Participatory budgeting is essentially a process where residents are deciding on budget allocation in their areas. There are various participatory budgeting examples showing us that the process suits both a small-scale redevelopment project of a local park and a city-wide participatory forum.
Below, we’ve collected five examples of participatory budgeting from Porto Alegre, Espoo, Chicago, Lahti, and Warsaw. While often drastically different in scope and implementation, these projects ensured that residents had a meaningful impact on their urban environments by deciding on budget spending.
Participatory Budgeting: Process and Examples
The underlining vision of participatory budgeting is that citizens, with their unique knowledge and experiences, must have an opportunity to shape their living environment. No wonder participatory budgeting became an instrument of advancing local democracy and co-governance.
The participatory budgeting process (or simply PB) usually consists of five stages:
- process design
- public consultation and proposal submission
Here is Maptionnaire’s take on the process that you can arrange with the platform. For residents, it offers an easy and interactive tool to submit, deliberate, and decide on proposals. At the same time, municipal employees don’t need any technical know-how (like coding) to design and run an online participatory budgeting process.
Here are more details on how digital tools help streamline all the stages of participatory budgeting. But let’s turn to the participatory budgeting examples!
5 Participatory Budgeting Examples
The Trailblazer: An example of participatory budgeting from Porto Alegre
Not all practices can boast a birthplace and date, but it’s a different story for participatory budgeting. It was first piloted in 1989 in Porto Alegre, a Brazilian city of 1.4 mln people as of now, where PB remains a yearly city-wide process. Throughout the decades, their participatory budgeting model has developed together with the city, its community, and its needs. And it prevails as a fruitful instrument of co-governance and community engagement.
In short, PB in Porto Alegre is an annual process open to all citizens of the voting age who decide on the city budget allocation (with an average budget of 1200$ per person). It’s implemented by a blend of direct and representative democracy: neighborhood and thematic discussions are open to anyone, while city-wide assemblies involve only representatives elected by citizens. As the scope and range of topics are vast, public consultations are often run in thematic blocks devoted to transportation, culture, sports, and so on.
Outreach and representativeness are common pains of community engagement projects. But Porto Alegre is striking high results in reaching out to usually underrepresented groups (women and non-binary people, people with immigrant backgrounds, and low educated residents), whose needs are fairly represented in budget allocation. As the participatory budgeting process is already in the DNA of the city, an increasing number of people get involved in this process. What’s more, PB reduced corruption in the area and increased transparency of budgeting processes.
Here you can read a detailed description of the Porto Alegre participatory budgeting process.
Participatory budgeting brings the community to an agreement in Espoo
Participatory budgeting is adaptable to small-scale projects — a re-design of an old playground, as was the case for the Finnish city of Espoo with 272.000 inhabitants. This playground became a bone of contention as neighborhood residents disagreed with the redesign project offered by city planners. In response, Espoo invited the residents to contribute their ideas through a participatory budgeting process. In a gamified digital survey, they chose how to spend 10,000 euros reserved for this playground project.
Involving the residents in the participatory process brought its fruits! By filling in the survey made with Maptionnaire's engagement tools, citizens became better educated about the project and associated costs, which reduced the number of complaints to zero. In addition, this map-based survey generated geolocated data — a treasure trove for urban planners. And of course, the new design of the playground space reflects the wishes and concerns of those for whom it’s made. This Espoo case is an example of how even small-scale participatory budgeting projects can advance community engagement and cooperation in city planning efforts.
Read about this participatory budgeting process in Espoo.
Participatory budgeting goes to Chicago
Chicago was the first city to adopt participatory budgeting in the US back in 2008, with New York following in 2011. Now, the process spans various city districts, but the first project involved only one ward with 60.000 inhabitants.
Low community participation was the incentive behind governors deciding to involve citizens directly in budget allocation. In this first process, any resident of a target area above 16 (irrespective of legal and immigrant status) could submit ideas that would make the district’s infrastructure better. Then, a selected committee of community representatives and volunteers evaluated the ideas — whether they fall into the scope and budget — and turned those into proposals. Finally, all citizens voted for the winning proposals, and the winning 16 of 36 proposals were forwarded to relevant city agencies.
Participatory budgeting in Chicago became a success and is now implemented in various wards (aka city districts). The proposal submission and voting are managed online, giving the community a chance to engage with the projects more regularly and at their convenience.
Here you can read more about the current state of participatory budgeting in Chicago.
A city-wide PB process in Lahti
Here comes an example of participatory budgeting spanning the entire city! In 2020, the City of Lahti (Finland) with 120.000 residents implemented a PB model to achieve efficient public spending and boost transparency. The budget for the pilot project was 100,000€, and the next year it doubled as the project turned out to be a success.
The process was implemented on Maptionnaire’s comprehensive participatory budgeting platform. On this web-based platform, citizens could first submit their ideas and then vote on how the budget should be distributed. Alongside this digital solution, Lahti relied on a network of volunteers who helped to spread the word about the project. To suit the needs of less technically advanced citizens, anyone could also vote in local libraries. Such a versatile approach ensured great results: for example, working-age residents, who’d usually be at work during community meetings or library open hours, engaged much more eagerly in this participatory budgeting process.
All in all, 4,691 or 4% of Lahti residents voted during the first year. Local administrators share that it took them about 4,5 months to run the consultation and voting processes (but add a few months for the initial design stage). Also having a comprehensive platform to run the deliberation and voting definitely speeded up the process. The implementation of the winning proposals takes place right now!
Find out more about this city-wide participatory budgeting project!
Participatory budgeting advances local democracy in Warsaw
Warsaw is another city that runs a yearly participatory budgeting process for 1,765 mln of its inhabitants. As in other places, the trigger for turning to the public participation toolset was a steady decline in public engagement. Having considered the success of similar practices worldwide, the city administration implemented the first project in 2014.
Warsaw’s PB relies on online and paper-based voting combined with in-person meetings. The process lasts for a year, starting with citizens submitting and discussing ideas that are later evaluated by the city government. At the same time, Warsaw organizes meetings where proposal authors can discuss their ideas with other residents. Viable projects are then offered for voting with the subsequent realization of the winning proposals. For example, in 2017, citizens submitted around 2700 proposals, from which, ca. 1800 were brought up for voting and 900 selected for implementation.
All in all, about 80% of selected projects have been subsequently implemented. While the city still struggles with outreach and getting sufficient voters, the process contributes immensely to the co-creation of urban spaces and advancing local democracy.
Get more details about participatory budgeting in Warsaw.
If you’re interested in learning more about launching a PB process for your project or in your city, watch a recording of the webinar we’ve held on this topic.
Solve the Challenges of Participatory Budgeting
What a tour around the world! But one of the main challenges of participatory budgeting remains the outreach and engagement of marginalized groups. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to offer, except for careful project planning and gaining a better understanding of these groups’ needs.
Here, digital community engagement tools can be beneficial for the inclusive design and outreach of your PB process. For example, Maptionnaire offers multilingual interfaces for submitting proposals and voting, which makes the process more welcoming for residents with immigrant backgrounds. Also, its map-based and visual surveys help to engage citizens with lower literacy levels.
What are the takeaways of these successful participatory budgeting examples? Once and again, participatory budgeting comes out as an efficient and flexible community engagement tool.
This multi-stage process, when paired with the right community engagement tools, allows you to tailor it just for the needs and experiences of your community. Indeed, this practice is adopted in places with drastically different political and socio-economic setups, and in any of these places, it brings together citizens with a mission to build better cities.