Jay Colburn, from the International Budget Partnership: “Public participation in budget decision making can occur in many different forms. Participatory budgeting (PB) is an increasingly popular process in which the public is involved directly in making budgetary decisions, most often at the local level. The involvement of community members usually includes identifying and prioritizing the community’s needs and then voting on spending for specific projects.
PB was first developed in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989 as an innovative reform to address the city’s severe inequality. Since then it has spread around the world. Though the specifics of how the PB process works varies depending on the context in which it is implemented, most PB processes have four basic similarities: 1) community members identify spending ideas; 2) delegates are selected to develop spending proposals based on those ideas; 3) residents vote on which proposals to fund; and 4) the government implements the chosen proposals.
During the 1990s PB spread throughout Brazil and across Latin America. Examples of participatory budgeting can now be found in every region of the world, including Central Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. As the use of PB has expanded, it has been adapted in many ways. One example is to incorporate new information and communication technologies as a way to broaden opportunities for participation (see Using Technology to Improve Transparency and Citizen Engagement in this newsletter for more on this topic.)…
There are also a number of different models of PB that have been developed, each with slightly different rules and processes. Using the different models and methods has expanded our knowledge on the potential impacts of PB. In addition to having demonstrable and measurable results on mobilizing public funds for services for the poor, participatory budgeting has also been linked to greater tax compliance, increased demands for transparency, and greater access to budget information and oversight.
However, not all instances of PB are equally successful; there are many variables to consider when weighing the impact of different cases. These can include the level and mechanisms of participation, information accessibility, knowledge of opportunities to participate, political context, and prevailing socioeconomic factors. There is a large and growing literature on the benefits and challenges of PB. The IBP Open Budgets Blog recently featured posts on participatory budgeting initiatives in Peru, Kyrgyzstan, and Kenya. While there are still many lessons to be learned about how PB can be used in different contexts, it is certainly a positive step toward increased citizen engagement in the budget process and influence over how public funds are spent.
For more information and resources on PB, visit the participatory budgeting Facebook group”