Participatory budgeting is an important process for inclusive and accountable governance. It allows cities and towns to educate, engage, and empower their citizens along with strengthening their governance. It has already been implemented in various forms by many countries around the globe. Even though there is no precise model for participatory budgeting, there are some main conditions to meet and steps to follow.

This blog post is part of a series on participatory budgeting. Read the first article ‘Participatory Budget: The Beginners Guide’ here.

3 Key Conditions for Participatory Budgeting

City Decision-Making Power

The city needs to make sure that it has enough decision-making power over administration as well as resources to implement the projects chosen by the citizens. Participatory budgets should address the overall financial health of the municipality, but its main focus remains discretionary spending.

Important: A local government must have sufficient discretionary funding available in order to be financially flexible. Hence, citizens can have more decision-making power over the selection of new projects.

Public Deliberation

Citizens must be engaged in the discussions over resources and policies. A city can gather their opinions and votes through an offline or online platform or, even better, a combination of both.

Accountability &  Repetition

Once the budget is finalised, cities have to make it public and give feedbacks to the citizens about their proposals. Also, cities must notify their citizens about the realisation of the proposed projects. Both citizens and city officials need to be able to monitor the implementation of the participatory budget and the projects.

[clickToTweet tweet=”One meeting or a referendum is not participatory budgeting, the process must be repeated each year.” quote=”Participatory budgeting involves several meetings and must be repeated every year. One meeting or a referendum on public spending is not participatory budgeting.”]

How to Implement Participatory Budgeting?

1) Citizens Engagement Meeting

During the first meeting, a city or a town must divide its area in districts or neighborhoods according to its size. Also, it must prepare a Quality of Life Index to allocate resources more efficiently. This index assesses the level of wealth by districts or neighborhoods so that the city knows where resources are most needed.

Then, the city elects a Budget Council, which will be in charge of supervising the participatory budgeting such as the respect of the timeline and the approval of the project plans. This council should meet at every step of the process with the entire municipal council.

Furthermore, the city must decide on how to engage with its citizens. To do so, it can adopt offline and online platforms on which citizens can propose and vote for ideas. Yet, offline participation requires that citizens elect delegates by district or neighborhood. Also, the city must decide whether or not citizens can propose and vote for ideas outside of their own neighborhood and which topics these ideas should covered such as transportation, culture, and education.

Lastly, a city must educate its citizens by making all the information public such as not only general documents about the participatory budgeting process but also documents more specific like the quality of life index, the available financial resources and the budget allocation of the past year.

2) Proposition

Citizens or their delegates can propose ideas, comment and vote on each others’ ideas. They discuss local priorities and develop concrete projects.

3) Selection

The city collects and assesses citizens’ ideas. To do so, elected representatives visit all the proposed project sites and evaluate their social needs based on the quality of life index and their costs. Then, the budget council comes back to its citizens with a selection of finale proposals and feedback about their ideas.

4) Voting

Citizens vote and comment on the final proposals of the city.

5) Consensus

The budget council collects the vote and comes up with a final budget recommendation.

6) Approval

The final budget is sent to the Mayor’s Office which approves it or not. If approved, the final budget is sent to the municipal legislature for its final approval.

7) Implementation

Once the budget is approved by all, the budget council makes sure it is implemented by city agencies or outside contractors. It must approve the technical plans and contracts. Some projects will be implemented by the end of the year but some other larger projects may take several years to implement.

8) Monitoring

The budget council monitors the on-site projects’ implementation. Meanwhile, the city keeps its citizens in the loop. To do so,  it allows them to monitor the implementation of the projects, publishes the allocation of the public spending both offline and online and a year-end report detailing the projects’ implementation.

This guideline is derived from the first participatory process of Porto Alegre (1,000,000 inhabitants), Brazil.

Example: Participatory Budgeting in New York City Council

New York City has the largest participatory budget of the United States both in terms of participants and budget amount. The first budget was introduced in 4 Council Districts in 2011, and in 2016, 24 Council Districts have  adopted it.The total amount of capital discretionary funds allocated is $25 Millions which means around $1 or $2 millions by Council Districts. Also, the participatory budgeting process follows our timeline from September to April, implementation excluded.

So far, 40,539 citizens have participated including 18,576 only this year. Regarding participant eligibility, every citizens can propose ideas but only the district stakeholders aged 14 and up can develop proposals. Also, only district residents of 16 y.o. and up can vote for proposals.

In order for this impressive participatory budgeting to happen, city councils used tech tools such as Shareabouts by OpenPlans, Placemaps by Project for Public SpacesGoToWebinar and many other platforms such as GISmapping or Google Apps.

Key Learnings

The success of New York City shows that cities have to meet the conditions and follow the steps to implement their own participatory budget. It should be a year-long process involving several meetings and public deliberation. Also is they want to repeat the process, cities must be accountable and give feedback to their citizens. Lastly, they must keep in mind that discretionary funds are essential along with using the right tech tools to engage with their citizens.