Around the world, hundreds of governments are opting to open up their budgetary conversation to the community, inviting them to have their say on how money should be prioritised for new investments choices, services and projects.
Participatory budgeting (or PB as it’s known in casual circles) is a democratic process where community members get the chance to directly determine how best to spend a part of the public budget.
And, as PB continues to gather momentum, schools, universities, housing authorities, and community coalitions have also begun the process of delivering spending decisions into the hands of their stakeholders.
- Give community members a say
- Generates social capital
- Make for better and more equitable decisions
- Develop active and democratic citizens
- Build communities and strengthens community organizations
- Connect organisations with their communities
- Make an organisation more transparent, more accountable and more efficient
It’s not a new process by any means. For hundreds of years, communities have made financial decisions via town meetings, community boards, councils and public consultations. But since Porto Alegre established the process formally in 1989, the methodology has been taken up by over 1200 various bodies around the globe.
Below, Bang the Table reviews 14 PB projects, some using online technology to supplement traditional PB methods, others that don’t. All however, present community members with an opportunity to actively participate in budgeting decisions that will affect their lives.
1. Federal budgeting
Location: 19 cities throughout the United States, plus Community Conversations in an additional 38 towns and cities.
Time span: January 2010 – Present
On June 26, 2010, thousands of Americans in dozens of cities across the US came together to try and find common ground on federal budget choices. Connected by live streaming video and polling software, community members weighed-in on strategies that looked to a sustainable fiscal future and a strong economic recovery.
2. State Budgeting
Location: Iowa, USA
Time span: February 2009, – July 2010
In Iowa, a small state of3 million people, politicians launched Open Budget Iowa in the hope that it would bring transparency to the budget process and give the people of Iowa a direct voice in crafting a balanced state budget. Collected ideas were used to assist in the development of the 2010 state budget.
3. Municipal Budgeting
Location: Porto Alegre, Brazil
Time span: 1989 – present
In Porto Alegre citizens can participate as either individuals or via civic associations to voluntarily contribute to budgetary decision-making. Their decisions will affect the application of project and service resources as they become key players in annual deliberations over the previous and forthcoming years’ municipal budgets
Location: London Borough of Barnet – England
Time: 2009 – present
Barnet Council expect that monies for services will be slashed by up to 25% over the next three years. They’ve engaged their community online and asked them to determine how they’d like to see their rates being spent. The site delivers graphic content information and an opportunity for community members to rate each contribution. Council promises that the suggestions will be fed into the final budget setting programming.
Location: La Plata, Argentina
Time span: Since 2008 on a yearly basis
La Plata’s Multi-Channel PB uses an innovative combination of offline, online and mobile channels to promote the engagement of citizens in the direct allocation of the investment budget of the city. The municipality’s unique participatory design, combining face-to-face deliberation with remote voting (e.g. mobile voting), has produced outstanding results, with over 92,000 participants having engaged in the process so far.
Location: Rosario, Argentina
Time span: 2002 till present
Rosario’s participatory budget consists of an annual cycle in which over 4,000 city residents decide how to allocate $8 million of the city budget. In this city of 1 million people, residents discuss spending ideas at neighbourhood assemblies, elected delegates develop full budget proposals, and then residents vote on the proposals at another round of voting assemblies. The funds can be spent on both capital projects and services or programs.
4. Youth Budgeting
Location: Recife, Pernambuco State, Brazil
Time span: 1997 to present
Here along with four other Brazilian cities, the Children’s Participatory Budget has been established. This idea began to help children and teenagers in social vulnerability. In Recife, the schools give children classes in law, social identity, culture, science and technology. Throughout the year, these children also organise meetings to discuss questions that are, later on, taken to the mayor and its secretariat – everything is supported by educative programs.
5. Public Works Budgeting
Location: Ipatinga, Brazil
Time Span: 2001 – present
A number of Brazilian municipal governments have used Participatory Budgeting since the late 1980’s as a mechanism for including citizens in the budget-setting process. However, it wasn’t until 2001 that the Municipality of Ipatinga used the Internet to extend and diversify the process whereby citizens voted on priorities and budgetary allotments for local public works projects. It resulted in an annual increase of 44 to 125 percent in citizen input regarding budgeting priorities.
6. Open Space Budgeting
Location: City of London, UK
Time Span: 2008 – 2009
In 2008, the City of London asked the community to vote on how they’d like to spend £6 million to improve 10 London parks, or how to allocate £ 400,000 each. Under the scheme, the ten chosen parks will receive the money to make them cleaner, safer, greener and nicer places to visit. Grants can help to deliver flower beds, native gardens, improved spaces for pets and people and new amenities.
7. Community Coalition Budgeting
Location: Guelf, Canada
Time Span: Since 1999 on a yearly basis
Each year, the Guelf budgeting process funds hundreds of prioritized community services and involves thousands of people in new neighbourhood activities and groups. The Coalition has helped develop several new neighbourhood groups and new partnerships between community organizations and public agencies. Inspired by the Coalition’s budget process, city staff have collaborated with progressives in other Canadian cities to plan a Canada-wide action research project in support of participatory budgeting.
8. E-specific Budgeting
Location: Hamburg- Germany
Time span: 2006 – 2009
The City of Hamburg (Germany) wanted to give all citizens the opportunity to have their say on the medium-term city budget till 2016. The City used an online budget calculator and online forum to make the complex financial calculation understandable to the average citizen and initiate a public discussion.
Location: Leipzig, Germany
Time Span: 2008
Leipzig is located in the east of Germany and counts almost half a million inhabitants. The ePB in Leipzig has neither been initiated by the government nor the parliament but by the local Agenda21 group. The group asked the citizens to come up with budget related proposals and provided an online budget planner to display the actual amount of spending in the different domains.
The administration also provided the opportunity to formally object to the budget plan online.
9. Gender-sensitive Budgeting
Location: Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
Time span: 2008 –2009
In 2008 and 2009, the city of Freiburg conducted a citizens’ dialogue about the distribution of the municipal budget. This citywide process looked to determine which items of the municipal budget were the most important to citizens’ and would be prioritized for possible budget cuts and raises. It also examined how a shift in budgetary item resources would impact individual groups of society (gender budgeting).
10. High School Budgeting
Location: Région Poitou-Charentes, France
Time span: Every year since 2005
In Poitou-Charentes, participatory budgeting involves the whole 93 public High Schools of the Region. Since 2008, it has been deployed, according to their demand and with a special methodology, to all private schools under contract. All the pupils, parents, teachers and employees in each school are invited to discuss and vote the projects they consider to be priorities in order to live and work better at school. Over the past 6 years, the participatory budget led to the funding of almost 1600 projects, directly proposed and decided by the participants themselves.
Significantly, while the UK, the US and Canada have all begun to take strides into the burgeoning field of PB, Australia has not followed in their footsteps in a significant way. Think it might be time?