Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting is a form of citizen participation in which citizens are involved in the process of deciding how public money is spent. Local people are often given a role in the scrutiny and monitoring of the process following the allocation of budgets. Costs of participatory budgeting can vary anywhere between £400 and £40,000 depending on the size and the scope of the project.

Participatory budgeting began in Porto Alegre in Brazil in 1989 and was credited with shifting priorities to better support the poorest parts of the city, improving services, improving infrastructure, strengthening governance, and increasing citizen participation. It was a real success in terms of involving people typically left outside of the political process. The money allocated to the participatory budget in Porto Alegre was US$64 million, or 21% of the total budget in 1999.

In the UK, most cases of participatory budgeting have been small scale community grant allocations. Even on a smaller scale, they have been credited with improving the self-confidence of individuals and organisations, improving intergenerational understanding, encouraging greater local involvement through increased volunteering and the formation of new groups, increasing confidence in local service providers, and increasing control for residents over the allocation of resources. 

Participatory budgeting could be used after a devolution deal has been agreed. While based on use in local settings, it has the ability to be scaled up to make decisions about entire regions as well, as in the case of Porto Alegre. 

The decisions made by the participatory budgeting forums should be binding. Careful consideration should be given towards ensuring that the citizens involved are given sufficient information and support to reach decisions that can be enacted. This helps avoid feelings of disenfranchisement which result from decisions not being acted on. 

Participatory budgeting gives citizens real control over where a budget is spent. As such, budgets can be spent in a way which better reflects the strengths, needs and aspirations of the population and can be more effective. 

Key considerations for devolution

  • A forum where citizens decide how to spend a set amount of public money in their local/devolved area; 
  • Usually applied locally but can be scaled up to sub regional/combined authority level;
  • Most useful after a devolution deal has been agreed and decisions need to be made about budget allocations from the Single Investment Fund, for example. Costs vary but can be done for as little as £400;
  • Budgets can be spent in a way which better reflects the strengths, needs and aspirations of the local community. Can improve self-confidence, increase volunteering and faith in local service providers, helping to establish positive relationships with citizens and organisation within devolution areas.

How do I get started?

  • Work to understand the size and scope of the devolution budget, alongside the relevant outcomes required; 
  • Speak to lead officers to explore where there might be an opportunity to experiment with participatory budgeting, initially on a relatively small scale;
  • Identify areas most appropriate for participatory budgeting and opportunities to scale up from hyperlocal, to local and combined authority levels;
  • Hold roundtables with local stakeholders who may be interested in participating and helping recruit citizens to be involved. Think carefully about legitimacy and how you can make your participatory budgeting forum

    representative of the stakeholder population across the devolved area.

Case studies:

Govanhill, Glasgow: Scottish government scheme to combat social, economic and health inequalities by giving residents control over where money is spent locally.

Tower Hamlets, ‘You Decide!': a project where residents had control over the spending of £5million to shape the services which would be delivered in their local area.

Porto Alegre, Brazil: the original, and most successful example of participatory budgeting, where 17,200 citizens distribute around $160 million of public money annually.