Participatory Budgeting is a democratic process that allows citizens to deliberate and decide about how to spend part of the public budget. In other words, PB allows taxpayers to decide how to spend tax dollars.
A PB process typically has five characteristics.
Sintomer et al. (
) list six different types of participatory budgeting processes. These are:
Participatory budgeting emerged in Porto Alegre, Brazil in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The PB practiced in Porto Alegre is widely considered the “gold standard” for a full, inclusive, and effective participatory budgeting process. It is characterized by a year-long process that includes extensive deliberation by individual citizens over how to spend a fixed percentage of the municipal budget. The Porto Alegre model also includes elected citizen PB councils and close government and citizen cooperation. The PB process results in a prioritized list of citizen-proposed projects, most of which are capital investments. Although the government retains final decision-making authority as to which of those projects are implemented, in practice power is ceded to the citizenry because the government typically adopts the full list of projects without question. One other distinguishing feature of the Porto Alegre model is its focus on social justice. The government uses social, ecological, economic, and other criteria to weigh the merit of each of the citizen-proposed projects to ensure a just distribution of resources throughout the city. In areas where organized interests are strong, there may be significant pushback to this type of participatory process.
In this type of PB, only organized interests, such as companies, NGOs, workers unions, etc., may participate, not individual citizens. Unlike the Porto Alegre model, the organized interests model does not focus on capital investment projects, but instead on broad policy agendas, such as health, education, and urban development. The organized interests model is highly deliberative, though the conclusions of the deliberation are non-binding. This PB model is more common in areas where organized interests are already very strong.
In community participatory budgeting, both citizens and organized interests participate in a deliberative process to set spending priorities in the social, environmental and cultural sectors, typically to assist traditionally disadvantaged populations. However, unlike the Porto Alegre model, participants in this model do not deliberate over how to spend part of the municipal budget, but instead deliberate over how to utilize a dedicated community fund. This fund is mostly comprised of money from international organizations, NGOs, or the community itself. The rules of this PB process are decided entirely by participants and the private sector is excluded from participation. Further, participants themselves, not the local government, implement the projects themselves.
Multi-stakeholder participation is similar to community participatory budgeting in most ways except that the community fund includes funding from the private sector and the local government. As a result, the roles of both the private sector and the local government are stronger than that of the community participatory budgeting model. Because the fund is independent of the municipal budget, the influence of elected representatives is limited, but the influence of the private sector is often relative to the size of their contribution to the fund. While communities often implement projects themselves in the model, this need not be the case.
The proximity participation model includes citizen deliberation about general strategic goals of the municipality, but is purely consultative. Organized interests typically do not participate in the process. Citizens deliberate in organized assemblies and may speak directly to government officials. Governments may use the platform to seek advice on specific questions that require citizen input such as, “Which roads are in urgent need of improvement?” However, the outcomes of these deliberations are not binding. Governments adopt only when fits with their policy agendas and are not required to justify their decisions to the participating public. Although this may suggest that governments do not take this process seriously, there are several examples in which they do.
The consultation on public finance is similar to proximity participation in most ways except that the primary objective of consultation on public finance is to increase the transparency of the financial arm of the city. Instead of focusing on broad policy objectives, the process aims to disseminate information to the public. Meetings will typically include a government explanation of public revenues and spending with a citizen deliberation and response. This process may also be used to offset a budget deficit. Again, the citizens’ ideas are non-binding.
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