Antwerp participatory budgeting
Citizen-led process stimulates solutions and influences policies.
Antwerp has developed a unique approach to participatory budgeting that gives citizens autonomy to spend public funds of €1.1m a year. By focusing on face-to-face debate, consensus decision-making and hard-to-reach residents, the city has been able to activate individuals and connect communities to help realise bright ideas for enhancing all aspects of city life.
Antwerp had long been interested in the principle of participatory democracy as a way of enabling citizens to directly contribute to the administration of their city not only as voters. It had already undertaken a number of projects in its name, learning along the way how easy it is for people to become frustrated if their input doesn’t appear to make a difference. When local elections led to a coalition government that found it could unite behind participatory budgeting, it became a priority.
The city decided to introduce a democratic process in which the 190,000 inhabitants of the central district of Antwerp would choose how 10% of the public budget is spent each year on roads, culture, sport and parks. Determined to make the process transparent and truly empowering, to overcome past problems, the participation team worked with the university of Antwerp and a panel of experts to research, test and refine a process based not on online votes but a series of live events.