A participatory budget is an innovative policymaking tool which directly involves citizens in policy decisions. It was first used in 1989 in Brazil and, since then, 1,500 times participatory budgets have been implemented across 5 different continents. 

Participatory Budget Across the World

Source: Sintomer et al. (2010)

Tell Me More About Participatory Budget

With a participatory budget, citizens have the opportunity to allocate resources, prioritize social policies, and monitor public spending. Any local government, no matter its number of inhabitants, can implement a participatory budget.

How did it start?

In 1989, in Porto Alegre, the Worker’s Party, a progressive political party, win the local elections with a campaign based on citizen engagement and participatory democracy. The party implements a participatory budget in order that non-elected citizens can decide how to allocate public money. Citizens help poorer districts and neighbourhoods receive greater levels of public spending.

With this participatory budget, citizens had direct decision-making power at the local level, co-decision power at the city level, and oversight power at all levels. To make it easier, the citizens were divided into neighbourhood groups and the projects were ranked by priorities and topics such as housing, urban infrastructures, healthcare, education, youth, culture, and sports.

The municipality implemented the final budget and together with the citizens monitored the progress of the projects.

Hollie Gilman on Participatory Budgeting 

The success of this first experiment in Porto Alegre was so great that the World Bank and the United Nations Development Programme dubbed participatory budgeting best practice for democratic innovation.

Hollie Gilman on Participatory Budgeting, Pt. 1 -Feature

Hollie Gilman on participatory budgeting. Funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and housed at New York University, the GovLab Academy is a free, online community for those interested in teaching and learning how to work more collaboratively to solve public problems that improve people’s lives.

And now?

In Latin America

In Porto Alegre, the number of citizens participating grew fast: in 1990, almost a thousand citizens participated and in 1992 nearly 8,000. Also, the number of participatory budgets skyrocketed in Brazil. In 2008, there were around 200 (!) participatory budgets and 41% of the cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants used one. By 2010, around 900 cities out of 16,000 had implemented one as well.

In Europe
Between 2005 and 2012, the number or participatory budgets increased from 55 to 1,300. 8 million of European citizens have been involved in a participatory budgeting.Click To Tweet

Why Implement a Participatory Budget?

Participatory Budget

Why Implement a Participatory Budget?

1) Get Citizens on Board

More and more citizens want their local governments to have an open and transparent policymaking process. A participatory budget makes public funding transparent and allows citizens to decide and monitor the allocation of resources. As a consequence, citizens want to engage more with their municipality. Also, to convince citizens to participate, a city or a town can leverage the will of their citizens to pay taxes. By implementing such initiatives of financial transparency and citizen engagement, city officials strengthen their chance of re-election.

2) Better Allocation of Resources

Participatory budgets can support social justice. Indeed, local governments can create a Quality of Life Index to allocate ressources more efficiently. This index assesses which are the poorer and the wealthier regions or neighbourhoods so that the city knows where resources are most needed. In addition, it leaves less room for waste.

3) Empower Citizens

Participatory budget requires citizens to be educated about financial resources, social issues and policies. Also, they must know about the local government organization. Once citizens are better informed, they are more invested. Citizens value controlling how their tax money is spent. Due to this, they feel more empowered and make sure that this money is spent wisely. Furthermore, if cities use an online platform to implement a participatory budget, citizens and city representatives also gain some knowledge of government technology.

Participatory Budget Leads the Way To Citizen Engagement

The main reason to create a participatory budget in Porto Alegre was to restore social justice after years of dictatorship. The process was particularly successful and, since then, has been implemented all around the world.

In Europe, it is the instrument of choice of a local government, city or town who wants to engage with their citizen. It allows them to create a long-lasting relationship with their citizens based on transparency. With this tool, they can better allocate their resources. Also, it empowers citizens through education, participation and monitoring.

This post is part of a series of blog posts about participatory budgeting. In the next one, we will give you some tips on how to implement your own participatory budget.

  • Cezar Busatto

    Let me tell you how happy I’ve got seeing this new site where you explain on a very didactic and clear way the Participatory Budgeting methodology. Congratulations!