Participatory budgeting procedures
Participatory budgeting is a type of direct democracy that allows citizens an opportunity to deliberate, debate, and influence the allocation of public resources in local governments. Participatory budgeting procedures can also create opportunities for engaging, educating, and empowering citizens. These procedures can promote transparency, which can reduce government inefficiencies and corruption. Participatory budgeting began in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil and has since expanded to over 1,500 cities and institutions in the world. There are two general variations of participatory budgeting. The first focuses on “public works” programs, which involves the distribution of resources to specific projects. The second are “thematic programs,” which focus more on general spending policies.
- Goal: Increase the democratic representativeness of budgetary decisions.
- Goal: Decrease budgeted funding for ineffective or unnecessary expenditures.
- Goal: Decrease the misuse of public funds for private inurement.
- Goal: Increase the transparency of government budgeting.
- Goal: Increase the transparency of government spending.
In New York City, residents of twenty-seven council districts decide on how to spend $30 million of taxpayer money. It is a year-long process of public meetings in which citizens get an opportunity to discuss local needs and develop proposals. First, public meetings occur in each district where community members learn about the process, brainstorm projects, and select budget delegates. These delegates then obtain training about the budget process, project development, and key spending areas. Delegates then meet in committees and work to develop comprehensive proposals with the support of council member staff and other experts. Next, delegates present draft project proposals to the community and obtain feedback. After revisions, community residents vote on which projects to fund. NYC council members then submit their spending priorities to the City Council’s Finance Division for inclusion in the city budget. Community members can also evaluate the process and oversee the implementation of projects.
Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:
- Focusing on public works projects may diminish the impact of public learning regarding rights, the fiscal responsibility of the government, or broader social policies
- The level of participant involvement depends on the degree to which the government is willing to relinquish control
- Participants may not understand the complexities of long-term fiscal planning and may focus on completing short-term projects
- A focus on local policies and projects reduces the amount of time participants might spend dedicating their efforts to regional, national, or global issues
- Bureaucrats or special interest groups might manipulate programs, masking the appearance of broader participation and inclusive governance
If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which the policy is more likely to be appropriate:
- Is there sufficient discretionary funding to allow citizens to select specific public works?
- Can participatory budgeting programs be used to increase tax collection?
- Is the government prepared to delegate authority to citizens?
- Will participatory budgeting programs subvert traditional patronage networks?
- Can participatory budgeting help the government establish new bases of political support?
- Is the government willing to try to reform the local bureaucracy?
- Is delegating decision-making authority along political and administrative lines a viable option?
The following questions should be considered when determining how to implement this policy:
- Does the government have the resources and capacity to engage in participatory budgeting?
- How much discretionary funding should be allocated to participatory budgeting projects?
- How should participatory budgeting rules be devised?
- What political obstacles stand in the way in terms of enacting participatory budgeting regulations?
- How might the political landscape change due the effects of participatory budgeting?
- Has adoption of: Limited. There are over 1,500 cities and institutions that engage in participatory budgeting. However, even in large cities such as New York, there are only roughly 18,000 participants per year, and the share of public budgets subject to participatory budgeting is extremely low.
- Notable entities who have implemented or adopted this policy include:
- Advocates - Disadvantaged and Minority Groups. Assumption: Gives marginalized and excluded groups the opportunity to have their voices heard.
- Advocates - Good Government. Assumption: Enhances transparency and accountability.
- Government Agencies - Departments of Budgets. Assumption: Can help make services and infrastructure more relevant to the populations they serve.
- Associations - Finance. Assumption: May not want to disrupt current government networks and clientelism.
- Electeds - Local Legislators. Assumption: May not want to give up budgetary powers.
- Participatory Budgeting. Shah, Anwar. Participatory Budgeting. Herndon, VA, USA: World Bank Publications, 2007. ProQuest ebrary. Presents an authoritative guide to the principles and practice of participatory budgeting, providing a careful analysis of the potentials of participatory budgeting in strengthening inclusive and accountable governance as well as risks associated with interest group capture of participatory processes.
- Participatory Budgeting in Denver, Colorado. Haller, C. and Faulkner, G. (2012), Participatory budgeting in Denver, Colorado. Nat Civic Rev, 101: 23–25. doi: 10.1002/ncr.21083. Traditional modes of public participation have relied on face-to-face interaction and small but vocal groups of local residents. Denver, Colorado, is an excellent example of a city that has integrated technology into public participation.
- Piloting Participatory Budgeting: An Examination of Social Capital, Well-Being, and Public Good Provision in New York City. Allison Blythe Hurlbut, 2012, Piloting Participatory Budgeting: An Examination of Social Capital, Well-Being, and Public Good Provision in New York City, Columbia University Academic Commons. This case study is an examination of the pilot participatory budgeting process that was implemented in four New York City council districts from 2011 to 2012.
- Participatory Budgeting Process A non-profit organization that empowers people to decide together how to spend public money, primarily in the US and Canada.
- The New York City Council City Council website for submitting ideas and understanding the NYC process of participatory budgeting.
- Participatory Budgeting Opens Up Voting to the Disenfranchised and Denied NY Times article that discusses the benefits of participatory budgeting.
- Examples of Participatory Budgeting. Participatory Budgeting Project (2015)
- Participatory Budgeting. Shah, A. (2007). Participatory Budgeting. Herndon, VA, USA: World Bank Publications, p. 36-39.
- Participatory Budgeting FAQ. The New York City Council (2015)
- The Participatory Budgeting Project: Where We Work. Participatory Budgeting Project Website. Accessed on May 29, 2016.
- Participatory Budgeting in St. Louis. Accessed on May 29, 2016.