Thursday, May 6, 2010

Participatory Budgeting, Thoughtful Thursday Posting

  1. "e-participatory Budgeting: e-Democracy from Theory to Success" by Tiago Peixoto, (e-democracy center at the Universitat Zurich)
  2. 72 Frequently Asked Questions About Particpatory Democracy, Urban Governance Toolkit Series, UN-Habitat (the "FAQ")
  3. Participatory Budgeting in Brazilian Cities: Limits and Possibilities in Building Democratic Institutions, by Celina Souza (I printed this out some time from It now appears to have morphed into several articles, one from Environment and Urbanization Volume 13 Number One 159 to 184 Also at

Several cities have a system where people vote on part, or occasionally of the budget. The two most significant are Belo Horizonte and Porto all Alegre in Brazil. Brazil is eighty percent of these. And as Souza points out, decentralization in general is marked in Brazil, participatory budgeting experiments started during the military regime. The Constitution shifted more resources to municipalities and provinces, and local revenue increased as well. The FAQ covers are seven in Brazil, four, elsewhere in latin America, Cordoba in Spain and Saint Denis in but three hundred cities use it to some extent. It can be just voting on several options, but often it includes some direct democracy and chances for ordinary citizens to debate the option. The FAQ has links to several city web sites. And many cities just have a few small project handled by participatory budgeting. Porte Alegre has elected elegates look at the entire capital budget-- about ten percent of the total budget. Mundo Novo has a town hall debate the entire budget--including the mayor's salary! The FAQ cites situations where having the people make the decision on only a minor part of the budget has a beneficial effect on public participation. Also, both Souza and the FAQ denote the tendency of participatory democracy experiments to make decisions to fund specific projects rather than do long term planning although there are exceptions.

Belo Horizonte, a city of 2.5 million, budgets 43 million dollars in a series of forums as well as eleven million in an electronic mechanism. In this process, citizens voted for a public work in each district of the city. Thus a person could vote on one choice for each of nine projects. Ten percent participated in the isprocess. Yet only half the voters only voted for one choice, 15 percent for two, 6.57 for three. 16.25 percent took advantage of all nine choices. (There were four choices per district.) The turn out was 9.97 percent, greater that eh face-to-face approach, that Belo Horizonte has been using for some time. The conventional system involves meetings, and from my readings it is unclear how many and the role of the delegates that simply choose to come, and those that are elected in some process. There is a series of meetings, thematic meetings, and a special housing participatory budget because of concern about homelessness.. ( Since, there was online (and telephone voting), citizens could log in and vote for the public work in district one, log in later, vote in district two, etc. They had a total of fourty two days. As many citizens did not have computer or access to same at work or school, there were 178 places throughout the city where they could vote. As well a bus went to poor areas and highly travelled areas such as the city center to ensure access for everyone.

The city provided an official electronic moderated text-only for people to discuss the projects. Individuals provided pointers to videos,etc on other sites. The moderator kept the comments to the point, but some citizens posted something about one of the proposals and then let loose on their pet topic.

Souza cites statistics that show that Porto Alegre and Belo Horizonte enjoy large numbers of people who are involved with civic associations, trust them, and seek information on current events and local politics. Both Belo Horizonte and Porte Alegre appear to have high levels of civic involvement and civil society than other Brazilian Cities and that might have led to the success of Participatory Budgeting. But it appears as well that the the participatory budgeting program improved it futher. 46.3 percent of Porte Alegre residences know about it and in Belo Horizonte 81.5 percent of the delgates approve and 67.3 percent of the general population approve, the highest of all local government policies.

Tiago Peixoto was kind enough to answer questions on his web site. And Paul Johnston raised an issue of concern to this blog, could citizens follow up and help manage the construction and running of the projects on which they voted to choose. Belo Horizonte does do this to some extent, but Dr. Peixoto raised the issue of managing technical projects such as road resurfacing. Demarchy calls for sortition juries to specialize. Thus, road resurfacing projects might be managed by a group that have an interest, expertise, or simply are assigned over a long period of time to this kind of project. And many cities have citizens, special monitoring commissions, and as well as the day-to-day authorities monitor the project--this is a type of demarchy for which I asked what kind of education is needed for such a specialized jury. Could a group of citizens read "RoadWork for Dummies" and participate in a meaningful way with the public works officials such as civil engineers, both to prevent corruption, rent seeking, and just to present a public view (the tension between the job benefits of public works and ensuring that competent committed workers do the work.) And how well does a City Manager, Major or elected Alderman do in keeping an eye on technical projects?

And the issue came up of more more frequent voting than once every two years. Dr. Peixoto proposed a process for prioritizing relatively minor issues, perhaps a "fix my street" site--connected to GIS technology. (This could be a person getting care who was uninsured or deciding on grants for scientific research or giving a bonus to a meritorious public employee.)

To be followed up in Future Thoughtful Thursdays

Many of the writeups of the most prominent country in Participatory Budgeting, Brazil, are naturally in Portugese. I unfortunately have not had an opportunity to learn Portugese. I do have three years of Spanish and will follow up on some of the web sites in the Spanish Speaking countries of South and Central America, listed in the FAQ.
  1. Abers, Rebecca, "From Clientelism to Co-operatino: Local Government, Participatory Policy, and Civic Organizing in Porto Alegre Brazil' Politics and Society 26(4) 511 to 523.
  2. Navarro, Zander (1197) Affirmative Democracy adn Redistributive Development the Case of Particpatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil 1989 to 1997, unpublished
  3. Nylen, William (2000a) The Making of Loyal Opposition: The Workers' party (PT) the Consolidation of Democracy in Brazil in P. Kingstone and T. J. Power (Democratic Brzil:Actors, Institutions and Process (Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press) pages 126 to 143
  4. Nylen William, "Testing the Empowerment Thesis: The Partici9ipatory Budget in Belo Horizonte and Betem Brazil, Comparative Politics volume 34 Number Two Jan 2002 pages 127 to 145
  5. Santos, Boaventura de S. (1998) "Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre: Towards a Redistributive Democracy" Politics and Society 26(4) 461 to 510
  6. Souza, Celina (1997) "Constitutional Engineering in Brazil: The Politics of Federalism and Decentralizztion" London Macmillion New York
  7. Wampler, Brian, "Participatory Budgeting in Brazil" Contestation, Cooperation and Accountability, Pennsylvania State University Press
  8. William R. Nylen, "Testing the Empowerment Thesis: The Participatory Budget in Belo Horizonte and Betim Brazil Compartive Politics Volume 34 Number Two Jan 2002 pages 127 to 145.
As I was searching for these references from Souza's article, I see a rich gold mine of information on the participatory budgeting experiments .

1 comment:

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