Participatory Budgeting 2.0. in Dąbrowa Górnicza, Poland – assesing the policy

  • Paweł Pistelok
  • Artykuł

Depending on legal and local context of a country, participatory budgeting can refer to a number of slightly different solutions, the idea, however, being one. In the Polish literature one of its many definitions was conceived by Wojciech Kębłowski (2013a), who sees participatory budgeting as a „[…] decision-making process, in which citizens co-create the budget of a city, at the same time co-deciding on the distribution of a certain pool of public funds” (2013a: 8). Participatory budgeting should therefore be seen as a way of rationalizing local expenses and as such can be incorporated into doctrines based on new public management and governance (Poniatowicz 2014: 179, 184), or perceived as a form of applying co-governing in local governance (Kłucińska, Sześciło 2017: 106).

A simplified sequence of typical participatory budget[1] in Poland

·  applications submission – residents (also in groups) submit their projects along with estimated costs and provide justification of their needs

· verification in accordance with the criteria adopted in the municipal office

· the authors’ project presentations (in selected cases)

· projects formally accepted are put to the vote

· implementation of projects (in most cases in the following year)

Describing the case study of Dąbrowa Górnicza, we used the public policy evaluation model proposed by the Centre for Public Impact. It determines the quality of actions of the authorities (in this particular case, the local authorities of Dąbrowa Górnicza). It comprises three elements, each defined by three related values:

  • Legitimacy – defined by public confidence, stakeholder engagement and political commitment
  • Policy – described with clear objectives, evidence and feasibility
  • Action comprised of management, measurement and alignment.

Sources used

In this case study we used mainly The public impact fundamentals framework. Diagnostic tool (2018), however our analyses were also backed with other sources from the Centre for Public Impact site (The public impact fundamentals report 2016; A rubric for assessing public impact 2017). Preparing this material, we also went through other sources: informations from the works on the model of Dąbrowa Participatory Budget 2.0. published at www.twojadabrowa.pl, as well as the march 2019 issue of „Przegląd Dąbrowski”. We also acquired the protocols and reports from public hearing, city council committee meetings, city council sessions, evaluation reports, resolutions with regulations for Dąbrowa Participatory Budget and eventually, an expert interview conducted in march 2019 with the Dąbrowa Górnicza City Hall representative. We spoke with the Head of the Department of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civic Activity. Preparing this text, our intention was to follow the structure of other case studies published by CPI (The Public Impact Observatory, n.d.). The Case study originally became an important element of the Insight part of the Public Participation report.

Public Impact

In The State of Polish Cities Report. Public Participation, we argue that the civic (participatory) budget in Poland has had an extraordinary “career”. Its origins are tracked back to Porto Alegre (Górski 2007). According to our research, in relatively short period of time the PB was implemented (or introduced at least for a while) in over 320 Polish cities (between the years 2011-2017). This initiative did rather well with (at the time) no dedicated regulations, encouraging the authorities to find such solutions in already existing legislation. We went through almost 320 documents with procedures of participatory budgeting in Poland and just an overall glance at legal foundations proves that the local governments were using regulations originally dedicated to the process of public consultation. Such solution – at least in theory – should ensure the public’s widest possible involvement. For as it is stated in the “Act on communal self-government” (Ustawa z dnia 8 marca 1990 r. o samorządzie gminnym, art. 5a) and writings referring to it, public consultation is available for those who live in certain city or commune – no restrictions regarding age or registered residence can be applied (see: Augustyniak, Marchaj 2018, see also the rulling of Provincial Administrative Court in Gliwice: wyrok WSA w Gliwicach, I SA/Gl 1291/13). The year 2018 brings an amendment to the Act and now participatory budgeting is defined as a “particular” form of public consultation (Ustawa z dnia 8 marca 1990 r. o samorządzie gminnym, art. 5a, passage 3), at the same time officially naming it the “civic budget”[2].

The Challenge

The relative popularity of PB in Poland doesn’t mean its introduction did not meet any problems (nor that the current legislation provides an ideal solution). Based on literature review, we summed up most frequently featured shortcomings and critical voices that were raised during the first years of implementation of PB in Polish cities. We listed the following:

  • Following the fad (Kraszewski, Mojkowski 2014: 5, Stokłuska 2015: 10, 31)
  • Using PB as a campaign promise (Rzeńca, Sobol 2018: 46, Kraszewski, Mojkowski 2014: 5; Sorychta-Wojsczyk 2015: 428; Skrzypiec, Wójkowski, Wyszomirski 2016: 15)
  • City hall clerks and officials hovering over the procedure (Poniatowicz 2014: 185, zob też: Skrzypiec i in. 2016: 6, 18)
  • No effort put on inclusion of the widest possible group of residents (Poniatowicz 2014: 185, Kajdanek 2015: 31, 34-35, Siciarek 2014: 155)
  • Relatively low pool of money for the purpose of PB – saw as a way of keeping people from complaining that nothing is being done for the community (Pobłocki 2013: 13). We checked the costs – an amount of money allocated to regular PB in Poland accounts for about 1% of the total expenditure of the municipality.
  • Resolving the process only by (confrontational) voting.

Our research on Polish cities proves that the „boom” for PB occured between the years 2015 and 2016 – this is when it debuted in the largest number of cities. Dąbrowa Górnicza is among the cities that did it much earlier, as the works over its implementation were initiated not long after the first polish PB was introduced[3]. The first edition of Dąbrowa Participatory Budget dates back to 2014[4] and while many Polish cities were organizing it for the first time, in Dąbrowa Górnicza a debate was already going on how to improve the solution.

The Initiative

The idea behind PB in Dąbrowa Górnicza was from the very beginning to stress and enhance the stage of discussion over what projects are to be put to the vote. A great deal of cities that utlilize the PB do not include the step allowing for such discussion, limiting the decisive process only to voting. Two key elements that back the need for deliberation are a) conclusions from the conducted evaluation and b) own reflection on how the process of implementing PB works in practice (in confrontation with the assumptions). The following justifies analysing Dąbrowa PB through the lens of CPI.

  • „[…] voting the projects is often confrontational and boils down to choosing between competing projects and groups of residents supporting them. The way of >>dismantling<< such situations is an attempt to >>discuss-out<< the list of the projects put to the vote during the Neighbourhood Fora” (Stokłuska n. d.: 32)
  • […] the neighbourhood fora that has been taking place before the vote in every district did not fullfill the assumed function. We expected a bigger discussion, which due to the lack of time usually did not work out. […]. We saw that it ends up with outvoting eachother. We recoginzed that a new formula has to be found […]”[5].

The issues described above indicate that the element of „evidence” is of great importance for the Dąbrowa Górnicza authorities. The evaluation report (prepared by the institution unrelated to the city hall) and own reflection resulted in the development of a new model – replacing voting with a discussion over which projects should be turned into investments. The new model was first introduced in the resolution of the City Council from 2017, scheduled for implementation in the year 2018[6].

A comparison of the regulations regarding the first edition of the original Dąbrowa Participatory Budget[7] and the first edition of „2.0” version[8] indicated significant improvements in the latter model. First of all, a kind of a preliminary phase was introduced, dedicated to diagnosing the needs for the neighbourhood.  In order to conduct the PB procedure the city is divided into 35 areas which are specific for this purpose (Zasady i tryb przeprowadzania budżetu partycypacyjnego 2018, paragraph 1, point 3 and 5). In this way residents get the chance to meet and debate on the needs for their neighbourhood. As has already been said, voting is replaced by another meeting – and this time the residents work together to transform “ideas” into “applications”. The voting phase only takes place if there is no consensus as to which projects are to be implemented as investments. Although it is not specific for the 2.0. model, the document also includes evaluation and control of the process. The process is overseen by the “neighbourhood animators” who work with residents to transform their ideas to applications. Everyone can come up with and “idea”: as our interlocutor from the Department says us, it can even be a child’s drawing – it is the animator’s job to see if it can be made into and actual project.

Dąbrowa Participatory Budget 2.0.
through the lens of The Public Impact Fundamentals

Legitimacy – good

  1. Political commitment – good

It could be said that the assumptions of Dąbrowa PB work in favor of other actions taken by the city officials. The aim of the process is “to familiarize participants with issues related to urban regeneration and civic activation tools, such as public consultation, activity in non-governmental organizations and participatory budgeting procedures” (Zasady i tryb przeprowadzania budżetu partycypacyjnego 2018: § 3 pkt 3). According to Piotr Drygała, Head of the Department of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civic Activity in Dąbrowa Górnicza City Hall, the Dąbrowa PB “2.0” is a consistent continuation of the entire “pro civic” perspective in the city, resulting from the experience of cooperation with NGOs and the implementation of the adopted strategy (Program rozwoju społeczeństwa obywatelskiego w Dąbrowie Górniczej na lata 2008–2013. PARTNERSTWO: WSPÓLNIE DLA MIASTA). Minutes from committee meetings and the city council sessions reveal that there were no comments indicating the objection to this procedure (Protokół z posiedzenia Komisji Prawno-Organizacyjnej w dn. 6.02.2017…: 5; Protokół nr XXIV/2017 z sesji Rady Miejskiej w Dąbrowie Górniczej z dnia 08 lutego 2017 roku…: 14). As our interlocutor also revealed, councilors rarely use the opportunities offered by the city hall to get a little more involved in this process.

  1. Stakeholder engagement – strong

The residents have been actively involved in the development of the 2.0. model, as they were a part of the team responsible for the preparation of the new rules (ZESPÓŁ ds. wypracowania nowego modelu DBP powołany 2016). Our interlocutor says that during the previous version of PB a group of 600-700 people emerged, who in a way became „custodians” of the process for the rest of the city residents. Among them were also those who engaged in door-to-door activities, popularizing the PB idea among their neighbours. However, the city hall efforts should be distinguished from the extent to which the residents now excercise this privilege. Piotr Drygała points out that while the previous model was engaging up to 22.000 people, now it’s only 600-700 of those, who really care.

For some, voting seems much more transparent, and attendance during some of the meeting was described as „tragic” – despite the door-to-door approach that’s been used. (Karłowska 2018). The new procedure requires much more effort on the part of the residents – which might be seen as a downside, if it results in reduced number of people engaged in the process. On the other hand, the city hall representative tells us that it allows to estabilish a „culture of participation”. Residents trust their neighbours-custodians who take part in the meetings and neighbourhood fora to promote ideas and projects[9].

  1. Public confidence – fair

The Dąbrowa Górnicza City Hall representative argues that the confidence and trust that we can talk about should be referred primarly to the residents themselves. “People trust each other and confide that, let’s say, Mr. X who is interested in a certain project knows what he’s doing and they let him do the job”. As we previously said, around the time of the previous model, a group of 600-700 people emerged who became “moderators” of the process, speaking on behalf of other citizens. Our interlocutor also says that people trust the city hall and the confidence tends to increase, however not significantly. The only doubts that Piotr Drygała remembers concerned the resignation from voting or the responsibility of animators for the preliminary estimation of costs. It should also be noted that in the light of the research conducted by the Foundation for the Development of Local Democracy, relations between the residents were determined by care for self-interest and general distrust. At the same time, public safety is valued higher by those who are already contributing to the community (Badania warunków życia i jakości usług publicznych. Wyniki badania społecznego Dąbrowa Górnicza 2018 2018). Due to the restrained assessment made by our expert and the results of the Foundation’s research, „public confidence” should not be marked higher than „fair”.

Policy – strong

  1. Clear objectives – strong

Dąbrowa Participatory Budget from the very beginning had very clearly defined objectives. As Piotr Drygała tells us, city officials, based on comments from residents, came to the conclusion that at one point the City Hall focused mainly on large investments, neglecting the need for the local infrasturcture in neighbourhoods. This decided that the Dąbrowa PB would become a way for residents to tell city officials what are the most urgent tasks. On the other hand, the aim of the „2.0” model was to learn the lessons from the evaluation, among others, to give up „confrontational” voting in favour of deliberation and discussion.

  1. Evidence – strong

The conclusions from evaluation (the 2015 edition of „1.0.” model) were a direct point of reference for workshops during which residents worked on the model of the new procedure (2.0) As it has been mentioned, the sources bringing conclusions and the trigger for change come from various sources (Stokłuska n.d., Badania warunków życia i jakości usług publicznych. Wyniki badania społecznego Dąbrowa Górnicza 2018 2018). The „2.0” model of Dąbrowa PB was somewhat „tested” along the original model. The difference is that only the current version for real addresses the need for deliberation. Although the previous procedure provided „a moment for reflection”, in practice the residents moved the „center of gravity” to the voting stage.

  1. Feasibility – good

As in many other cities, funds for the purpose of PB are preserved in the city budget. For its organization is responsible The Department of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civic Activity. The headquarter of the Department holds also a number of other, somewhat related teams and entities. This ensures a kind of a „facility” and an atmosphere of cooperation (the words of our interlocutor). The process has its leaders, the „neighbourhood animators” – among them are people from the NGO sector or significant for communities they work with, willing to use their previous experience for participatory work. According to the rules and procedure of “2.0” model, the animators cannot be residents of the district they work for (Zasady i tryb przeprowadzania budżetu partycypacyjnego 2018, paragraph 1, p. 7). Also, because of the focus on deliberative aspects, the procedure has become more engaging and demanding. In some cases, as Piotr Drygała noted, it is impossible to complete an investment over the course of one year and sometimes people fail to understand that this is due to how the investment process works.

Action – strong

  1. Measurement – strong

The process is to be evaluated and controlled (Zasady i tryb przeprowadzania budżetu partycypacyjnego 2018, paragraph 1, p. 16). Talking with the city hall representative we found that typical for PB indicators were adopted, e.g. the number of participants, submitted ideas and voters. Quantitative indicators were combined with qualititative ones – interviews with participants. The history of Dąbrowa PB already shows, that the city hall acts responsively and introduces certain modifications where they are needed. The new model is basically emerged as a result of already carried out evaluations, new elements also appear as the need for them occurs.

  1. Alignment – strong

Piotr Drygała tells us about good cooperation – this initiative is generally accepted as pro-civic one. The alignment also results from treating the Dąbrowa PB as a way of implementing and achieving strategic goals adopted in the city (eg. Program rozwoju społeczeństwa obywatelskiego w Dąbrowie Górniczej na lata 2008–2013. PARTNERSTWO: WSPÓLNIE DLA MIASTA; Program rozwoju społeczeństwa obywatelskiego w Dąbrowie Górniczej na lata 2014–2020) and a natural next step in the process of developing the participatory approach.

The city hall representative mentions only minor conflicts. Piotr Drygała says that there are no problems that would sabotage the process, most problably due to the relatively low amount of money allocated to single district (35 districts in total). This essentially means, that there is not enough money to ignite a conflict (70.000-500.000 PLN). On the contrary – the new model is intended to quench the potential quarrel by giving up a confrontational vote (as identified in Stokłuska n. d.: 32).

In addition, areas drew for the purpose of PB are not the same as districts in administrative division of the municipality. That is to ensure the local nature of the procedure.

  1. Management – strong

Here we can summarize what was included in the previous parts of this analysis – an important quality of the Dąbrowa PB is continuous monitoring, reflection and an evidence-based approach. Moreover, an atmosphere in which the Department works and the awareness that the innovative nature of the process brings a risk of unforeseen problems (our interlocutor’s words). Piotr Drygała also declares, that the Department is willing to resolve all conflicts immediately as they appear.

Fig. 1. Summarized assessment of the Dąbrowa DP 2.0. according to the Centre for Public Impact model

Source: own work based on Public Impact Fundamentals Toolkit

The Dąbrowa PB 2.0 versus the shortcomings of PB in Poland

Thanks to the above analysis it is now clear that by implementing its own model, Dąbrowa Górnicza has addressed a number of problems identified in Polish cities (the ones that introduce this mechanism).

  1. First of all, Dąbrowa Górnicza did not merely „copy-and-paste” the existing regulations, but devised own model based on local needs and experiences
  2. The model stems from a strict cooperation with the city’s residents and mutual understanding, as well as evaluation reports, research and own reflection. There is no „shadow of the city hall” hovering over the procedure.
  3. Abandoning the confrontational voting process in which (as stated in the evaluation report quoted above: Stokłuska n.d.: 32) the residents aim at outvoting each other, with no focus on what is really important.
  4. From the above also the response to yet another issue can be derived. It’s the theory saying that PB is supposed to settle people down with 1% of general expenses while the city hall has at disposal the remaining 99%. Our interlocutor from the Department responsible for implementing PB argues that dedicating a relatively small amount of money allows to avoid greater conflicts. As has already been said, for the purpose of Dąbrowa PB the city is divided into 35 small areas that are not to be identical to the official, administrative division of the municipality. That is to ensure the local nature of the procedure, focused on the neighbourhood level. Piotr Drygała argues that through participatory budgeting we should not decide about general, large and costly investments – for this purpose there is already a legal procedure: the institution of public consultation.

It is important to mention another important case proving the responsibility and responsivity of the City Hall. The changes introduced in the Local Government Act (Ustawa z dnia 8 marca 1990 r. o samorządzie gminnym) made the participatory budget mantadory in cities with poviat rights, such as Dąbrowa Górnicza (art. 5a, passage 5)[10]. Unfortunately, the new law also states that the procedure ends with a vote – it brings back what the 2.0 model struggled to avoid. The new regulations also specify the minimum amount of money allocated for the purpose of PB. However, at the same time it is allowed to divide the funds into portions for the auxiliary units of the municipality (art. 5a, passages. 5 and 6). The problem is that the administrative division of Dąbrowa Górnicza and the areas created for the purpose of Dąbrowa PB are not identical.

As a result, the new law blocks the deliberation process that the Dąbrowa Górnicza authorities struggled for. It also means the negation of the local context.

The City Hall had to find way out of this and as a result, starting from 2020, Dąbrowa Górnicza shall carry out two budgeting processes: one that will follow the legislation and an additional procedure: Participatory development of regeneration packages in residential areas for 2020 (Partycypacyjne wypracowanie pakietów rewitalizacyjnych w osiedlach na rok 2020) which will preserve the achievements and “legacy” worked out with and by the residents (see: Cius 2019: 3). This is yet another example of a unique approach that takes into account the needs of the community.


Although the „Polish model” of PB is not flawless, the initiative is a good example of a „transplant that has not been rejected”. In six years the PB in in one form or another appeared in over 320 cities. Only in the edition for 2017 over 4500 projects were chosen by the residents all over the country[11]. When thinking about introducing PB, the local government should set two basic questions: „what for?” and „do we really need it?”. (Stokłuska 2015: 13). Dąbrowa Górnicza answered these questions with great awareness and as a result a unique model of participatory cooperation was produced. In this way, and thanks to the latter development of improved model, the city found a cure for a number of problems, that has been for years identified in regard to how participatory budgeting is carried out in Poland. Changes in legislation almost disregarded all the legacy that the City managed to achieve in cooperation with the community – but here too the remedy was quickly found.


In the above analysis, in addition to adopting one specific chapter from the Report on the condition of Polish cities. Public participation, also findings from other parts of the report were used (regarding participatory budgeting). The team involved in the quantitative research of the Urban Policy Observatory on participatory budgeting in Poland was comprised of:

  • Borys Martela
  • Agnieszka Mucha
  • Karolina Piech
  • Paweł Pistelok

[1] Please note, that in Poland the name of the tool functions as a noun (budget instead of budgeting) and also as “civic”, not “participatory” budget. Please consider the terms: participatory/civic budget(ing) appearing in this work as referring to one process. For better reading, we use the abbreviation “PB”
[2] The said amendment was brought by the Act: Ustawa z dnia 11 stycznia 2018 r. o zmianie niektórych ustaw w celu zwiększenia udziału obywateli w procesie wybierania.
[3] Sopot – procedure carried out in 2011, implementation in 2012
[4] Zasady i tryb przeprowadzania budżetu partycypacyjnego, załącznik do Uchwały nr XXIII/457/13 Rady Miejskiej w Dąbrowie Górniczej z dnia 30 stycznia 2013 r. w sprawie: zasad i trybu przeprowadzenia konsultacji społecznych z mieszkańcami Dąbrowy Górniczej na temat Budżetu Miasta Dąbrowa Górnicza na 2014 rok. Available at: https://bip.dabrowa-gornicza.pl [23.08.2019].
[5] From the interview with the Head of the Department of Non-Governmental Organizations and Civic Activity.
[6] Zasady i tryb przeprowadzania budżetu partycypacyjnego 2018, appendix to Uchwała nr XXIV/533/2017 Rady Miejskiej w Dąbrowie Górniczej z dnia 8 lutego 2017 roku w sprawie zasad i trybu przeprowadzenia konsultacji społecznych z mieszkańcami Dąbrowy Górniczej na temat Budżetu Miasta Dąbrowa Górnicza na 2018 rok. Available at: https://bip.dabrowa-gornicza.pl [23.08.2019].
[7] Zasady i tryb przeprowadzania budżetu partycypacyjnego, appendix to Uchwała nr XXIII/457/13 Rady Miejskiej w Dąbrowie Górniczej z dnia 30 stycznia 2013 r. w sprawie: zasad i trybu przeprowadzenia konsultacji społecznych z mieszkańcami Dąbrowy Górniczej na temat Budżetu Miasta Dąbrowa Górnicza na 2014 rok. Available at: https://bip.dabrowa-gornicza.pl [23.08.2019].
[8] Zasady i tryb przeprowadzania budżetu partycypacyjnego 2018, appendix to Uchwała nr XXIV/533/2017 Rady Miejskiej w Dąbrowie Górniczej z dnia 8 lutego 2017 roku w sprawie zasad i trybu przeprowadzenia konsultacji społecznych z mieszkańcami Dąbrowy Górniczej na temat Budżetu Miasta Dąbrowa Górnicza na 2018 rok. Available at: https://bip.dabrowa-gornicza.pl [23.08.2019].
[9] This, however, is also concerns the idea of participatory democracy in general
[10] As we said before, the changes were introduced by the Act: Ustawa z dnia 11 stycznia 2018 r. o zmianie niektórych ustaw w celu zwiększenia udziału obywateli w procesie wybierania, funkcjonowania i kontrolowania niektórych organów publicznych; also – officially it’s “civic” budget now
[11] Based on projects chosen for implementation (by vote or in other way), collected by Karolina Piech, Agnieszka Mucha and Paweł Pistelok

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