Constituent Engagement

Participatory Budgeting: Citizen Engagement in Action

Participatory budgeting (PB) brings citizens to the forefront of decision making related to how public money is spent in their communities. In this process, citizens and government officials work closely together to determine the most effective way to spend the budget and determine the most effective way to spend the budget and determine how it will make the most impact in the community.

The process was first developed in Brazil in 1989, and there are now over 1,500 participatory budgets worldwide. Most of these are at the city level and concern the municipal budget. Even more, PB has also been used in counties, states, housing authorities, schools and school systems, universities, coalitions, and other public agencies.

Most of the PBs follow a similar basic process: residents brainstorm spending ideas, volunteer budget delegates, and develop proposals based on these ideas. Residents then vote on these proposals and the government implements the top projects. One ward in Chicago has had great success using the PB process; not only has the district succeeded in spending funds effectively, but they’ve also engaged a large number of citizens who are investing their time and interest in the community.

In theory, and with the success story highlighted above, this form of budget planning sounds like democracy at its best. But when you take a step back, the group participating in PB is still a very small sample of the population as a whole.

This piece in GovLoop explores how social media could be used to expand the reach and ultimately the inclusiveness of the PB process. It is more than setting up and running a Facebook page; it means developing and maintaining a dedicated social platform with a continuous presence for organizations. GovLoop suggests:

  • Create the infrastructure necessary for the participatory budgeting process. Develop institutional social media platform policies and ensure that social media is used to complement other forms of communication – not the primary emphasis of community leaders.
  • Increase citizen participation in the process. Build on existing and active social media platforms where citizens in the community are currently and proactively identifying who is being left out and work to include them.
  • Assess and increase participatory budgeting’s impact. Identify best practices and share information with other communities.

Let us know you’re utilizing participatory budgeting in the comments. Have more questions? Contact me at

Interested in hearing about how other Government agencies are improving public outreach and citizen services? Save the date for our fifth annual Citizen Engagement Seminar, June 11, 2015, in Washington, DC.

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