Designing Participatory Budgeting: What do citizens want?

Participatory Budgeting aims to empower citizens by allowing them to directly influence public spending. Despite widespread adoption of PB, challenges persist in ensuring broad participation, facilitating meaningful decision-making and measuring impacts . Survey findings from the Horizon 2020 DEMOTEC project highlight that citizens favour an inclusive, deliberative, and binding PB process, emphasising the importance of engagement, openness, and legitimacy in participatory governance.

Participatory Budgeting (PB) allows citizens to influence how public funds are spent. Originating in Brazil in the late 1980s, it has since been adopted by over 11,000 cities worldwide according to the PB world atlas, evolving into various forms and methodologies.

Despite the goal of empowering citizens through deliberative and participatory methods, implementing effective PB interventions remains challenging. Various studies highlight the difficulties associated with ensuring broad and equitable citizen involvement, designing PB frameworks that facilitate meaningful deliberation and decision-making, and determining the impact of PB on citizens.

Far less is known about the PB design preferences of citizens especially across countries. We conducted a survey as part of the Horizon 2020 DEMOTEC project to ask citizens their PB design preferences. Covering ten European countries (Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Poland, Romania, the Netherlands, Spain and the United Kingdom), we found public support for the following PB design features (Figure 1):

  1. Format. There is a significant preference for offline (in-person) PB formats as opposed to online models, as well as a preference for hybrid models over an online format.
  2. Geographical eligibility. Respondents preferred allowing all residents of a city to participate, rather than restricting eligibility to those citizens in close proximity to the PB event/project.
  3. Engagement. Citizens strongly favoured local authorities organising meetings as part of the PB development process.
  4. Proposal development. An open process where citizens can propose projects is preferred over a process where topics are prioritised by local authorities.
  5. Decision-making. There is a clear preference for a binding process to ensure that citizens decisions are mandatory over a merely consultative one.

Figure 1: Participatory Budgeting Design Preferences

Note: The figure shows the result from an average marginal component effect statistical model taking into account country-related differences. The points in the graph indicate the estimated odds ratio with 95% confidence intervals. A point estimate of 1.1 means that it is ten percent more likely that the PB variant will be chosen if it has the respective attribute. 0.9 estimate means it is 10 percent less likely.

Overall, these findings underscore that both participation and impact are critical to participatory governance. For PB to be supported by citizens, it must be inclusive, deliberative, and binding, upholding the core values of good governance: effectiveness, legitimacy, and social justice. Ensuring these attributes in PB processes can enhance citizen trust and engagement, leading to more effective and equitable public spending decisions.

By Vasilis Manavapoulos and Carlos Mendez, 20.5.2024

This blog draws on research the EU project DEMOTEC – Democratising Territorial Cohesion: Experimenting with deliberative citizen engagement and participatory budgeting in European regional and urban policies. This project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Grant Agreement No 962553

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