New guide to participatory budgeting processes

Anca Matioc

Participatory budgeting first came about almost three decades ago, when the Worker’s Party of Porto Alegre made an interesting political move: to look to the citizens who elected them in order to help determine their spending priorities.

Today, participatory budgeting amplified and supported with technology could play an important role in increasing citizen participation – and to help explore this issue, we’re excited to share our latest Library Entry, on Participatory Budgeting.

We created this guide to support organizations who are working on participatory budgeting processes, based on their needs and challenges.

From 1989 to today, the world has seen many changes in political systems and civic participation within them. Technology has progressed leaps and bounds. While the political and social context remains a critical factor when designing and implementing participatory budgeting processes, these new technologies add a layer of complexity, as both a drive as well as a barrier to just, equitable citizen participation.

In other significant developments, politics change too. Across the world, evolving political systems and civic participation within them have progressed and regressed. While we were writing this post, we learned from Daniely Votto from WRI Brasil that as of two weeks ago, the new administration of Porto Alegre has suspended the Participatory Budgeting program for the next two years.

Now more than ever, it’s important to be aware of the importance of Participatory Budgeting within a city – and recognise how economic realities and political motivations play a crucial role in implementing civic engagement mechanisms, sometimes regardless of their effectiveness.  

Our new Library Entry looks at the history and evolution of participatory budgeting, focusing on the opportunities and challenges of its implementation. We look at the design of these programs, specifically at both online as well as offline features. We also review successful examples of the participatory budgeting processes and include concrete examples of tools and platforms used.

We hope that this document can help guide government agencies and civil society organizations in making strategic decisions on designing and implementing their own participative budgeting processes.

View the guide online in our Library

From support needs to research findings

Here at The Engine Room, our mission is to help activists, organizations, and social change agents make the most out of data and technology. We do that through our various support programs, community outreach, and research. Some of our best work stems from the combination of all three.

This Participatory Budgeting review is a prime example of our direct support program and community outreach influencing our research agenda.

This project came to fruition thanks to the Brazilian chapter of the World Resources Institute and the local government of Zarate, Argentina, both of whom approached us with a participatory budgeting project and practical research questions. Jorge Llaguno from the Municipality of Zarate reached out to The Engine Room in search of light touch support on their blossoming/growing participatory budgeting program. Parallel to that, Daniely Votto applied to the Matchbox program in Latin America with a participatory budgeting project idea from WRI Brasil Cidades Sustenvaeis.

We sat down to meetings with both organizations separately to get a better understanding of the political and social context, the constraints and challenges they face, and their needs and aspirations moving forward. We realised that some basic information about how participatory budgeting had been implemented across the world, combined with lessons learned from existing and past projects, could provide a valuable boost to their work.

We couldn’t find this elsewhere online, so we set out to write this both for them, and for others who might be grappling with these issues too.

Making research concrete and actionable

After we had understood the context, challenges and needs of these two organizations, we commissioned Ruth Miller of BlinkTag to work with us to carry out desk research and interviews with experts in the field for additional insights and guidance, and write up this guide.

Special thanks to the following people and organisations for their contributions to this space:

  • Tiago Peixoto, Senior Public Sector Specialist at the World Bank’s Governance Global Practice
  • David Cabo, Director at the Fundación Ciudadana Civio
  • Anders Pedersen, Acting Manager of Data Projects at the Natural Resource Governance Institute
  • Diego de la Mora, Budgets and Public Policy Researcher at Fundar
  • Anna Alberts, Project Manager at Open Knowledge Foundation Germany

The participatory process we took in this project allowed us to create a final product that we hope is concrete and actionable for these organizations and for others with similar objectives.

Let us know about your own experience!

We look forward to hearing from people implementing the concept and ideas of this project into their work – and if you have questions or challenges that you’re facing in your own participatory budgeting project, our digital door is always open. You can schedule a call with us anytime here:

View the guide online in our Library