Participatory budgeting (or PB) gives citizens a direct say over how public money is spent in their communities. Here’s how the process usually works. The government sets aside a small portion of its infrastructure budget. Citizens from a local community generate ideas for how that money should be spent. The ideas are developed and costed by officials, and then put to a vote. The government implements the idea or ideas that get the most votes.
Pioneered in Brazil and now used in over 1,500 places globally – including New York City, Boston, and Toronto – PB addresses several democratic deficits at once. It engages citizens with their governments in between elections; experience shows that when there is real money and real control involved, participation rates are much higher. PB also demystifies and democratizes government budgets, a sphere of public activity that is extremely important yet alien to most normal people. PB empowers communities to develop a shared understanding of their needs, encouraging citizens to think collectively and improving the quality of local spending decisions.