Participatory budgeting (PB) processes empower communities to make decisions on a city’s budget and spending. PB can be combined with deliberation to ensure a robust, inclusive process.
Name of Method
Participatory budgeting is a method of democratic decision-making that empowers participants to engage in a deliberative process regarding how public resources should be spent. The programs are often headed by governments but can also be initiated by citizens, not-for-profit or civil society organizations. While the objective is to allocate public funds, participants are given not only executive power but also opportunities to learn new perspectives and competencies, and build community. The activity also focuses on engaging with citizens often marginalized from civic life, providing them access to important decision-making opportunities.
Type/Level of Method
The method is a participatory process that engages citizens, often with a focus on including hard-to-reach communities, in determining how a set budget is spent. The themes are usually given by the city allowing for a thematic focus to be set centrally (top-down). The bottom-up nature of the process allows for resources to be spent effectively, meeting the real needs of citizens. If done well, this can build trust in government and increase civic participation. The project development, as determined by those selected and promoted, will engage different government agencies, potentially fostering outside-in organizational change.
Problem, Purpose and Needs
Based on context and practice, the precise goals of PB can vary. The purpose of a participatory budget at its most basic is to engage citizens in the planning and spending of part of a city’s budget. During the process, citizens are engaged in different conversations with other citizens but also with the city’s administration. This fosters different learning outcomes from understanding the needs of others to learning new skills and competencies. All of which could help a city build a more active, aware, and collaborative citizenship. The activity can also help citizens understand the cost of decision-making and lead to more understanding of policymaking decisions at large.
Relevance to Climate Neutrality
Essential Considerations for Commissioning Authorities
Commissioning Authorities should have a very clear policy on how much of the budget to allocate and have a well-planned process on how the budget will be determined.
Some starting questions could include:
- How to use online and offline channels
- Should the focus be on neighbourhoods or the whole city
- What role should deliberation have in decision-making
- What decision-making power should citizens have
- What kind of participation is needed: individual or group participation
- Who should participate and how to engage the hard-to-reach
- What will the process look like
- What kind of support will citizens need (resources, capacity building, knowledge, etc.).
Commissioning Authorities should keep in mind that the method has the potential to generate numerous positive outcomes, one of which is higher levels of institutional trust. This, however, hangs on proper implementation and serious political commitment to the process and the final implementation.
Governance Models and Approaches
Spectrum of participation
Actors and Stakeholder Relationships
How actors and diverse stakeholders are engaged in the process varies based on how the PB activities are carried out and the predominance of online or offline interaction. Overall, citizens are normally engaged throughout the whole process as project leaders and/or as decision-makers. Throughout the project’s ideation phase, project leaders are required to interact with other citizens as well as staff from different public agencies to test for feasibility, generating new relationships.
Often a third-party – university, think tank, research consultancy – is also present throughout the process to monitor and evaluate the activities to inform future action. They also serve to provide expert facilitation and capacity-building during the different phases.
Actors and Stakeholders
Interaction between participants
Social Innovation Development Stage
Running a PB requires having a dedicated staff that works on it every year. The actual PB process in which citizens are engaged typically lasts 3-4 months, however, the back-end planning and implementation processes are continuous.
Resources and Investments
Resources and Investments
Step by Step
- Pick themes: In this stage, participants are usually engaged in offline assemblies/gatherings in which the themes to be funded are chosen, usually based on deliberative processes. These themes are often in line with strategic objectives chosen by the city. The meetings are often facilitated at the neighbourhood level by a third party.
- Ideate projects: In this second phase, participants propose projects under the selected themes. This is often supported by an overall process that provides capacity-building and relationships, as well as access to necessary information.
- Select project winners and allocate budget: In this stage, projects are then voted on and given the budget.
- Implementation and monitoring: In the last stage, projects are implemented by the city and at times also with the citizen project leaders.
The PB can be evaluated by measuring participation (how many participants, demographic of participants, type of participation/engagement, # of projects implemented within a 1-year timeframe, the impact of projects, citizen satisfaction, etc.
Other forms of participatory and deliberative methods could be useful, e.g. co-design and co-creation.
Flexibility and Adaptability
As said, the way a PB is conducted varies based on the context and the objectives set by the city. The city of Antwerp, for example, focuses on deliberative processes and therefore used digital tools to push for offline participation. Also, the amount allotted to the PB can vary, even though 2-3% is the typical amount.