Participatory Budgeting for Disabled Persons Employment Promotion in the Sanxia District in New Taipei City
The Sanxia experience is the first in its kind among the world's 1,500 participatory democracy projects by placing focus on the employment promotion for the persons with disabilities.
Placing special focus on people with disabilities that are traditionally non-participatory and at risk of social exclusion, the case aims to achieve the followings:
Social inclusion: The City strives for fulfillment of the CRPD principle "Nothing about us, without us" by adopting democratic deliberation, thereby voices of disabled individuals and stakeholders can be expressed and respected, and most importantly, determine budget allocation and policy devising to meet actual needs.
Better governance: The bottom-up decision-making process ensures policies with a solid public base and optimizes the use of taxpayers' money. In addition, public-private partnerships will strengthen through the close collaboration.
Public trust: Empowered citizens will assess a policy from the perspective of public interest rather than that of personal interest. The participatory effects of innovative PB initiative on the right to work of disabled persons will spill over to other domains of public affairs.
The total number of participants reached 1,000. This number accounted for roughly 50% of all persons with disabilities in this area. The voting rate reached 14.2%. The voters included persons with disabilities and their family members.
Voters with mild impairments account for 50%, with the other 50% being individuals with medium or serious impairments. Male voters secured a higher share of votes than female. More unemployed voters participated in the voting than the employed.
Social uprisings spread around the world like dominoes after the Arab Spring in 2010. Taiwan, a young vibrant democracy, also underwent a shockwave of youth-led social movement, including the iconic Sunflower Movements in 2014.
The youth demanded for changes. However, the social costs of radical changes upset the people seeking stability and economic growth. Politicians who caught in the middle cannot seem to do anything right in the public’s eyes.
Examining problems in administration that alienated government from its people, New Taipei City Mayor Eric Chu believed that Taiwan’s democracy needs to evolve, and residents need to take more responsibility of “public citizens”. Civic engagement can energize local governance and redefine priority of public spending. Hence, the City began its pilot participatory budgeting (PB) projects in 2015. Among 8 initial PB projects, the notably engaging effort was made in Sanxia District by the Department of Labor Affairs.
Moreover, Taiwan’s lawmakers enacted a law in 2014 to implement UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Multiple mechanisms by public and private sectors are in place to protect and promote the right to jobs of the disabled. But an official survey in 2015 showed that unemployment rate of the disabled marked 11%, four times higher than that of nation’s average. The statistics indicated a gap between individuals in need and assistance measures, which offers an opportunity and necessity of grassroots participation and democratic consideration.
In conclusion, the environment nurturing the Sanxia experience included the youth’s demands for social equality, the mayor’s determination to rectify policy miscarriages, and most of all, the residents’ preparation to become a decision-maker, a public citizen.
The Sanxia experience is the first in its kind among the world’s 1,500 participatory democracy projects by placing focus on the employment promotion for the persons with disabilities. Compared to other pioneering PB projects in other parts of the world, we have encountered more challenges on participatory rate, i.e. how to encourage participation by local Taiwanese people, to whom the governance was taught to be top-down and that citizens being submissive is virtue, and particularly when some of the disabled population have long feel left alienated and even lost their trust in public affairs.
The reach-out strategy is comprehensive. The civil registry shows that 2,000 disabled persons live in Sanxia. To promote the ideal and procedures of PB, various materials ranging from fliers, pamphlets to posters were both register-mailed to the citizens with disabilities, and placed or displayed at sites frequented by locals.
With assistance from local officers, village chiefs, volunteers, NGOs, along with family members of the disabled, the entire process, including workshops, lectures, small-group meetings, proposal presentation and voting, eventually attracted a big turnout of 1,000 participants.
Another challenge was ensuring an obstacle-free meeting sites and transportation. Sanxia is the second largest district (191 km2) in New Taipei City. It was a taxing job for the disabled to get around without assistance or proper facilities. The facilitation included accessible bus service, sign language interpretation, real-time subtitle display, large print material packages and video streaming service. The participants feedbacked very favorably.
A more difficult challenge is trust issue. Some disabled persons have been alienated from the public engagement for so long that they have no trust or faith in government. To solve the problem, a website and a Facebook page were built specifically for a complete information disclosure. In addition, consulting service was available at activity sites for face-to-face communication if the disabled participants have questions or concerns.
The final challenge was the insufficient external resources. In a well-functioning community, NGOs play vital roles. But in Sanxia, there is no local NGOs that specifically work on the welfare and rights of the disabled, while the national NGOs have no local network to implement on the ground. Through PB process, especially the brainstorming sessions and proposal presentations, the locally available support networks and the external resources and know-hows can be matched and consolidated for better project implementation.
According to the opinion poll conducted during and after PB, 80 percent of respondents believe it is feasible for PB initiative to help disability employment. Roughly 60 percent of respondents expressed their expectation for adopting PB approach for budget allocation. Moreover, roughly 60 to 80 percent of respondents have favorable impression, with strong aspiration to be involved. This finding supported the possibility of a wider range of PB realization in the future. It also encouraged PB executors to consider giving disadvantages groups a higher priority for services.
Leadership and shared responsabilities
Leadership involving the initiative spanned 3 levels:
City Mayor Eric Chu made a pledge to involve grassroots participation and collaborative governance into local governance during his campaign in 2010. Following years of preparation and planning, he unveiled the beginning of PB initiatives for the City in 2015. City management advocated PB in media events or interviews in an effort to raise the public awareness of this new idea.
The Department of Labor Affairs took the responsibility for initiating the idea, setting aside budget and offering administrative assistance throughout the process. Commissioner of Labor Affairs Xie Zheng-da attended sessions of meetings involving planning and progress reviewing. He and officials from the Department also actively participated in town hall meetings.
Yeh Xin-yi, a university professor from Sanxia, served as the project manager to lead concerted efforts to advocate and facilitate participation of the disabled.
A strong public-private collaboration enabled high turnout rate:
A 7-member consulting committee (PM, government rep, academia reps and NGOs reps) was created to facilitate PB and participation.
Resources are shared among many Departments of Social Welfare, Transportation, Education, Economic Development and District Office. As proposals may involve different policy areas, requests were made to them for further assistance.
Local community members and NGOs, i.e. village chiefs, local associations of commerce, community development, cultural heritage, and a hospital, help mobilize local network and encourage innovative proposals to be made.
Most important of all, the disabled, their family and caregivers, were at the core of the plan. They voiced their demands, suggestions, hopes and dreams. They participated in all sessions and voted.
About 20 national social welfare foundations, sheltered workshops, rehabilitation centers worked together to facilitate and participated in making proposals.
A preliminary literature review was conducted to better understand the general situation of the disabled population in the City and Sanxia (unemployment rate and job rehabilitation resources).
Various meetings include 5 counseling committee sessions, 6 info sessions for facilitators and NGOs, workshops for volunteers, 3 town hall meetings and a seminar. The counseling committee also sat in all public deliberation.
Accessibility inspections are conducted to ensure venue’s friendliness.
In all sessions, questionnaires were given, and the analysis has been adopted to examine the data and opinions collected in PB.
After proposals unveiled, a 10-day proposal exhibition and a session of face-to-face presentation seminar were held. In order to ensure that the participants were well informed of PB and different proposals, an interactive website and Facebook page offered all information about this initiative, video records of the meetings were online. Questions and requests can be lodged on line.
Highlights of the experience
New Taipei City Government launched its Participatory Budgeting for Disabled Persons Employment Promotion in Sanxia District in 2015. This marked the world's first PB process focusing on promoting the employment of disabled persons.
The voting rate of this plan reached 14.16 percent, which is much higher than the worldwide average voting rate for PB practices (below 3%).
A total of 1,000 individuals (the majority being disabled persons) participated in the Sanxia event. This number accounted for 50 percent of the entire disabled population in the district.
According to the opinion poll regarding the effectiveness of the plan, 80 percent of respondents believe it is feasible for PB initiative to help disability employment. Roughly 60 percent of respondents expressed their expectation for adopting PB approach for budget allocation.
The Sanxia experience was lauded by the media and PB organizers as a success for multiple reasons: (1) The introduction of comprehensive methods which reaches out to disadvantaged group that were usually ignored or considered inaccessible. (2) Effective mobilization of local support. District-level members involved in this plan span individuals from the public sectors, NGOs, volunteers, shop owners to residents, among others. It is argued that this experience served as a practical and innovative reference for future PB projects of the City and members conducting PB initiatives around the world.
Comments from the jury
The Sanxia experiment to promote disabled people's employment through participatory budgeting process has successfully engaged a record portion of population. This is a great example of the power of civic engagement.