One way of giving people more control over the way grant money is spent is The People's Millions, the television show that returns in October, in which viewers choose which charities will benefit from lottery money. There has been criticism, however, that the projects likely to get the money are those that look good on television and don't needle too many prejudices (Third Sector, 9 November 2005).
Participatory grant making puts ordinary people in charge in a rather different way. So far, it has been used mainly in local government, but there are now moves to make it more common in the voluntary sector. One such initiative is a new collaboration with Save the Children, intended to put young people more effectively in charge of grant distribution programmes such as the Government's Youth Opportunity Fund.
Participatory grant making works by first getting some priorities agreed and then organising a forum in which people have the opportunity to pitch their projects. For example, Keighley in West Yorkshire last year saw a mix of people from voluntary, community and public organisations canvass residents for their views on what they wanted to be tackled locally. They invited applications from projects and organised a day when residents voted on the schemes that they thought should be awarded grants of £10,000.
Jez Hall works for the Participatory Budgeting Unit, which promotes community involvement in decisions about public spending. He denies that participatory grant making is a type of beauty contest. He says: "People constantly support groups that would find it hard to find funding in other ways, which goes against the assumption that they'd put their own priorities first."
Hall also argues that participatory grant making gives communities the confidence to apply for money further down the line. Once people have presented their ideas and had them recognised by their peers, he says, they realise it's quite feasible to do the same thing with more formal grant makers. "This puts the work in the centre of the community," he says. "It makes you feel you're part of a set of actions."