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What do YOU want to know about Participatory Budgeting?

I’m heading to New York City tomorrow for the participatory budgeting conference, which NCDD is proud to be co-sponsoring.  I’m excited to learn more about what may be the most rapidly-growing area of our field.

I’ve been learning a little about Participatory Budgeting here and there for years now (especially about the great work being done in Porto Alegre, Brazil), and I hope to leave this event with a much stronger sense of how PB works, what can be done to make it as deliberative as possible, and how the NCDD community can benefit from these new opportunities.

What about PB would YOU like to know more about?  What are some of your questions and concerns about PB?  What are your experiences with PB?  Please share them via the comments here on the NCDD blog.

While I’m in New York, I’ll try to post some of my reflections in the NCDD Facebook group.  (That’s the easiest option while I’m traveling, and has the largest audience.)  Please check in there over the next few days to join the conversation.

In case you haven’t see our other posts about Participatory Budgeting, here are some basics from wikipedia.  Or, if you’d rather watch a video, check out this one from the Bertelsmann Foundation on Recife, Brazil’s PB process.

Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Participatory budgeting allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects, and gives them the power to make real decisions about how money is spent.

Participatory budgeting generally involves several basic steps: 1) Community members identify spending priorities and select budget delegates 2) Budget delegates develop specific spending proposals, with help from experts 3) Community members vote on which proposals to fund 4) The city or institution implements the top proposals.

Various studies have suggested that participatory budgeting results in more equitable public spending, higher quality of life, increased satisfaction of basic needs, greater government transparency and accountability, increased levels of public participation (especially by marginalized or poorer residents), and democratic and citizenship learning.

The first full participatory budgeting process was developed in the city of Porto AlegreBrazil, starting in 1989. Participatory budgeting was part of a number of innovative reform programs started in 1989 to overcome severe inequality in living standards amongst city residents. One third of the city’s residents lived in isolated slums at the city outskirts, lacking access to public amenities (water, sanitation, health care facilities, and schools).

Participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre occurs annually, starting with a series of neighborhood, regional, and citywide assemblies, where residents and elected budget delegates identify spending priorities and vote on which priorities to implement. Porto Alegre spends about 200 million dollars per year on construction and services, this money is subject to participatory budgeting. Annual spending on fixed expenses such as debt service and pensions, are not subject to public participation. Around fifty thousand residents of Porto Alegre now take part in the participatory budgeting process (compared to 1.5 million city inhabitants), with the number of participants growing year on year since 1989. Participants are from diverse economic and political backgrounds.

Sandy Heierbacher is the director of the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD). She co-founded NCDD in 2002 with her husband Andy Fluke. Sandy has an M.A. in International Management from SIT Graduate Institute. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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