US cities like New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle have all experimented in recent years with initiatives designed to give local people a direct say in decisions on public spending. These initiatives are inspired by the concept of participatory budgeting, which was originally developed in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.
The Second International Conference on Participatory Budgeting, which took place in Chicago a few weeks ago, provided an opportunity to hear about good practice examples as well as analysis by experts from around the world. The Conference was organized by the Participatory Budgeting Project, a non-profit organization that works mainly in the USA and Canada. The video below gives a good introduction to the idea of participatory budgeting and explains how it works in practice.
Traditionally, participatory budgeting has taken place through different kinds of neighbourhood assemblies. But it seems that digital media are increasingly being deployed in order to support the participation of a wider circle of citizens and interest groups. For example:
- Washington State and Seattle City Council have collected suggestion on local budgets through the Ideascale platform
- A number of Canadian towns and cities have used Citizen Budget (“a powerful online tool to involve residents in decision-making processes and to demonstrate a municipality’s commitment to citizen engagement”) developed by a Canadian non-profit organization called OpenNorth,
- The London Borough of Redbridge uses an online budget simulator called You Choose, which has now been made freely available to councils in England and Wales via the Local Government Group and YouGov
Looking at these examples of participatory budgeting, I was struck by the similarity to the principle of Community Led Local Development, which is a central feature of the Commission’s proposals for the next period of EU cohesion funding (2014-2020). Community Led Local Development aims to develop bottom-up approaches to the use of EU funds for regional economic development, stimulate innovation, promote community ownership and participation, and “support multi-level governance by providing a route for local communities to fully take part in shaping the implementation of EU objectives”.
Colleagues working on the programming of EU funds for the next seven years (in the Commission, as well as our partners at the national and regional level) might be interested to take a look at this list of experiences with participatory budgeting in different parts of the world. This could potentially be a useful source of ideas about increasing engagement, boosting awareness, and improving the impact of investments.