Is participatory budgeting Smart City solution?

December 13, 2016.

Empowerment of citizens in the functioning of government, whether is it state or local level, should be the focus of those in charge, if their aim is to accelerate economic, civil and social progress of society.

There are many forms of empowerment the role of citizens, and one of them is participatory budgeting. In fact, this is a process in which citizens express their requirements and priorities for improving the life chances and through organized discussions affecting the local authorities in order to allocate part of the budget resources in desired direction. In other words, citizens directly affect how to use public funds, even if it is a small amount.

On the following link  can be seen where this form of budgeting works and how.

Participatory budgeting origins can be found in 1989 from Porto Allegre in Brazil, and today it is assumed, although there is no reliable data, that 1,500 local governments in the world implementing this model to strengthen the role of citizens in the functioning of local authorities.

Participatory budgeting create lot of attention by the UN, and on the website of the UN-Habitat is available for download free e-books in PDF format "72 most common questions about participatory budgeting"


As the benefits of participatory budgeting and the reasons for its implementation, the manual states:

  • promotion of democratic standards through active dialogue between citizens, local authorities and administration
  • increase the transparency and efficiency of public funds
  • encouraging citizens' participation in decision-making, deployment and control over the spending of public funds
  • increase the accountability of public officials and government representatives
  • collective cooperation in determining social priorities and resource management
  • increasing mutual trust between citizens and government
  • creation of a democratic culture and strengthening social ties within the local community

On the other hand, and  at least equally important, the manual offers advice on when you should not implement participatory budgeting.

Let's go back to Porto Allegre - for them this form of participatory democracy meant raising the availability of drinking water from 75 to 98% of households from 1989 to 1997, the number of schools quadrupled, the spending on health and education rose from 13% in 1985 to almost 40 % in 1996. The number of people participating in the decision-making process has reached the number of 30,000 in 2002.

To make sure that there is no perfect solution, participatory budgeting also has some serious shortcomings, such as the absence of the poorest (and less educated people) from the decision-making process, the occurrence of clientelism in some cases, the limitation of resources for more serious steps forward and so on.

However, with all this disadvantages,  this form of inclusion of citizens in the decision-making process proved to be practical.

When it comes to Smart City initiatives - cities that have made the necessary steps forward to be smart, implement participatory budgeting (San Francisco, London, Seville).  However this is a small-scale initiatives and never at the top of achievements that these cities are proud of.

So, participatory budgeting is definitely an area where cities and citizens can make a significant step forward to become smarter. In particular, it is possible and easier in the world of modern Internet and mobile technology solutions as well as social networks. It remains to be seen whether some of the cities launch such an initiative and make use of technology to further involve citizens in the decision-making.

Author: Ivan Majhen