Participatory budgeting

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Participatory budgeting (PB) is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent. When PB is taken seriously and is based on mutual trust local governments and citizen can benefit equally. In some cases PB even raised people's willingness to pay taxes.[1]

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 subjurisdictions (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 subjurisdictions.

PB generally involves several basic steps:

  1. Community members identify spending priorities and select budget delegates
  2. Budget delegates develop specific spending proposals, with help from experts
  3. Community members vote on which proposals to fund
  4. The city or institution implements the top proposals

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.[2]


Participatory budgeting has been practiced in Porto Alegre since 1989.

The first full participatory budgeting process was developed in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, starting in 1989. The initial success of PB in Porto Alegre made it attractive to other municipalities in Brazil. 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.[3]

Porto Alegre[edit]

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.[4]

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”.[5] 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.[5][6]

Participatory budgeting has its origins in the Brazilian Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores). In the 1980s, near the peak of resistance to the military occupation, the Workers’ Party was launched, drawing its members from “a coalition of grassroots movements, radical labor unions, and formerly revolutionary leftist militants and intellectuals”.[4] The Party organized itself through hyperlocal, broad-based associations centred around neighborhoods, schools and workplaces. Steeped in a spirit of egalitarianism and grassroots participation, this “pyramid” structure of decision-making attempted to reverse the top-down paradigm and expedite the process through which popular will found expression in concrete, binding decisions.

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 one example of what we now know as Participatory Budgeting.


As of 2015, over 1,500 instances of PB have been implemented across the five continents.[3] While the democratic spirit of PB remains the same throughout the world, institutional variations abound.[7]

Brazilian Model[edit]

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.[8] Porto Alegre spends about 200 million dollars per year on construction and services, this money is subject to participatory budgeting. Annual spending on fixed expenses, such as debt service and pensions, is 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.[8]

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 months, 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).[8] 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 1500 municipalities are estimated to have initiated participatory budgeting.[9] 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.[10]


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.[11][page needed]

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).[11][page needed] 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.[12]

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".[11][page needed]

Based on Porto Alegre more than 140 (about 2.5%) of the 5,571 municipalities in Brazil have adopted participatory budgeting.[11][page needed]

Rest of World[edit]

The Dominican Republic has implemented participatory budgeting in all local governments,[13] and a number of towns and cities in France, Italy, Germany, and Spain have also initiated participatory budgeting processes.[14] In Canada, participatory budgeting has been implemented with public housing, neighbourhood groups, and a public schools, in the cities of Toronto,[15] Guelph, Hamilton,[16] and West Vancouver. In India, a village called Hiware Bazar has served as an epitome of the process. The village, once bereft of water, education, and basic needs for life, is now self-sufficient with a high per capita income. On 25 June 2015 Delhi Deputy chief Minister Manish Sisodia presented the Swaraj Budget.[17] The Aam Admi Party Swaraj Budget was prepared based on voting from the people of different constituencies. In each constituency three meetings were held.Each meeting was attended by 200–300 residents and a list of key issues were prepared and then a voting took place to choose the top priority.[18][19][20] Similar budget processes have been used in communities in Africa. In France, the Region Poitou-Charentes has launched an experience of participatory budgeting in its secondary schools.[21]

The first recorded Participatory Budgeting process in the United States of America is in Chicago, Illinois.[22][23] Led by the ward's Alderman, Joe Moore, Chicago's 49th Ward is undertaking this process[24] with the Alderman's "Menu Money." Menu Money is a yearly budgeted amount each of Chicago's 50 wards receives for use on capital expenses. This money in other wards is typically allocated at the complete discretion of a ward's Alderman. Since 2011 more examples have been occurring in the US, in New York City,[25] and now city-wide in Vallejo, California.[26]

Forms of participatory budgeting have also been trialed in the UK over many years, mostly with smaller sums than in other countries, though on occasion these have reached in the millions.[27]


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.[11][page needed] Participatory budgeting may also 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.[11][page needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Verfürth, Eva-Maria; Allegretti, Giovanni (February 2013). "More generous than you might think". EU: Dandc. 
  2. ^ "Participatory Budgeting in Brazil". PSUpress. 
  3. ^ a b ""How Participatory Budgeting Travels the Globe" by Ernesto Ganuza and Gianpaolo Baiocchi". Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  4. ^ a b Abers, Jessica (1998). "From Clientelism to Cooperation: Local Government, Participatory Policy, and Civic Organizing in Porto Alegre, Brazil". Politics & Society: 516. doi:10.1177/0032329298026004004. Retrieved 15 November, 2015.  Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  5. ^ a b Novy, Andreas; Leubolt, Bernhard (2005-10-01). "Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre: Social Innovation and the Dialectical Relationship of State and Civil Society". Urban Studies 42 (11): 2023–2036. doi:10.1080/00420980500279828. ISSN 0042-0980. 
  6. ^ Santos, BOAVENTURA de SOUSA (1998-12-01). "Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre: Toward a Redistributive Democracy". Politics & Society 26 (4): 461–510. doi:10.1177/0032329298026004003. ISSN 0032-3292. 
  7. ^ "Budgets for the People". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2015-11-17. 
  8. ^ a b c Lewit, David (Dec 31, 2002). "Porto Alegre's Budget Of, By, and For the People". Yes! Magazine. 
  9. ^ "Where Has it Worked?". About. The Participatory Budgeting Project. 
  10. ^ Participatory budgeting (PDF), UK: CFE .
  11. ^ a b c d e f Bhatnagar et al. 2003.
  12. ^ "Improving Social Well-Being Through New Democratic Institutions". Retrieved September 29, 2015. 
  13. ^ "History". The Participatory Budgeting Project. 
  14. ^ Volume two (PDF) (in German), DE: Bürgerhaushalt Europa .
  15. ^ "Participatory Budgeting – Working together, making a difference". Toronto Community Housing. 
  16. ^ PB Hamilton, Ontario, CA .
  17. ^ Highlights of Swaraj budget presented by deeputy CM SH Manish Sisodia, Aam Admi party .
  18. ^ "Aam Admi gives Swaraj budget a thumbs up", The Times of India (India Times) .
  19. ^ "Swaraj". Books. Google. 
  20. ^ "Goal of Swaraj". Aam Aadmi Party. 
  21. ^ "Poitou-Charentes’ participatory budget in the high schools", Participedia (wiki) .
  22. ^ "Chicago’s $1.3 Million Experiment in Democracy". AU: The Permaculture Research Institute. 2010-05-27. 
  23. ^ "Chicago’s $1.3 Million Experiment in Democracy; For the First Time in the US, the City’s 49th Ward Lets Taxpayers Directly Decide How Public Money is Spent", Yes Magazine, Apr 10, 2010 .
  24. ^ "Participatory budgeting". Chicago: 49th Ward. Retrieved April 20, 2015. 
  25. ^ "Participatory budgeting in New York City". Retrieved April 20, 2015. 
  26. ^ "Participatory budgeting city wide in Vallejo, CA". Public policy. Pepperdine. Retrieved April 20, 2015. 
  27. ^ "PB Network in the UK". Retrieved April 20, 2015. 


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