Project name: Participatory budgeting for Sofia

Objectives: To pilot and implement a participatory budgeting programme in Sofia – the capital of Bulgaria.

Прочети на Български

The background and issue to be solved

In 2020, the citizen’s organization Spasi Sofia, with the financial support of the Active citizens fund, worked with Clever Together to start a non-partisan citizens’ campaign, seeking to introduce participatory budgeting to the city of Sofia and help the municipality to implement it.

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a form of citizen participation in which citizens are involved in the process of deciding how public money is spent. Many municipalities around the world have participatory budgeting programmes. European capitals that use participatory budgeting include Paris, Warsaw, Prague and Madrid.

Why did they choose Clever Together?

Clever Together maintains a regular interest in activities related to deliberation, public participation, democratic governance and large-scale engagement. When we heard about Spasi Sofia’s intentions, we were delighted to work with them and co-develop an approach that engages citizens in the campaign from the very start.

The goals of the ‘Participatory budgeting for Sofia’ project were to:

  • execute a communications campaign informing citizens and the public administration about what PB is and how it works around the world;
  • research public opinion and facilitate a Big Conversation online with citizens to crowdsource and co-create the format of PB for Sofia;
  • work together with public officials within the City Council to introduce a PB pilot in the city.

Our Journey together

Clever Together and Spasi Sofia won funding for and executed a six-month long project that resulted in the first PB programme in the capital of Bulgaria – “Sofia Izbira” (Sofia Chooses) – worth €750,000.

Generating insight

  • Before the start of the project, we conducted desk research and talked to PB experts around the world to understand how this public mechanism works and how it has been implemented in other cities;
  • At the outset of the campaign, we hosted three focus groups (with citizens, NGOs, and public officials) to understand the initial attitudes and expectations with regards to PB in Sofia and to inform out strategy going forward;
  • We commissioned a representative quantitative survey amongst the citizens of Sofia to be held at the start and the end of the campaign to gauge citizens’ attitudes about participating in city governance and about implementing PB in Sofia;
  • We designed, hosted, facilitated, and analysed a month-long online Big Conversation, where almost 500 citizens logged in and had discussions about PB, shared their concerns and expressed their preferences about how they would like a pilot programme to be implemented in the city.

Generating interest

  • We developed a campaign brand and created a website to serve as a central information hub for all questions related to PB as well as to be the platform where the Big Citizens Conversation would take place;
  • We developed printed educational materials to be distributed to city councillors and partners to advocate for the introduction of PB in Sofia;
  • We took part in media engagements (TV, radio, press) to spread the word about the campaign.

Taking action

  • We reached out to and met with city councillors of every party represented in the City Council to inform them about the campaign and gather their support in piloting a PB program;
  • We reached out to the office of the Mayor and met with members of her administration;
  • We reached out to numerous citizen organizations to make them official partners and ambassadors of the campaign.

The legacy and impact of our work

  • As a result of our campaign, in October 2020, the Mayor of Sofia launched a pilot PB programme called “Sofia Izbira” (Sofia Chooses) worth 1.5 million leva (€750,000). The programme allowed citizens to propose and vote for public projects to be funded and realised.
  • In addition, our campaign resulted in three public insight reports that provide valuable understanding of citizens attitudes, concerns and desires about their engagement with city governance, how they see the work of the municipality, and what steps could be made to raise the levels of trust between citizens and the municipality. You can download and read these reports, in Bulgarian here:
  • We also shared a report with findings and recommendations with the City Council about how to improve on the format and execution of the pilot PB program.