What do we know (and not know) about participatory budgeting?


Photo: Peruvians contemplate potential investment projects in Pueblo Libre, a district of Lima.

What is the “state of the art” of participatory budgeting (PB)? Started in Porto Alegre, Brazil in the late 1980s by the Workers’ Party, participatory budgeting invited average citizens to deliberate and vote on public infrastructure projects funded by the municipal government. PB in Porto Alegre quickly captured the imagination of leftist all over Latin America (and the world) and PB began to take place in cities around the region. Today, PB exists in almost every country in Latin America and continues to spread to more and more cities around the world every year.

Recently, Brian Wampler, Mike Touchton, and I were asked by the Hewlett Foundation and the Omidyar Network to review the enormous literature on PB around the world. We developed several insights about its spread around the world, transformations over time, and impact. Some of our main findings are.

  • As it travels around the world, PB now takes place at different levels of government, follows different rules in a variety of local contexts, abides by different program designs, and incorporates technology in novel ways.
  • PB has the potential to effect change in individual participants’ behaviors and attitudes, government processes, and social well-being. Several factors can facilitating these positive outcomes, including supportive leaders, a strong civil society sector, and sufficient funding.
  • More research is needed to fully understand PB’s potential. Future work should focus on within case comparisons and large-N impact studies.

For more on these insights, you can read our blogs (here, here, and here) or contact us at bwampler@boisestate.edu, smcnulty@fandm.edu, miketouchton@miami.edu.



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