Participatory budgeting developed out of municipal decision-making, where a city in Brazil sought to involve its residents in its resource allocation process. The purpose is to involve the general public in setting priorities in the community and, in turn, distribute resources accordingly.
Participatory budgeting is grounded in three principles:
- All citizens are eligible and encouraged to participate.
- The rules for participation are created and applied by participants.
- Resources are allocated based on criteria established by participants and technical criteria from an executive group.
The greatest support for participatory budgeting comes out of its founding nation, where 140 Brazilian communities in six states employ iterations of the practice. Since it was first introduced in 1989, participatory budgeting has moved out broadly into the world. There are currently more than 1,500 participatory budgeting projects taking place in nations scattered all around the world. Participatory budgeting proponents value its ability to enhance transparency, reduce government inefficiencies and corruption and enhance public participation in local democracy. Its detractors cite low levels of participation, increased resource demands and process flaws as critical issues.
Closer to home, Canadian municipalities are exploring the potential for participatory budgeting to increase representation in community decision-making. As the number of citizens in our communities increases, the proportion of who can participate directly with community leadership decreases. Participatory budgeting is a process with an inherent bias toward decentralizing decision-making and giving everyone in the community an equal voice. The role of the municipal government becomes one of facilitating the decision-making process, as opposed to making the decisions.
While every participatory budgeting process can be customized, there is a general process that can be applied:
- Residents brainstorm spending ideas;
- Residents break into groups of volunteers who develop spending proposals based on the brainstorm ideas;
- Residents vote on the spending proposals; and
- The executive, which is often municipal government, implements the top projects.
Global interest in participatory budgeting continues to grow, and there are a substantial number of resources available to support the process.
A few of the most generous resources include:
- A participatory budgeting model for Canadian cities: Improving representation through increased citizen participation in the municipal budgeting process.
- Ten reasons to support participatory budgeting.
- The Participatory Budgeting Project.
- University of Toronto research on participatory budgeting and other participatory democracy processes.
- Western participatory practices: Observations on experience from the African Regional Seminar on participatory budgeting.