Participatory budgeting

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a type of citizen sourcing in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget through a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making. Participatory budgeting allows citizens or residents of a locality to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent.[1]

Participatory Budgeting pamphlets.
Presentation of the winning PB projects in the district of Białołęka, Warsaw.

PB processes are typically designed to involve those left out of traditional methods of public engagement, such as low-income residents, non-citizens, and youth.[2] A comprehensive case study of eight municipalities in Brazil analyzing the successes and failures of participatory budgeting has suggested that it often results in more equitable public spending, greater government transparency and accountability, increased levels of public participation (especially by marginalized or poorer residents), and democratic and citizenship learning.[3]

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. 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.[4] PB stands as one of several democratic innovations, such as British Columbia's Citizens' Assembly, encompassing the ideals of a participatory democracy.[5] Today, PB has been implemented in nearly 1,500 municipalities and institutions around the world.[5]


Participatory budgeting has been practiced in Porto Alegre since 1989.
External video
  “What if you could help decide how the government spends public funds”, Shari Davis, TED talk, July 16, 2020.

Participatory Budgeting was first developed in the 1980s by the Brazilian Workers' Party, drawing on the party's stated belief that electoral success is not an end in itself but a spring board for developing radical, participatory forms of democracy. While there were several early experiments (including the public budgeting practices of the Brazilian Democratic Movement in municipalities such as Pelotas[6]: 92 ), the first full participatory budgeting process was implemented in 1989, in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, a capital city of the state of Rio Grande do Sul, and a busy industrial, financial, and service center, at that time with a population of 1.2 million.[7] The initial success of PB in Porto Alegre soon made it attractive to other municipalities. By 2001, more than 100 cities in Brazil had implemented PB, while in 2015, thousands of variations have been implemented in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe.[8]

Porto AlegreEdit

In its first Title, the 1988 Constitution of Brazil states that "all power originates from the people, who exercise it by the means of elected representatives or directly, according to the terms of this Constitution." The authoring of the Constitution was a reaction to the previous twenty years of military dictatorship, and the new Constitution sought to secure individual liberty while also decentralizing and democratizing ruling power, in the hope that authoritarian dictatorship would not reemerge.[9]

Brazil's contemporary political economy is an outgrowth of the Portuguese empire's patrimonial capitalism, where "power was not exercised according to rules, but was structured through personal relationships".[10] Unlike the Athenian ideal of democracy, in which all citizens participate directly and decide policy collectively, Brazil's government is structured as a republic with elected representatives. This institutional arrangement has created a separation between the state and civil society, which has opened the doors for clientelism. Because the law-making process occurs behind closed doors, elected officials and bureaucrats can access state resources in ways that benefit certain 'clients', typically those of extraordinary social or economic relevance. The influential clients receive policy favors, and repay elected officials with votes from the groups they influence. For example, a neighborhood leader represents the views of shop owners to the local party boss, asking for laws to increase foot traffic on commercial streets. In exchange, the neighborhood leader mobilizes shop owners to vote for the political party responsible for the policy. Because this patronage operates on the basis of individual ties between patron and clients, true decision-making power is limited to a small network of party bosses and influential citizens rather than the broader public.[10][11]

In 1989, Olívio Dutra won the mayor's seat in Porto Alegre. In an attempt to encourage popular participation in government and redirect government resources towards the poor, Dutra institutionalized the PT's organizational structure on a citywide level. The result is what we now know as Participatory Budgeting.


Most broadly, all participatory budgeting schemes allow citizens to deliberate with the goal of creating either a concrete financial plan (a budget), or a recommendation to elected representatives. In the Porto Alegre model, the structure of the scheme gives sub-jurisdictions (neighborhoods) authority over the larger political jurisdiction (the city) of which they are part. Neighborhood budget committees, for example, have authority to determine the citywide budget, not just the allocation of resources for their particular neighborhood. There is, therefore, a need for mediating institutions to facilitate the aggregation of budget preferences expressed by sub-jurisdictions.

According to the World Bank Group, certain factors are needed for PB to be adopted: "[…] strong mayoral support, a civil society willing and able to contribute to ongoing policy debates, a generally supportive political environment that insulates participatory budgeting from legislators' attacks, and financial resources to fund the projects selected by citizens."[6]: 24  In addition, there are generally two approaches through which PB formulates: top-down versus bottom-up. The adoption of PB has been required by the federal government in nations such as Peru, while there are cases where local governments initiated PB independent from the national agenda such as Porto Alegre. With the bottom-up approach, NGO's and local organizations have played crucial roles in mobilizing and informing the community members.[6]: 24 

PB processes do not adhere to strict rules, but they generally share several basic steps:[6]: 26 

  1. The municipality is divided geographically into multiple districts.
  2. Representatives of the divided districts are either elected or volunteered to work with government officials in a PB committee.
  3. The committees are established with regularly scheduled meetings under a specific timeline to deliberate.
  4. Proposals, initiated by the citizens, are dealt under different branches of public budget such as recreation, infrastructure, transportation, etc.
  5. Participants publicly deliberate with the committee to finalize the projects to be voted on.
  6. The drafted budget is shared to the public and put for a vote.
  7. The municipal government implements the top proposals.
  8. The cycle is repeated on an annual basis.

Digital Participatory Budgeting (e-Participatory Budgeting)Edit

Technology has often used been to support participatory budgeting, which is commonly referred to as e-participatory budgeting.[12][13][14] The use of digital technologies in the process was pioneered by the municipality of Ipatinga in Brazil, which offered the citizens the possibility to vote for projects via the Internet in 2001.[15] The online voting option was later integrated to the participatory budgeting of the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul in 2003,[16] and in the municipality of Belo Horizonte in 2006.[17] Since then the number of participatory budgeting initiatives that included online voting has multiplied around the world, and includes cities like Paris,[18] New York City,[19] Lisbon,[20] Madrid[21] and Mexico City.[22] Although the effects of online voting in participatory budgeting have not been widely researched, a study in 2006 examining the case of participatory budgeting of Belo Horizonte suggests that online voting played a role in increasing the number of participants in the process.[17] A later study on the case of Rio Grande do Sul state documents an 8.2 percent increase in total turnout with the introduction of online voting, with the online channel more likely to attract participants who are younger, male, wealthier and more educated.[23] Despite these demographic differences in the profile of participants, a later study found that the introduction of online voting in Rio Grande do Sul did not lead to a systematic difference in vote choices between online and offline voters.[24]

Telephones, both mobile and fixed landlines have also been used to stimulate uptake of participatory budgeting processes. The municipality of Ipatinga was the first to employ telephony in 2005, by creating a toll-free number for citizens to indicate their preferences for budget allotments, and by sending automated voice and text messages incentivizing citizens to attend the participatory budgeting meetings.[25] Even though a few initiatives have used text messages to support mobile voting, such as La Plata in Argentina and Cascais in Portugal,[14][26] most of the usage has been limited to mobilize citizens to take part in the voting process either in-person or via the Internet.

A participatory budgeting algorithm is sometimes used in order to calculate the budget allocation from the votes.


Government transparencyEdit

Participatory Budgeting not only allowed for effective and efficient policy changes, but also had substantial positive influence in other aspects such as an increase in government transparency also known as open government.[27] Through the promotion of social change, participatory budgeting allows for increase in budget transparency.[28] For example, in the Dominican Republic, citizens reported that they did not feel they had a voice in their local government and claimed that they were not aware of how to participate in legislation within their districts. Due to this attitude, “citizen's perceptions of such things as why raising tax revenue is important, how public budgets are carried out, or how public works are paid for are often ill-informed.”[29] Fundacion Solidaridad, an organization that seeks to promote democratic developments through participatory budgeting practices, implemented seminars and practices to “facilitate the exchange of experiences in participatory budgeting at the municipal level through dialogues and planning meetings.” [30]

Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre

Advancement in democracyEdit

Through Fundacion Solidaridad’s approaches, the project revealed many concrete results that proved that participatory budgeting led to advancement in democracy. The results concluded that participatory budgeting served as a platform for democratic societies to be able to partner with public institutions and international partners to be able to “promote activities for democracy and transparency at the local level.”[31] Having more transparency within government allows civic societies to have more impact within their own communities and understand the importance of civic engagement.[32]

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). In a paper that updated the World Bank's methodology, expanding statistical scope and analyzing Brazil's 253 largest municipalities that use participatory budgeting, researchers found that participatory budgeting reallocates spending towards health and sanitation. Health and sanitation benefits accumulated the longer participatory budgeting was used in a municipality. Participatory budgeting does not merely allow citizens to shift funding priorities in the short-term – it can yield sustained institutional and political change in the long term.

Researchers have also found that participatory budgeting has had greater impact throughout long periods of time.[33] This impact has shown that civil society is able to create a more efficient and effective form of governing.[33]

Improvement in citizens' well-beingEdit

Participatory budgeting has led to increase citizen's overall well-being.[34] For example, studies based on Brazil's adaptation of participatory budgeting shows that increase in participatory budgeting correlates to improvements in infant mortality in Brazil.[35] Through researching the influence of participatory budgeting in Brazil, studies have found that infant mortality rates are substantially lower in governments that use participatory budgeting compared to those that do not. This is due to the fact that infant mortality disproportionately affects poorer income groups than middle-upper groups, with participatory budgeting leading to an increase in pro-poor investments, such as health and sewage infrastructure.[36] These results suggest that countries who “sustain participatory budgeting programs may be part of general improvements in governance that produce[s] more durable access to healthcare.”[37] Participatory budgeting has led to advancements in government because democratic governments with this kind of budgeting are able to make better use of public funding.[37]

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".[38]: 2 

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.[38]: 2  More recently, a cross-national study on the effects of participatory budgeting finds that the greater participation in the preparation and execution of the budget is, the greater is the allocation of public funds in education.[39]

Citizens' attitudesEdit

Another outcome of participatory budgeting is that citizen's attitudes significantly change. For example, research has shown that when citizens participate in participatory budgeting they are more inclined to support democracy and perceive democracy as an institution that is effective and understanding the way governmental budgeting occurs. Through participatory budgeting, citizens are able to acquire skills that allow them to be active citizens.[40] Participatory budgeting has proved to show that it “may help marginalized people and other previously excluded groups to build their self-esteem and self-fulfillment through their participation in local budget decisions.”[41] Civic participation has also shown “foster the attitudes and skills of citizenship” and essentially shape identities and loyalties.[42]

Increase in tax revenuesEdit

Participatory budgeting has been associated with increased tax revenues. For instance, a study examining the case of Porto Alegre suggests that participatory budgeting contributed to an increase of 269 per cent in own-source revenues from 1988 to 2004.[43] Another comparative study of 25 municipalities in Latin America and Europe finds a significant reduction in levels of tax delinquency after the adoption of participatory budgeting.[44] More recently, a World Bank study examining 253 participatory budgeting cases in Brazil finds that municipalities with the process collect 39% more local taxes than similar municipalities without it.[45]


Based on Porto Alegre more than 140 (about 2.5%) of the 5,571 municipalities in Brazil have adopted participatory budgeting.[46]

For other adaptations of Participatory Budgeting around the world, see participatory budgeting by country.

Participatory Budgeting has continued to rapidly spread through the world due to the many advantages it provides as it gives alternative ways to have citizens be a part of the democratic process. Participatory budgeting has particularly transformed in countries that struggle to provide public services and rural communities marked by high levels of poverty and the state is fragile.[47] Another key adaptation of participatory budgeting is that it is "far less likely to use specific rules that promote social justice and mandates the distribution of greater resources to underserved communities" which is significant because this allows for greater opportunity to serve poor communities.[47]


Lack of RepresentationEdit

Reviewing the experience in Brazil and Porto Alegre, a World Bank paper points out that lack of representation of extremely poor people in participatory budgeting can be a shortcoming. Participation of the very poor and of the young is highlighted as a challenge.[38]: 5  Studies however show that even though participants do not fully mirror the demographics of the population as a whole, it fares better compared to the status quo of traditional representative democracy institutions. For instance, comparing with the membership of the City Council of Porto Alegre, political scientist Graham Smith notes that participatory budgeting has been substantially more effective in mobilizing women and citizens from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.[48] In a similar vein, a report on New York City's process shows that participatory budgeting was more successful in mobilizing people of color and low-income groups than local elections.[49] What are the insights regarding the opportunities for and barriers to accomplishing the goal of participatory-based budgeting? It takes leadership to flatten the organizational structure and make conscious ethical responsibilities as individuals and as committee members try to achieve the democratic goals means that the press should be present for the public, and yet the presence of the press inhibits the procedural need for robust discussion. Or, while representation is a cornerstone to participatory budgeting, a group being so large has an effect on the efficiency of the group.[50]


Participatory budgeting may also struggle to overcome existing clientelism.[51] 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.

Misallocation ResourcesEdit

By utilizing participatory budgeting, implies that other projects that could be crucial to government will not be pursued due to finite resources.[52] There are many barriers to entry for governments to get involved in participatory budgeting thus officials fear electoral costs. Institutions also might lack resources and political will to engage. Some institutions also lack the bureaucratic structure to be able to design and execute this kind of approach. In Chicago, participatory budgeting has been criticized for increasing funding to recreational projects while allocating less to infrastructure projects.[53]

See alsoEdit


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  2. ^ "Mission & Approach". Participatory Budgeting Project. 20 September 2012. Retrieved 29 September 2016.
  3. ^ "Participatory Budgeting in Brazil". PSUpress.
  4. ^ Porto de Oliveira, Osmany (10 January 2017). International Policy Diffusion and Participatory Budgeting: Ambassadors of Participation, International Institutional and Transnational Networks. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature. ISBN 978-3-319-43337-0.
  5. ^ a b Röcke, Anja (2014). Framing Citizen Participation: Participatory Budgeting in France, Germany, and the United Kingdom. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. doi:10.1057/9781137326669. ISBN 978-1-137-32666-9.
  6. ^ a b c d Shah, Anwar (2007). Shah, Anwar (ed.). Participatory Budgeting (PDF). Washington D.C.: The World Bank. doi:10.1596/978-0-8213-6923-4. hdl:10986/6640. ISBN 978-0-8213-6924-1. S2CID 239243049. Retrieved 12 April 2018.
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  8. ^ Ganuza, Ernesto; Baiocchi, Gianpaolo (30 December 2012). "How Participatory Budgeting Travels the Globe". Journal of Public Deliberation. 8 (2). Retrieved 17 November 2015.
  9. ^ Abers, Jessica (1998). "From Clientelism to Cooperation: Local Government, Participatory Policy, and Civic Organizing in Porto Alegre, Brazil". Politics & Society. 26 (4): 511–537. doi:10.1177/0032329298026004004. S2CID 154038651.
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  51. ^ {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
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External linksEdit