Citizens worked out their participatory budgeting ideas in Helsinki’s OmaStadi Regional virtual workshops

MDI went to meet (virtually) the townspeople of Helsinki to hear how they would like to develop the city. MDI supported the OmaStadi project by designing the process and facilitating, together with the city’s borough liaisons, eight large district Alueraksa-workshops where city residents jointly developed their ideas. These ideas will then be voted on at a later stage.

The conversations repeated the same themes night after night.The townspeople would like more sports opportunities and greenery in all areas. On the beaches and riverside, saunas, swimming spots and barbecue shelters were viewed as desirable. More benches and improvements to green spaces and parks is also desired across all areas of the city. The social impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic increased the need for outdoor exercise and residences.

The virtual workshops brought together citizens from different age groups

For the first time, co-development workshops were held virtually. Alueraksa-workshops which were previously held face-to-face were moved to a digital co-development platform which required careful modeling of the process. At most, about a hundred citizens at a time participated in the workshops. The challenge of the evenings was to bring the right people together to work with similar ideas. During the sessions, participants were split into more than thirty smaller virtual rooms to help develop their ideas.

The virtual co-development approach worked surprisingly well: The virtual workshops attracted almost as many people as the face-to-face workshops. The profile of the participants, on the other hand, looked even more varied: Zoom was attended by schoolchildren, people of working-age and older population groups. Discussion partners were found and suggestions were improved. Minor technical issues emerging both with users and the platform were fixed during the workshops.

OmaStadi is the City of Helsinki’s way of providing participatory budgeting services. Helsinki has allocated 8.8 million euros to realising residents’ wishes. The ideas are developed together into proposals that Helsinki residents can vote on. The proposals with the most votes are then implemented by the City.