Fourth cycle of participatory budgeting in San Pedro
The municipality of San Pedro Garza Garcia, across the Santa Catarina River from the bigger neighbouring city Monterrey, already has a longstanding history of public participation.
In 2018 the team at San Pedro municipality started using Consul Democracy, building on earlier PB experiences without using any digital platform or software. Dino Cantú-Pedraza, Diego Emilio Cuesy Edgar were there at the time implementing it and/or developing participation methodologies for San Pedro and later other cities in Mexico.
'San Pedro is a great example', says Cantú-Pedraza, 'because it is our most robust experience. With other cities like Léon or Cancún we are only in the first or second cycle, but with San Pedro we're in our fifth cycle of PB this year and there's been a lot of changes and learning during this time.'
Reforming PB culture
The first major change was the one kicking off PB in Mexico. Cantú-Pedraza and Cuesy Edgar explain that in 2018-2019, when Consul Democracy was just year old, a public-civic programme turned towards reforming the participatory budgeting process already present in San Pedro.
Crucially, the local policy regulating this was changed, which now makes carrying out PB obligatory.
'And so we went from limited in-person decision-making through the neighbourhood boards (a kind of citizen association) to a hybrid process which is open to everyone in San Pedro and uses the Consul Democracy software as the digital participation tool.' So part of the process plays out online, the other part when people come together to talk about their proposals in person and vote for their preferred ones.
As a result of the shift, the number of proposals triplicated, rising from 300 to 900 proposals during the first year. This was good, but it also had huge consequences for the workload of the city administration and the ability to check everything. Also, it turned out, there were a lot of similar proposals.
'From a people's perspective it was a succes, but from a municipal administration's perspective is was very painful.'
Transparency, transparency, transparency
The next cycle was, therefore, geared towareds making people work together and make proposals more focused, bigger ('because many small ones is not cost effective') and better fitting with a specific department. And it's working, as the below graph indicates.
Proposals (first spike) and Votes (second spike) during four years of PB in San Pedro Garza
There was, in other words a lot of learning, also in the community of San Pedro itself.
For this, transparency is key, explain Cantú-Pedraza and Cuesy Edgar. An elaborate participation guide was published and circulated, including a city map of public spaces, and the plans of the municipality were made public too so that people wouldn't ropose what the city was already planning to do. And crucially, the budgets for each neigbhourhood were made public which was not transparent before.
Lastly, and very importantly, once the proposals are selected, every piece of information is published on the Decide San Pedro platform, including votes, discussions, proposal holders, right down to the execution of the plans. 'Even the neighbourhood boards have to sign off on it like: yes, this has been completed'.
Programmes and partnerships
There were also some technological innovations. A digital tool was developed in San Pedro to complement the Consul Democracy software, a kind of Customer Relations Management (CRM) tool, structuring the data better for all parties involved, and avoiding working with tons of confusing spreadsheets of information.
The tech partner that helped them implement Consul Democracy is Codeando Mexico, a non-profit organization working towards democratizing Mexican society through technology. Codeando is very knowledgeable about the Consul Democracy software, having done numerous implementations in several Mexican cities.
Finally, and interestingly, Cantú-Pedreza, Cuesy Edgar and Marcelo Rosiles work for the Cities Accelerator Program, a national privately-funded programme which aims at replicating the San Pedro experience in other cities and 'helping them to learn from our mistakes but also from our good practices, so they don't repeat the same mistakes and 'accerelate' the implementations'.