Participatory budgeting

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Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. The approach gives people real power over real money.[1]

General introduction to approach

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a decision-making process through which citizens deliberate and negotiate over the distribution of public resources[2]. Participatory budgeting programs are implemented at the behest of governments, citizens, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and civil society organizations (CSOs) to allow citizens to play a direct role in deciding how and where resources should be spent. These programs create opportunities for engaging, educating, and empowering citizens, which can foster a more vibrant civil society. While the rules vary from city to city and from state to state, the guiding tenets of participatory budgeting programs include[3]:

  • The municipality is divided into regions to facilitate meetings and the distribution of resources.
  • Government-sponsored meetings are held throughout the year, covering different aspects of the budgeting and policy-making cycles.
  • A “Quality of Life Index” is created by the government to serve as the basis for the distribution of resources. Each municipality devises its own formula to guarantee the equitable distribution of resources.
  • Public deliberation and negotiation take place between participants and government over resources and policies.
  • A “bus caravan of priorities” is conducted, in which elected representatives visit all preapproved project sites before the final vote to evaluate the social needs of proposed projects.
  • Elected representatives vote on all final projects and results become part of the public record.
  • A municipal wide council is elected with two representatives who oversee budgeting and make final recommendations.
  • After final approval of the annual budget, the mayor sends it to the municipal legislative chambers to be approved (or block specific projects)
  • A year-end report is published detailing the implementation of public works and programs.
  • Regional or neighborhood committees are established to monitor the design and implementation of policy projects.

Shapes, sizes and applications

The frameworks of PB differentiate variously throughout the globe in terms of scale, procedure, and objective. PB, in its conception, is often contextualized to suit a region's particular conditions and needs. Thus, the magnitudes of PB vary depending on whether it is carried out at a municipal, regional, or provincial level. Broadly, there are two main tracks of PB, one, “participatory budgeting public works” focusing on specific public works projects and second, “participatory budgeting thematics” focusing on general spending policies[4].

In many cases, PB has been legally enforced and regulated; however, some are internally arranged and promoted. Since the original invention in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1988, PB has manifested itself in a myriad of designs, with variations in methodology, form, and technology. Throughout the 1990s, participatory budgeting spread to other municipalities in Brazil and to other countries in South America, including Bolivia, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Peru. From the late 1990s, participatory budgeting in different formats has begun to take root in Central and Eastern Europe, Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa[5]. Today, PB has been implemented in nearly 1,500 municipalities and institutions around the world[6]

The city of Amsterdam has an active Participatory Budget for some neighbourhoods called '[7]Buurtbudgetten'. Despite a case of fraud, most neighbourhood budgets are continued.

Relation to UrbanA themes: Cities, sustainability, and justice

Participatory budgeting addresses two distinct but interconnected (in)justice-based needs in cities, first, improving state performance and second, enhancing the quality of democracy. It helps improve state performance through a series of institutional rules that constrain and check the prerogatives of the municipal government while creating increased opportunities for citizens to directly participate and engage in public policy debates. Additionally, it also helps promote transparency (which has the potential to reduce government inefficiencies and corruption) and provide poor and historically excluded citizens with access to important decision-making venues[8].

Narrative of change

The participatory budgeting program is an innovative policy-making tool, designed to challenge the social and political exclusion, especially of historically marginalized communities by directly involving citizens in budgeting decisions. With a participatory budget, citizens have the opportunity to allocate resources, prioritize social policies, and monitor public spending[9]. As there is actual control over resources and decision-making processes, it can act as a catalyst for civic mobilization, especially in poorer areas. In Porto Alegre, Brazil (the city with the longest-running participatory budgeting process) there has been a significant reallocation of resources towards spending in poorer areas as well as increased efficiency and reduced corruption as a result of participatory budgeting[10].

Transformative potential

Participatory budgeting has proved its effectiveness as a solution in a wide range of settings: in different countries, at all levels of governance, both offline and online. Its power is to a large extent due to binding all stages of the policymaking cycle: agenda-setting, deliberation, decision-making, co-implementation, monitoring and control. It raises the quality of life of local people, establishes a dialogue between citizens and authorities, and creates an efficient format for collaboration towards local development[11].


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