Interested in Participatory Budgeting as a means to enabling local people have a tangible say in how their city develops I embarked on an independent research study that resulted in a journal article in the Academy of Urbanism’s quarterly publication, under the title Community X-Factor or civic pedagogy?
To inform my research, and the article, I interviewed leading experts across the including Jez Hall of PBPartners, to Giovanni Allegretti of the University of Coimbre (and a renowned international Participatory Budgeting expert) and to Maria Hadden, head of the Chicago division of USA based Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP).
What is Participatory Budgeting?
Participatory Budgeting was conceptualised in Porto Alegre in Brazil 1989 and has since swept across Latin America and beyond. Whilst the rules of engagement and the design of the participatory budgeting process varies from place to place, it follows a common structure. A proportion of a national or local budget is allocated to the participatory budget and citizens, with the help of relevant experts, are then invited to pitch proposals for initiatives considered beneficial to the wider community – such as functional repair work or socially-minded outreach activities. The community is then invited to vote online or in person, and those ideas that secure the most votes are added to the cycle of implementation.
What do the experts say?
Maria Hadden praises the inclusive nature of the process. “Participatory budgeting enables those who cannot participate in regular elections because of barriers like age or legal status to exercise a key component of our civic culture by making informed decisions to improve their communities,”
Furthermore, Jez Hall believes the very act of a community congregating together in a common space, in which they are made to listen to one another’s proposals and enter into a dialogue, works to build consensus and social capital … increasing understanding and in triggering unplanned collaborations.
And it’s not just fellow citizens that attendees begin to understand more about. “One of the most common responses from the participating community is ‘I never understood how hard it was to make these decisions’.”
Allegretti describes how Portuguese municipalities have set up a dialogue stream between their technical staff and the individuals behind the projects so they can work together to make them viable. This enables learning about the constraints faced by municipalities, adding another dimension to the notion of ‘perspective taking’. This also seeks to address and manage the potential sense of alienation for those whose proposals have been rejected.