Inclusive Urban Renaissance? Urban Studies November 2008 45: 2449-2470, doi:10.1177/0042098008097099
(3) Valentine, G. (2008) Living with difference: reflections on geographic of encounter, Progress in Human Geography, 32(3), pp. 323-337.
(4) Linda Rutherford in Project for Public Spaces. Why public places are the key to transforming our communities. http://www.pps.org/blog/why-public-places-are-the-key-to-transforming-our-communities/

(5) Global Generations

(6) King’s Cross environment
(7) King’s Cross environment blog post:

(8) Ian Burrell wrote about Googles UK headquarters 3 November 2013. Unfortunately not much information about Knowledge quarter is to be found online  yet. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/media-studies-google-hopes-to-wow-us-with-a-new-hq-but-it-may-take-more-than-that-8919820.html

(9) Laura Sillanpää 2013, Deliberating Service Delivery. Survey on the outcomes and challenges of

participatory budgeting in the UK.

Generating expectations – A preview of Participatory Budgeting

Laura Sillanpää blogs about the Institute’s participatory budgeting research in the making.

The Finnish Institute commenced a research on participatory budgeting earlier this year. The purpose of the research is to examine the experiences of participatory budgeting in the United Kingdom and to contribute to the timely discussion on local democracy, public participation and service delivery in the context of Finnish society in particular. The purpose of this blog entry is to briefly explain readers what has been done until now and give a small peek on what interviewees of selected projects have revealed about participatory budgeting in the UK.

The ways in which participatory budgeting is implemented vary depending on the local context. Therefore the projects studied for this research easily fall into more than just one type of participatory budgeting.

Our initial objective was to find different implementations of participatory budgeting in as geographically representative a manner as possible. Tight schedules and changes to local government personnel, however, caused some difficulties with reaching representatives of projects. It also became evident that most of the participatory budgeting processes carried out in the UK with enough easily accessible information belonged to the community grants type. This led for the focus of the research to be on projects that are about allocating funds to local organisations and community groups.

Ultimately there were six projects under scrutiny. Three of the projects took place in the north of England, one in the Midlands and two in the south of England. As mentioned, most of the projects were community grants type processes but there were also a few that could be said to belong to the pooled budgets group. One project began as a top slicing project but was soon transformed into a community grants process. Three projects addressed a certain area of service, these being children and young people, health and community safety.

Seven representatives of the above-mentioned projects were interviewed: one from each with the exception of one project in the case of which two people were interviewed. Three interviews took place face-to-face, two over the phone and two via email. This all happened in the course of March–April.

Expectations of Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting is commonly seen to generate many positive outcomes for communities, which also give rise to specific expectations.  The most often stated objectives according to literature are as follows:

  1. enhanced democracy and participation at the local level by engaging residents and enabling them to have a say
  2. reduced neighbourhood deprivation and enhanced social cohesion
  3. better, more transparent governance
  4. improved service delivery and enhanced quality of life in the communities especially during times of public budget cuts.

The reasons behind implementing participatory budgeting given by the interviewees reflect quite well the general, above-mentioned objectives. Involving and empowering local residents and communities and enhancing local democracy were clearly the most often mentioned. Other objectives were familiarising people with authorities and their work – especially with the difficulties of decision-making – and encouraging further engagement of local residents in other areas as well.

With time, as participatory budgeting processes become well established, the objectives seem to become more refined, as authorities already know what to expect. Therefore, as one interviewee put it, participatory budgeting for them has more of a signalling function and is less about pure service delivery – it gives the authorities an idea on what issues local residents consider important and what they’re interested in doing. And, according to preliminary analysis of the interviews, this seems to be one of the most valuable outcomes of participatory budgeting in general.

The final report of our research will be published later in June/July.

Participatory budgeting and local open data: the Finnish Institute looks into ways of enhancing local democracy

Laura Sillanpää from the Finnish Institute in London blogs about the Institute’s newest project on participatory budgeting as a way to enhance local democracy.

Local authorities have traditionally played an essential role in local democracy. However, societal and structural changes and degenerating dependency ratio are creating new and challenging circumstances for local government in Finland and the UK alike. Therefore, new ideas and innovations are needed in order to safeguard the production of local public services and to enhance democratic citizen participation.

Recent British local democracy initiatives that have utilised digital city services, communal open data and participatory budgeting have been recognised by the Finnish Institute as useful examples when discussing the future of Finnish society and societal discourse.

Participatory budgeting (PB) is not particularly new initiative: it was established as a method of communal decision making in Brazil already in the late 1980s. It was first implemented in Porto Alegre from where it has since spread all over the world. The rapidly diminishing friction in creating and sharing information further increases its potential. Nowadays there are several models and ways to utilise PB at the local government level.

Participatory budgeting is generally seen as a way to enhance civic participation by including local people in the decision making of a defined public budget. It is especially topical today as governments face serious problems with rising expenditures and declining public funding as well as ever decreasing voting activity of citizens which is symptomatic of a broader development of citizens alienating from societal decision-making and participation. In other words, new and innovative measures are needed to ensure the democratic participation of all members of society.

The Finnish Institute will conduct a research on participatory budgeting in spring 2013. The purpose of the report is to evaluate the experiences of PB as a way to enhance local democracy and the service delivery in the United Kingdom. The ultimate goal is to evaluate how this information could be further exploited in the context of Finnish society and local government.

The research involves an investigation on PB projects carried out in the UK focusing especially on the required resources, experiences of participants, possible challenges and both positive and negative outcomes of the projects. The purpose is to explore critically the actual outcomes of PB projects by evaluating the input-output relationships. In other words, to examine and compare the resources invested and the experiences and gains that local governments and citizens were ultimately left with.

An important element of the enquiry is to find out what information citizens need in order to make informed decisions about local budgets. Open data in particular is believed to increase the transparency of government and decision-making as well as hoped to be one answer for the requirements of increased efficiency of service production.

With this report the Institute wishes to contribute to the increasingly important discussion on local democracy, public participation and service delivery. However, our primary goal is to be a catalyst for further, more concise discussion within the Finnish society. In the end of the day it is up to the Finnish society with its decision makers, civil servants, researchers, journalists, third sector actors and citizens themselves to carry it on.

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