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 Fund specific research into citizen trust and attitudes towards governing bodies in areas where PB has failed or been withdrawn.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