Participatory budgeting

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, in which ordinary residents decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to present their demands and priorities for improvement, and influence through discussions and negotiations the budget allocations made by their municipalities.]

Participatory budgeting is usually characterized by several basic design features: identification of spending priorities by community members, election of budget delegates to represent different communities, facilitation and technical assistance by public employees, local and higher level assemblies to deliberate and vote on spending priorities, and the implementation of local direct-impact community projects.

Various studies have suggested that participatory budgeting results in more equitable public spending, higher quality of life, increased satisfaction of basic needs, greater government transparency and accountability, increased levels of public participation (especially by marginalized or poorer residents), and democratic and citizenship learning.Fact|date=July 2008

Implementation in Porto Alegre, Brazil

The first full participatory budgeting process developed in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, starting in 1989. Participatory budgeting was part of a number of innovative reform programs started in 1989 to overcome severe inequality in living standards amongst city residents. One third of the city’s residence lived in isolated slums at the city outskirts, lacking access to public amenities (water, sanitation, health care facilities, and schools).

Participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre occurs annually, starting with a series of neighborhood, regional, and citywide assemblies, where residents and elected budget delegates identify spending priorities and vote on which priorities to implement. [ Porto Alegre's Budget Of, By, and For the People by David Lewit ] ] Porto Alegre spends about 200 million dollars per year on construction and services, this money is subject to participatory budgeting. Annual spend on fixed expenses such as debt service and pensions, are not subject to public participation. Around fifty thousand residents of Porto Alegre now take part in the participatory budgeting process (compared to 1.5 million city inhabitants), with the number of participants growing year on year since 1989. Participants are from diverse economic and political backgrounds.

The participatory budgeting cycle starts in January and assemblies across the city facilitate maximum participation and interaction. Each February there is instruction from city specialists in technical and system aspects of city budgeting. In March there are plenary assemblies in each of the city's 16 districts as well as assemblies dealing with such areas as transportation, health, education, sports, and economic development. These large meetings—with participation that can reach over 1,000—elect delegates to represent specific neighborhoods. The mayor and staff attend to respond to citizen concerns. In the following month's delegates meet weekly or biweekly in each district to review technical project criteria and district needs. City department staff may participate according to their area of expertise. At a second regional plenary, regional delegates prioritize the district's demands and elect 42 councillors representing all districts and thematic areas to serve on the Municipal Council of the Budget. The main function of the Municipal Council of the Budget is to reconcile the demands of each district with available resources, and to propose and approve an overall municipal budget. The resulting budget is binding, though the city council can suggest, but not require changes. Only the Mayor may veto the budget, or remand it back to the Municipal Council of the Budget (this has never happened).


A World Bank paper suggests that participatory budgeting has led to direct improvements in facilities in Porto Alegre. For example, sewer and water connections increased from 75% of households in 1988 to 98% in 1997. The number of schools quadrupled since 1986.

The high number of participants, after more than a decade, suggests that participatory budgeting encourages increasing citizen involvement, according to the paper. Also, Porto Alegre’s health and education budget increased from 13% (1985) to almost 40% (1996), and the share of the participatory budget in the total budget increased from 17% (1992) to 21% (1999).

The paper concludes that participatory budgeting can lead to improved conditions for the poor. Although it cannot overcome wider problems such as unemployment, it leads to "noticeable improvement in the accessibility and quality of various public welfare amenities".

Based on the success in Porto Alegre, more than 140 (about 2.5%) of the 5,571 municipalities in Brazil have adopted participatory budgeting.

Implementation around the world

Since its emergence in Porto Alegre, participatory budgeting has spread to hundreds of Latin American cities, and dozens of cities in Europe, Asia, Africa, and North America. More than 200 municipalities are estimated to have initiated participatory budgeting. In some cities, participatory budgeting has been applied for school, university, and public housing budgets. These international approaches differ significantly, and they are shaped as much by their local contexts as by the Porto Alegre model.Fact|date=July 2008

In Europe, towns and cities in France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom have initiated participatory budgeting processes. In Canada, participatory budgeting has been implemented with public housing, neighbourhood groups, and a public schools, in the cities of Toronto, Guelph, and West Vancouver. Similar budget processes have been used in communities in India and Africa. In France, the Region Poitou-Charentes has launched an experience of participatory budgeting in all its secondary schools.Fact|date=July 2008


Reviewing the experience in Brazil and Porto Alegre a World Bank paper points out that lack of representation of very poor people in the participatory budgeting process is a current shortcoming. Participation of the very-poor and the young is highlighted as major challenge. Some critics state that participatory budgeting meetings in Brazil are usually attended almost only by militants, of the Workers' Party and akin organisations.Fact|date=July 2008 This is in line with the conclusions in the World Bank paper, which observes that the representatives of low-income "struggles" continue to dominate the community discussion process. It is also stated that participatory budgeting may struggle to overcome existing clientelism. Other observations include that particular groups are less likely to participate once their demands have been met and that slow progress of public works can frustrate participants.

See also

* Participatory economics
* Participatory planning
* Participatory justice
* Public participation


External links

* [] - Case study on the e-Participatory Budgeting of the city of Belo Horizonte (Brazil)
* [] - general resource site on participatory budgeting
* [] - information on participatory budgeting in the UK
* [,3425,en_2649_37405_38983243_119666_1_1_37405,00.html] - study with cases of Participatory Budgeting experiences in OECD countries
* [] - PB in Brazil
* [] - links to participatory budgeting articles and resources
* [] - links to participatory budgeting articles and resources
* [] - participatory budgeting listserv
* [] - Rete del Nuovo Municipio, the Italian project linking Local Authorities, scientists and local committees for promoting Participatory Democracy and Active Citizenship mainly by way of PB

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