Participatory budgeting – “giving ordinary people real power over real money”

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.



Filed under Digital media, EU, USA

8 responses to “Participatory budgeting – “giving ordinary people real power over real money”

  1. Anna Sting

    Very interesting. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. And I’m struck that Vallejo, CA was left out of this blog–the first city-wide Participatory Budgeting (PB) process in the United States, the greatest allocation of monies to a single PB process in the United States, the highest total number of votes of any PB process in the United States and the highest per capita vote of any PB process in the United States. The City of Vallejo allocated $3.2 million for PB distribution in 2012 and San Francisco allocated $100 K for PB distribution in 2013 and Vallejo isn’t even mentioned in this blog. Really? Wow.

    Marti Brown
    City of Vallejo

    • Thanks very much for your comment, Marti. Interesting to hear about the City of Vallejo’s experience with participatory budgeting.

      • Thank you, Tony. It has been incredibly difficult to get good press on PB Vallejo. Hardly anyone seems to want to write a “feel good” story about Vallejo let alone include acknowledge our efforts in articles and blogs. Everyone likes to credit larger, “progressive” American cities with PB. So, if I seem a little terse, it’s because I am. : ) I hope you understand. Thanks again. Marti

      • Thanks again to you for reaching out and sharing your experiences with PB, Marti. I was particularly interested to see that you used digital tools as part of the process, including Mindmixer to power I’ll certainly include Vallejo as an example of good practice when I brief colleagues back in Europe on PB in the USA!

      • Marti Brown

        Thank you, Tony. I would really appreciate that.

  3. liesbet de letter

    dear tony,
    have ou already read the Guide to Social Innovation co-published by DG Regional and Urban Policy and DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion? It contains an example of participative budgeting in North-Rhine-Westphalia in Germany, but also many others with a similar philosophy!

    • Good to hear from you, Liesbet! Thanks for the link. I hadn’t seen the guide. Interesting to see the examples, including the one from NRW. If I understand correctly, this doesn’t directly concern EU funding though?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s