Fund My Community
Department of the Premier and Cabinet

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Australia is one of the wealthiest nations on earth. Average annual income is over $80,000 and the population enjoys free education and healthcare. Despite this, sections of the population experience economic or social disadvantage. For example, South Australia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for February 2017 was 6.6%, higher than the national average of 5.9% and some communities experience entrenched and generational unemployment. Over 6% of our population are living in poverty (<50% of median income) and 8.6% are without a recognised educational attainment. Community Benefit SA (CBSA) is the public name of the Charitable and Social Welfare Fund, a grant programme operated by the Government of South Australia, administered by the Department of Communities and Social Inclusion (and its predecessors). Through legislation, CBSA is allocated $4m per annum which is subsequently distributed to charitable and social welfare (not-for-profit) organisations providing services to vulnerable individuals or communities through a competitive, non-recurrent, annual grant programme. By 2014, CBSA has been operating for nearly 20 years, during which time approximately AUD$70m had been distributed. The programme’s decision-making process was ‘expert’ based. Experienced programme administration staff assessed applications and made funding recommendations. A Ministerially-appointed Board then selected applications for funding based on these recommendations. The Board’s members were predominantly non-public servants with extensive professional experience in the community services sector. The Board complied with the South Australian Government’s gender-balance policy that required all government boards and committees to have a minimum 40% representation from each gender. Poor and marginalised groups were also represented with a member who identified as Aboriginal – representing South Australia’s first people who make up 2.5% of the population but are significantly over represented in our disadvantaged population. This approach was considered best-practice and is the most common decision making process for awarding grant funding, both in South Australia and other jurisdictions. Despite this, a number of issues with the programme were identified. The Board had a pattern of under-allocating the funding despite demand far exceeding the available budget. For example, in 2013-14 only AUD$3.138 million was allocated (or three quarters of the available budget) despite applications for AUD$7.8 million being received. Secondly, there was little diversity in funded organisations or initiatives. Numerous organisations received multiple grants. Larger, professional organisations had a significant advantage as they could employ professional grant writers. As such, the process was biased against smaller, volunteer organisations. Thirdly, little impact was evident from the Government’s large investment. Despite allocating nearly $70 million in programmes and services over 20 years there was no change in the communities identified with the highest levels of disadvantage and no reduction in the percent of the population experiencing disadvantage. A new approach was needed and in March 2014 as part of its Better Together programme the Government committed to “trial the notion of ‘participatory budgeting’ in the distribution of some Community Benefit SA funds”. This commitment was part of Premier Jay Weatherill’s broader mandate to greater engagement with the public outlined in the Modern Public Service policy.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Fund My Community (https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/fmc_rounds/fund-my-community-2017) is a capacity-building grant programme that uses digital participatory budgeting to allocate $1 million annually to improve the lives of disadvantaged, isolated or vulnerable South Australians. For six weeks in February and March of each year, not-for-profit community groups submit applications for funding of between $10,000 and $100,000 for projects or services that will improve the lives of disadvantaged, isolated or vulnerable South Australians. For six weeks in April and May, South Australians are invited to take part in what we call the ‘community assessment’, during which citizens review the applications and select for funding the projects or services that they think will have the biggest impact.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Fund My Community enables local communities to decide how best to address disadvantage. By fully devolving the funding decision to the community, Fund My Community empowers citizens. It respects and values the knowledge held at the community and individual level, allowing citizens to choose solutions to the issues they face, drawing on their lived experiences of what works in and for their communities and which organisations deliver value and successful outcomes. To enable a broad range of people to participate in how funds should be spent, we developed a multi-faceted budget allocator tool which is hosted on DPC’s whole-of-government engagement website, YourSAy (www.yoursay.sa.gov.au). Community organisations submit an application for funding to address disadvantage through the online tool. Applications are assessed for eligibility and then presented on the Fund My Community website pages. The community is then invited to allocate funding to a range of projects. People are not able to ‘vote’ for a single favourite project – they must allocate 70% of the entire budget of AUD$1 million to a range of projects. This encourages a weighing up of the benefits of different projects. The functionality of the tool enables the community to make informed decisions easily. Applicants are required to indicate who their project will benefit, selecting from a number of pre-defined categories or selecting ‘Other’ and inserting the details. Applications are then linked to these categories for search and filtering functions. In addition, information about what contributes to the disadvantage experienced by the identified populations groups in these categories is built into the tool, raising community awareness and knowledge of key social issues in South Australia (https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/fmc_rounds/fund-my-community-2017/categories). Fund My Community enables local communities to decide how best to address disadvantage. By fully devolving the funding decision to the community, Fund My Community empowers citizens. It respects and values the knowledge held at the community and individual level, allowing citizens to choose solutions to the issues they face, drawing on their lived experiences of what works in and for their communities and which organisations deliver value and successful outcomes. To enable a broad range of people to participate in how funds should be spent, we developed a multi-faceted budget allocator tool which is hosted on DPC’s whole-of-government engagement website, YourSAy (www.yoursay.sa.gov.au). Community organisations submit an application for funding to support disadvantage through the online tool. Applications are assessed for eligibility and then presented on the Fund My Community website. The community is then invited to allocate funding to a range of projects. People are not able to ‘vote’ for a single favourite project – they must allocate 70% of the entire budget of $1million to a range of projects. This encourages a weighing up of the benefits of different projects. The functionality of the tool enables the community to make informed decisions easily. Applicants are required to indicate who their project will benefit, selecting from a number of pre-defined categories or selecting ‘Other’ and inserting the details. Applications are then linked to these categories for search and filtering functions. In addition, information about what contributes to the disadvantage experienced by the identified populations groups in these categories is built into the tool, raising community awareness and knowledge of key social issues in South Australia (https://yoursay.sa.gov.au/fmc_rounds/fund-my-community-2017/categories). In addition to the functional budget allocation capability, the tool includes educative and awareness raising elements to encourage deliberation and careful consideration. One quarter of applicant organisations reported additional benefits as a direct result of their participation. For example, receiving financial and in-kind support from other sources. This is because, unlike traditional grant processes, the open process involved in Fund My Community raises public awareness of needs in the community. It also raises awareness of the projects seeking to address this need. Fund My Community encourages organisations seeking funding to provide information about their work and who they support, provide links to their website, social media profiles and online donation and volunteering portals as part of their application. This allows community members who are taking part to learn more about individual community groups of which they may have little or no knowledge. It also provides a direct way for community members to support these organisations/projects – over and above their participation in the funding programme. Fund My Community offers a streamlined and simple process. Applicant organisations reported that the process was easier and required less time to apply. They were able to dedicate time previously spent on applying for funding to raising awareness of their work. An extensive communication campaign invites members of the community to participate in the community assessment. This campaign leverages the existing communication channels of government agencies and peak organisations in the community sector. Applicants promote their participation in Fund My Community to their networks. Analysis by the Government’s Master Media Agency has found that this approach is highly efficient, delivery a return on investment of 40:1. This means that a small investment of AUD$5,000 was able to generate AUD$200,000 in communications value – raising public awareness’ of the fund which had previously been under-subscribed. Fund My Community also directly benefits numerous South Australians experiencing disadvantage directly through the funding allocated. Several case studies that clearly outline the direct impact of funded projects are provided in the response to Q8. One quarter of applicant organisations reported additional benefits as a direct result of their participation. For example, receiving financial and in-kind support from other sources. This is because, unlike traditional grant processes, the open process involved in Fund My Community raises public awareness of needs in the community. It also raises awareness of the projects seeking to address this need. Fund My Community encourages organisations seeking funding to provide information about their work and who they support, provide links to their website, social media profiles and online donation and volunteering portals as part of their application. This allows community members who are taking part to learn more about individual community groups of which they may have little or no knowledge. It also provides a direct way for community members to support these organisations/projects – over and above their participation in the funding programme. Fund My Community offers a streamlined and simple process. Applicant organisations reported that the process was easier and required less time to apply. They were able to dedicate time previously spent on applying for funding to raising awareness of their work. An extensive communication campaign invites members of the community to participate in the community assessment. This campaign leverages the existing communication channels of government agencies and peak organisations in the community sector. Applicants promote their participation in Fund My Community to their networks. Analysis by the Government’s Master Media Agency has found that this approach is highly efficient, delivery a return on investment of 40:1. This means that a small investment of AUD$5,000 was able to generate AUD$200,000 in communications value – raising public awareness’ of the fund which had previously been under-subscribed. Fund My Community also directly benefits numerous South Australians experiencing disadvantage directly through the funding allocated. Several case studies that clearly outline the direct impact of funded projects are provided in the response to Q8.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
At the time of its development, Fund My Community was the only deliberative, participatory budgeting-based programme being delivered in Australia. It is also globally unique in its geographic scope. It engages people from across South Australia, a jurisdiction of nearly one million square kilometres with a population density of 1.7 persons per square kilometre. The Programme is also unique in that it draws on a range of theories in addition to participatory budgeting including behavioural science and psychology. For example, to overcome bias in decision making the allocation tool randomly loads projects in the ‘Browse Projects’ page and search functions. As a result, each user will view different projects, in a different order, overcoming the potential for placement bias. South Australia has high levels of internet and smart phone penetration (above 80%). Designing and delivering Fund My Community as a digital platform has enabled widespread community participation while minimising programme administrative costs. The digital platform overcomes the geographic divide, regional participation averages 20%, similar to our regional population. It also supports participation by people with low-levels of English literacy. In 2017 a web-based multi-lingual application will support the participation of our citizens who speak English as a second language.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Fund My Community was developed and is managed and delivered by the South Australian Department of the Premier and Cabinet (DPC). DPC leads the South Australian Government’s community engagement and collaboration agenda, through the Better Together and Reforming Democracy policies. This agenda is driving culture change across the government, from ‘expertism’ - where public servants and the Government make decisions in isolation to the community - to one that actively seeks and values community input, with particular emphasis on engaging the public in decisions that affect their lives. DPC is a global leader in public sector engagement. It uses and builds-on many modern engagement practices including citizens’ juries and participatory budgeting, with an emphasis on digital platforms. For example, our YourSAy website invites all South Australians to engage with their government. The website currently has over 57,000 registered users, representing 3% of the State’s total population, with a target to reach 75,000 registered users by December 2017 (5% of the State’s population). We use social media extensively to share our activities with the public and encourage their involvement. Fund My Community is delivered through the YourSAy website, allowing the Programme extensive reach into the community. For example, in 2016 the Fund My Community webpages received nearly 80,000 unique page views and nearly 4,000 YourSAy users actively took part in the community assessment. Over 100,000 unique page views and nearly 10,000 users have actively taken part in the Programme to date (2015 and 2016). We anticipate that these numbers will increase by at least a third, to 150,000 and 15,000 respectively, by June of this year (the conclusion of the 2017 Programme). This reach directly benefits the 150+ community groups that have applied for funding through increased awareness of their work in the general population, the soft marketing benefit (refer Q3).
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
Between October 2014 and May 2015, DPC along with the Department for Communities and Social Inclusion (DCSI) co-designed and delivered the pilot Programme. The pilot included a number of phases: i) stakeholder and community consultation (October 2014 – January 2015, refer Q7) ii) design (December – January 2015) iii) submission and awareness raising (February – March 2015) iv) community assessment (April – May 2015) and v) evaluation and reporting (June – September 2015). DCSI provided the AUD$1 million to be distributed in grant funding and 1.0 FTE staff member who was seconded to DPC to lead the project. DPC provided all other operational costs including the AUD$70,000 to design and build a sophisticated digital budget allocator tool. The decision to invest in building a tool, as opposed to buying an off-the-shelf version, was taken to directly address concerns raised during the stakeholder and community consultation. The allocator incorporated elements to address concerns raised during the consultation and required participants to meet several minimum criteria (called a Plan) including: i) allocating between $700,000 and $1 million ii) choosing one small, one medium and one large project and iii) choosing project’s from four categories. One hundred and eighteen eligible applications were received during the submission phase from a diversity of organisations: small and large, volunteer and professional, metropolitan and regional. Nearly 4,000 people took part in the pilot’s community assessment with just over 2,300 people successfully completing and submitting a Plan and therefore influencing the funding outcome. A further 1,500 people commenced but did not complete their Plan. This represents an abandonment rate of nearly 40%, significantly lower than industry averages which range between 60 and 80%. The 14 projects that received the most community support were approved for funding for a total of $970,000. These organisations reflected the diversity in applicant organisations and included small and large, volunteer and professional, metropolitan and regional. Between June and September 2015, DPC and DCSI evaluated the pilot from a range of perspectives - applicant organisation, participant and the government - and the findings were shared with all three groups. DPC also engaged an independent third party to review the digital allocator tool from a user perspective The evaluation found the Programme was a highly effective mechanism to both allocate grant funding and engage the community in government decision making (refer 2015 Evaluation Report Part 2). The review of the digital tool concluded that it was a highly effective mechanism and user-centred. However, it provided a number of recommendations to improve the tool’s flow and functionality. On the basis of these findings, in November 2015 the South Australian Cabinet adopted Fund My Community as an annual programme. In January 2016, DPC invested a further $10,000 to refine the digital tool prior to the launch of the 2016 round. Sixty-two eligible applications were received and 3,700 people took part in the community assessment. The abandonment rate reduced to 18% in the second year, suggesting the refinements to the digital tool were effective. The evaluation of this round reinforced previous findings that Fund My Community is both highly efficient and effective. In February 2017 the third round launched. The community will decide the funding outcome of this round between 18 April and 29 May 2017.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
While the commitment to trial participatory budgeting was made by the Premier in March 2014, the resulting Programme - Fund My Community – was designed following a three month consultation with Government agencies, the community services sector and the general public. Individual consultations were held with representatives of a range of government agencies and 13 community sector organisations, including the peak bodies representing the major population groups who would be directly affected by the new approach to decision making. Government agencies consulted included the Office for the Ageing (Department of Health) and the Department for Environment, Water and Natural Resources for their grant administration and management experience. DPC also worked closely with DCSI in designing and developing the Programme including seconding a staff member. Internal consultations also occurred with other divisions of DPC, for example the Economic Analysis Unit which at the time was investigating the feasibility of using Social Impact Bonds. Community sector organisations that were engaged in the design process included: • South Australian Council for Social Services • Volunteering SA & NT • Shelter SA • Multicultural Communities Council of SA • Mental Health Coalition of South Australia • National Disability Services (SA) • Youth Affairs Council of SA • Uniting Care (representing the community services division of major church/religious organisations) • The Australian Centre for Social Innovation • Connecting Up Australia • Red Cross South Australia and • Council on the Ageing (SA). In addition, a survey seeking input of the public into the design of the Programme and in particular the allocation tool and process was completed by almost 670 members of the public. A broad approach is also taken in delivering the Programme with numerous government agencies, peak community organisations and other community-based organisations (community houses, public libraries, etc) contributing and proactively supporting promotional activities to increase awareness of the funding opportunity and the public’s participation.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Fund My Community contributes to the SDGs at two levels. At the administrative level it contributes to Goal 16 - build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The funding outcome is completely transparent, the result of a public deliberation in which the decisions of all participants are given equal weight and aggregated to determine the overall outcome. The simplified application process reduces the administrative burden to community groups applying for funding (refer Q10). As such, the Programme directly contributes to a transparent, inclusive, accountable and respectful public service. In addition, the Programme contributes to achieving the SDGs associated with human development (Goals 1 – 5) through the impact of the grant funding. Concrete examples include: 1) Seal U Latte mobile barista cart (http://fmc.yoursay.sa.gov.au/projects/mobile-barista-4-at-risk-youth, https://www.seal-u-latte.com/our-history) Salisbury East Alternative Learning (SEAL) Centre received $15,000 to establish a mobile barista business for at-risk youth. The grant represented a small portion of the overall cost of establishing the cart, with local businesses providing in-kind support. The value of these contributions far outweighed the Government’s investment and was a tangible demonstration of the community’s support for the initiative. All money raised by the cart is re-invested back into training and skills for the students. To date the cart has raised sufficient funds to support 10 students complete a range of hospitality related vocational training. Participants are learning skills that are counting towards their formal education and a number of participants have exited the programme back into main stream education or employment. 2) Safe Kennels (www.yoursay.sa.gov.au/fmc_rounds/fund-my-community/fmc_ideas/194, http://www.rspcasa.org.au/issues/safe-kennels/) Violence against women remains an issue in Australia with domestic violence the leading cause of injury and death of women. Evidence suggests that attachment to a family pet can be a deterrent to women leaving an abusive relationship. This project provides boarding and care for the pets of women escaping a violent situation. 3) Homeless Beans Coffee Cart (www.yoursay.sa.gov.au/fmc_rounds/fund-my-community/fmc_ideas/242, https://www.huttstcentre.org.au/how-we-help/beans-talk-coffee-cart) Received funding for a coffee cart that provides training and vocational experience for homeless people to help them (re)enter the workforce. In its first year the programme has resulted in 85% of participants transitioning to paid employment. Additionally, the participants have benefitted from knowing that the community actively chose to invest in their future by selecting this project for funding.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
A key challenge to overcome was the initial reticence by the Board to fully devolve decision making capacity to the community. The Board wanted to retain final approval power. To overcome this impasse it was agreed that the Board would endorse the community’s selection unless significant irregularities in the process could be identified. We were confident in the robustness of our design and online tool that no irregularities would arise! The consultation identified a number of assumptions about devolving decision making to the community: i) that some organisations would be disadvantaged through the approach and ii) that the outcome would be inequitable. These concerns were equally raised during the one-on-one consultations with agencies and organisations and the public survey. To address these concerns a sophisticated digital allocation tool was designed and built, rather than using an off-the-shelf or third party program. For example, by including a random generator the tool overcomes the potential for placement bias by displaying projects in a randomised order to users. In addition, for a member of the public’s participation to be valid and influence the funding outcome, it must meet three minimum criteria that were incorporated into the tool’s functionality: • Allocate between $700,000 and $1 million. This addresses the equity issue and overcomes the potential network affect (the biggest organisations get funding through activating their networks) • Choose one small, one medium and one large project (with project size determined by the amount of funding sought). This promotes a diversity of organisations and projects receiving funding and • Choose projects to benefit at least four categories. The evaluation of the pilot disproved the assumptions, demonstrating that the community allocated funding fairly and equitably. To promote the positive findings of the evaluation, DPC held information sessions for stakeholders and has widely shared the evaluation reports.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Fund My Community is proving that empowerment programmes that devolve decision making to the community are effective, rigorous, sustainable and deliver expanded value for public sector agencies, community organisations and the public. It also demonstrates that re-designing Government programmes and processes can deliver tangible benefits for public sector organisations and community groups. For example, DPC used the pilot to trial a two-step, simplified application process. In stage one, applicants completed a simple, 10 question application form. Only those organisations that were selected by the community for funding were subsequently required to provide additional information to meet government probity standards. A majority of organisations (79%) reported the streamlined process was easier and less time consuming than the process of comparable grant programmes. This significantly reduced the administrative burden for applicant organisations, reducing the time required to apply >three hours to < one hour. Multiplied across all applicant organisations, this represents a saving of a minimum 400+ hours, or over 50 days, to date, allowing community sector organisations to invest this time in delivering front-line services. Based on this positive outcome, this process has subsequently been applied to four other funding programmes delivered by DPC. Similarly, the efficiency savings in programme administration costs, which are 50% lower than for comparable grant programmes, are estimated to be AUD$110,000 to date. These savings have been re-invested in delivering services for community groups. For example, training was developed and delivered to build the digital marketing capacity and skill of applicant organisations. Fund My Community is also unique in that it is a value creating grant programme. Through its soft marketing function Fund My Community has the capacity to deliver a positive return on investment for all applicants, not just those that are funded. One quarter of applicants to the pilot reported receiving additional benefit through their participation (refer Q3).

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The Programme, and the rigour with which it has been delivered including open and transparent outcomes and formal, public evaluations, have supported a re-assessment of the ‘expert panel’ approach to grant decision making. While general opinion is that ‘experts’ can overcome bias and personal opinion, the control panel established for evaluation purposes demonstrated that this is not so – and they, like any human, are subject to conscious or subconscious bias. By distributing decision making to many thousands of people, rather than a handful, this bias is overcome (see “The Wisdom of the Crowds” by James Surowiecki and the work of Francis Galton which is the basis of participatory budgeting). In addition to improving accountability in the public sector, Fund My Community’s transparent application process provides a mechanism to increase transparency and reduce corruption in the community sector associated with grant funding. ‘Double-dipping’ by organisations (applying and receiving funding for the same project from different sources) is a recognised but unreported issue. By making applications transparent, other government agencies and organisations can see the funding being sought by individual applicant organisations. This reduces the temptation for these organisations to misrepresent their project in terms of total cost or funding sources.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The decision to design and build a bespoke allocation tool was taken to ensure that the community-decided funding allocation would be fair and equitable, benefiting a broad range of communities and people. By requiring members of the public to allocate the funding to a broad range of population groups the Programme has benefitted some of the poorest and most vulnerable South Australians. For example, almost 20% of the funding from the pilot was allocated by the community for projects to benefit Aboriginal (first nations) people. This funding allocation was significantly higher than the percent of the population who identify as Aboriginal (2.5%) but reflects the high levels of disadvantage experienced by this population group. Analysis of the funding outcome has demonstrated that the communities funding allocation more closely represented regional disadvantage than the control expert panel. For example, the correlation co-efficient of the community’s distribution was 0.46, closer to 1 (perfect correlation) than the panel’s score of 0.38.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Department of the Premier and Cabinet
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Rachael Leverton
Title:   Ms  
Telephone/ Fax:   61 468 626 121
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   rachael.leverton3@sa.gov.au  
Address:   GPO Box 2343
Postal Code:   5001
City:   Adelaide
State/Province:   South Australia
Country:  

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