Our borough council had £69k to spend on community projects. It decided to allow the "voters to voice their choice" through a participatory budgeting exercise. Over thirty groups were asked to put in bids for up to £5000 each, and one very hot Saturday, they were to present their ideas to an audience of bona fide residents who would decide on who would get the dosh.
I went along because I am involved in a number of the organisations hoping for some of the funding. I expected to be bored out of my mind. I was not.
Yes, it was hot and stuffy, yes it was a very long day. However, besides the passion, energy, commitment and sheer ingenuity of those vying for the cash to do something positive in their communities, any irritation or discomfort evaporated like sweat off a donkey's bum. I was impressed and inspired.
I am willing to take bets that the number of people in the audience who were not already keenly interested in people action and/or involved with one of the groups, was negligible. The voting, done after each presentation, was very tight, and, in the end, most agreed it was often the quality of the presentation which won. If presenters mumbled or didn't engage with the voters, then they lost points. Near the end, when my spirits were beginning to flag, a cheer-leading group hoisted a young slip of a thing up on a human pyramid nearly to the library's roof, and, against my logical judgement, that gave them an extra point on my paper. And I swear the man from the yachting club got his support because he was good looking and tanned (not from me, I hasten to add).
I was interested in my own process in making decisions. It is easy to criticise funders for not "getting it right", yet I will admit to being swayed by the ephemeral and to voting tactically, to ensure the projects I really wanted to see succeed got most of my votes. I also voted down projects which were perfectly good because I had already supported another for the same cause, such as youth or sport.
I was aware of being part of Cameron's "Big Society" (although this participatory budgeting exercise was made possible by the former government). And I wondered how we would cope with decisions more complex than allocating £2000 here and £3000 there? I'm quite happy telling the government how not to run the country, but am I capable of coming up with a workable alternative?