Civil servants have a huge opportunity today to bring governments closer to the citizens.

They have access to tools and technologies like never before, allowing people to have a say in governments’ decisions – and in how they allocate public funding in particular. By sharing information online and even listening to people on social media, governments can give people a say in how their communities are shaped.

Horizon State is a startup with a mission to provision civil servants across the world with the right tools to do this. Below we look at some of the inspiring participatory schemes that daring officials have already taken on.

Citizens as Mayors

In 2017, Portugal launched the world’s first nationwide participatory budget.

Officials travelled all over the country to conduct over 50 participatory meetings with 2500 citizens to discuss policy ideas in fields such as education and skills training. “We went to the places where people live, and not just to Lisbon and Porto, but also to the very small villages,” Graça Fonseca, Secretary of State Assistant of Administrative Modernisation told the Centre for Public Impact. “We talked directly to people who submitted the proposals, enabling them to take full ownership of their ideas.”

The first iteration gathered a total of 599 projects and registered 78,815 votes on its website. Portuguese officials are planning to implement the 38 most-voted projects from this cycle. In future, ATM machines may also be turned into voting booths for Portugal’s participatory budget projects, reported PB Network.

Enabling transparency

Australia is using blockchain to to allow people to vote on upcoming policies, including funding allocations. An app, called MiVote, uses tech developed by Horizon State to show voters thoroughly researched information on policies, and provides four options for them to vote on. Voters can choose to support none, all, or some of the four options.

Crucially, this shows that votes are no longer a binary ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’. Instead, MiVote builds a more comprehensive understanding of voters’ preferences by giving them a whole spectrum of options to choose from. Officials could use this data to identify the areas on which the community agrees, and allocate funding accordingly.

And blockchain introduces transparency into the fund allocation, allowing citizens to know – and trust – where public funding is going. With this platform, “you could engage the community in a manner that is much more sophisticated than a survey or a poll and ask them to make a decision. You could facilitate and secure funding in a highly transparent manner,” says Oren Alazraki, Chief Executive Officer of Horizon State.

From ideas to action

South Korea’s capital city Seoul has set aside KRW 50 billion (US$ 44.3 million) annually since 2012 to fund participatory budgeting projects.

The city is now home to the world’s first “sharing centre”, which was first proposed by a citizen through a participatory project in 2013. The centre allows people to rent items like like books, clothes for job interviews, laptops, and even long-term parking contracts. It helps low-income families that may not be able to afford these products at retail prices, and gives extension for rental periods. The sharing centre was built with funding of KRW 1.2 billion (US$1 million) from the city government.

Another citizen project Seoul has funded is a children’s library that is run by local volunteers. The library is now housed in a large bus, which travels around local areas to bring books to all children.

Apart from an online voting process, Seoul’s participatory budgeting system involves a general committee, which consists of 250 members, that deliberates over proposed ideas. During the committee selection process, the city council makes sure that 60% of its committee members must be citizens from the public, and that they come from a wide range of social backgrounds.

Votes must be inclusive

But inclusivity remains a problem in the participatory budgeting process. Horizon State wants to eradicate this problem by using technology to allow anyone, anywhere to vote.

The startup is building blockchain-based platforms that collate citizen input right from the start of a policymaking process, and which will use artificial intelligence to sieve through information for citizens to prioritise. It can be just as easily used for a community discussion between a few hundred people or a national level poll for millions.

The blockchain-based secure, online platform ensures that people who may not have been able to participate before can do so now, from the convenience of their homes. Mothers should be able to vote from home in rural villages while looking after their children, rather than having to drive to the centre of town. Minorities should be able to vote without fear of persecution or attack when they show their faces at the ballot box.

By allowing citizens to call the shots, governments can serve the underprivileged, rebuild citizens’ trust, and usher in a new era of inclusive governance.

Image from Wikimedia CommonsCC BY 2.0