Participatory Budgeting A meta-level review

Authors: Rebecca Rumbul, Alex Parsons, Jen Bramley  Published by mySociety


Much  has  been  written  about  participatory  budgeting  over  the  last  30  years.  From  humble  beginnings in Brazil, it has swept over the globe and is considered by many institutions and governments  to  be  an  ideal  method  of  tangibly  engaging  citizens  in  the  operation  of  their  communities. It has, however, developed beyond the original Porto Alegre model, and the evolution, exportation into different cultural landscapes, and digitisation of the model have posed new challenges for implementers, innovators and supporters. This report, conducted primarily for the Hewlett  Foundation  with the involvement of the Omidyar Network,  examines  some  of those  challenges. The research was conducted from a meta-level perspective, seeking not to replicate the  many  excellent  case-studies  on  individual  instances  of  participatory  budgeting, and instead  identifying where additional support for participatory budgeting could be targeted to benefit the community of practice as a whole.  

This research  identified  significant  challenges  in the participatory budgeting sphere, from a very  common lack of goals to be achieved through participatory budgeting exercises, to very weak network links and peer support for implementers, to the frustrations of the exercises as a result of political  corruption  or  subversion.  The migration to  managing  participatory  budgeting  digitally  presents the very real risk of the process becoming gentrified, and is just one example of the consequences  of  scale  in  participatory  budgeting  only  being  achieved  at  the  expense  of  disenfranchising the most under-represented.  The report makes four key recommendations to target funding into participatory budgeting:

1. Fund better targeted and comparative research into PB in areas of interest

2. Fund specific research into citizen trust and attitudes towards governing bodies in areas where PB has failed or been withdrawn.

3. Establish (either through support of an existing organisation, or creation of a new one) a dedicated PB organising body.

4. Establish a senior expert PB forum/committee comprised of global PB stakeholders to attempt to build consensus on improving PB implementation and its outcomes through institutional change.


While these recommendations do not deal with the detail of the method of participatory budgeting, they aim to cultivate a better organised, supportive and fruitful landscape for practitioners in which the social and participatory benefits of the model can be fully realised. With targeted funding to support participatory budgeting programmes, positive outcomes can surely be maximised for citizens all over the world.