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    What is Participatory Budgeting

    Participatory budgeting (PB) is a different way to manage public money, and to engage people in government. It is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.

    The process was first developed in Brazil in 1989, and there are now over 1,500 participatory budgets around the world. Most of these are at the city level, for the municipal budget. PB has also been used, however, for counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies.


    Though each experience is different, most follow a similar basic process: residents brainstorm spending ideas, volunteer budget delegates develop proposals based on these ideas, residents vote on proposals, and the government implements the top projects. For example, if community members identify recreation spaces as a priority, their delegates might develop a proposal for basketball court renovations. The residents would then vote on this and other proposals, and if they approve the basketball court, the city pays to renovate it.

    Where Has it Worked

    The Brazilian city of Porto Alegre started the first full PB process in 1989, for the municipal budget. In Porto Alegre, as many as 50,000 people have participated each year, to decide as much as 20% of the city budget. Since 1989, PB has spread to over 1,500 cities in Latin America, North America, Asia, Africa, and Europe. In the US and Canada, PB has been used in Toronto, Montreal, Guelph, Chicago, New York City, and Vallejo (California).

    Examples of PB

    There are over 1,500 cities and institutions implementing Participatory Budgeting (PB), and it is almost impossible to keep track of them all. However, mapped below are some of the most developed and interesting PB processes in North America, Latin America and Europe that illustrate the diversity of PB models. Click on the markers or view the tables below the map to see basic information about  each process.

    North America
    Location Institution Summary Years Active Annual Amount Allocated Annual Participants
    New York City, US New York City Council Districts (24 of 51) New York City is host to the largest PB in the U.S. in terms of participants and budget amount. First introduced in 4 council districts in 2011, the annual PBNYC process now spans 24 Council Districts and lets residents directly decided how to spend $25 million in capital discretionary funds. 2011- $25M
    ($1-2M each)
    Chicago, US City of Chicago Wards (3 of 50) In 2009, PBP and Chicago alderman Joe Moore launched the first PB process in the U.S., in the city’s 49th Ward. In the current process, residents of three Wards decide each year how to spend $3 million of taxpayer money. 2009- $3M
    ($1M each)
    Vallejo (CA), US City of Vallejo In 2012, Vallejo established the first citywide PB in the U.S., through a City Council Resolution. Through PB, the community decides how to spend $2.4 million of revenue from the city’s Measure B Sales Tax. Vallejo residents propose spending ideas, develop project proposals, and vote on which to fund, then the list of winning projects is submitted to City Council for approval. 2012- $2.4M 4,431
    San Francisco, US San Francisco Board of Supervisors Districts (3 of 11) San Francisco’s District 3 introduced a pilot PB program in 2013, empowering residents to directly decide how to spend $100,000 of discretionary funding for capital projects, programs and activities. The pilot program has since expanded to three districts. 2013- $460K
    ($100-260K each)
    Boston, US City of Boston Boston’s PB process, the first youth PB initiative in the U.S., was launched in January 2014 as an initiative of the Mayor’s office. The process lets the city’s youth ages 12-25 decide how to spend $1 million of the capital budget. 2014- $1M 2,000
    St. Louis, US City of St. Louis Wards (1 of 28) Participatory Budgeting St. Louis began in 2013 with 6th Ward alderman Christine Ingrassia committing a portion of the neighborhood improvement budget for a pilot program. Over several months, residents brainstormed spending ideas, developed concrete proposals, and voted on which to fund. 2013- $100K 736
    New York City, US Brooklyn College In 2012, the student government of Brooklyn College started a participatory budgeting process to better address the needs of students and to cultivate a more bottom-up and inclusive budget allocation process on campus. 2012-2013 $20K 600
    Toronto, Canada Toronto Community Housing Since 2001, Toronto’s public housing authority has engaged tenants in allocating $5 to $9 million of capital funding per year. Tenants identify local infrastructure priorities in building meetings, then budget delegates from each building meet to vote for which priorities receive funding. 2001- $5M
    Montreal, Canada Plateau-Mont-Royal Borough The Montreal borough Plateau Mont-Royal implemented a PB process in from 2006-2008 for its capital budget. The process evolved each year, starting as one large assembly and later incorporating a series of meetings and the election of neighborhood delegates. Up to $1.5 million per year was allocated by residents.  2006- 2008 $1.5M
    Guelph (Ontario), Canada Neighborhood Support Coalition A coalition of grassroots neighborhood groups in Guelph, has been allocating a pot of public and foundation funds since 1999. Each year, the groups decide how to spend roughly $250,000. The funding is generally used for services and programs, which are delivered by the groups themselves. 1999- $250K
    Vancouver, Canada Ridgeview Elementary School Students at Ridgeview Elementary public school decided how to spend $2000 from the Parent Advisory Council budget through a PB process in 2005. Students developed project ideas in classes, decided on each class’s top idea, and then voted on the top idea in a school-wide assembly. 2005 $2K


    Location Institution Summary Years Active Annual Amount Allocated Annual Participants
    Newcastle, UK Newcastle City Council In 2008, Newcastle launched a PB process in which 450 young people helped decide how to allocate the city’s £2.25m Children’s Fund. After months of preparation, youth ages 5-13 attended a PB event at which they voted electronically for services targeted at young people. Their votes were incorporated into the Fund’s complex procurement process, weighted to count for 20% of the final spending decisions. 2008  £2.25M  450
    London, UK Tower Hamlets Borough The Tower Hamlets ‘You Decide!’ project began in January 2009. Through 8 events over four months, 815 residents allocated almost £2.4 million from the central council budget for public services. 2009-2011 £2.38M (2009-2010)
    Durham, UK Durham County council Durham have rolled PB out in all 14 of the Council’s local engagement structures (Area Action partnerships) and have aligned it to a consultation on local priorities and consultation on the Council’s budget. 2013
    £500,000 11,000
    Seville, Spain City of Seville Seville (pop. 700,000) is the largest European city to implement PB. From 2004-2013, residents decided on roughly 50% of local spending for their city districts, for capital projects and programs. They submitted project proposals online or in neighborhood assemblies, and after a series of meetings, locally elected budget delegates delivered the participatory budget to city hall for implementation. 2004-2013 $19M (average 2004-2009)  20,000 (2004-2009)


    South America
    Location Institution Summary Years Active Annual Amount Allocated Annual Participants
    Porto Alegre, Brazil City of Porto Alegre Porto Alegre, with nearly 1.5 million residents, was the first city to launch a full PB process, in 1989. Since then, up to 50,000 residents have turned out each year to decide how to spend as much as 20% of the city’s annual budget. Participants attend a series of local assemblies, and after months of discussions budget delegates deliver a participatory budget to the city for implementation. 1989-  $71.5M (average) 12,500 (average) 30,000 (2002 – peak)
    State of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil State of Rio Grande do Sul The state of Rio Grande do Sul, home to Porto Alegre and over 10 million people, implemented PB between 1999 and 2002. During each annual cycle, people met in assemblies in each of the state’s 22 regions, to identify priorities for public works and services. Delegates from each region then worked to harmonize the proposals into a single budget. 1.2 million people participated over the 4 years, deciding on over 12% of the state’s budget. 1999-2002 $200M  378,000 (2001)
    Belo Horizonte, Brazil City of Belo Horizonte Belo Horizonte, population 2.5 million, has had a district-level PB since 1993, a Housing PB since 1996, and a digital PB (e-PB) since 2006. Through both local assemblies and online voting, residents allocate over $50 million per year. 1993- $33.6M (average)  30,500 (average)
    Rosario, Argentina  City of Rosario Rosario’s PB consists of an annual cycle in which over 87,000 city residents decide how to allocate around $9 million of the city budget. In this city of 1 million people, residents discuss spending ideas at neighborhood 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. 2003- $9.6M 87,000
    La Plata, Argentina City of La Plata In 2008, La Plata launched a PB initiative in which citizens gather in neighborhood assemblies to debate their needs, and to develop projects that propose public works, services, and programs. This is followed by a larger process of voting, where a secured system allows votes to be cast through either paper or electronic ballots. In 2012, it became the first city in Argentina to enable participants of the public assemblies to decide on rules and regulations for the PB process. 2008-  $10.5M (2010) 51,104 (2012)


1 Comment

  1. THOMAS BASS says: September 28, 2015 at 10:50 pmReply

    I must say, this is an EXCELLENT approach to giving the POWER back to the PEOPLE! It makes perfect sense since our governmental entities have overthrown the people!