Date added: November 24, 2017

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Participatory budgeting programmes are spreading rapidly across the world because they offer government officials and citizens the opportunity to engage each other in new ways as they combine democratic practices with the ‘nitty gritty’ of policy-making. The principles and ideas associated with participatory budgeting appeal to a broad spectrum of citizens, civil society activists, government officials and international agencies, which helps explain why it is so popular and has expanded so quickly.

This research briefing looks at how participatory budgeting is transforming in countries where international donors are active, where states struggle to provide public services, and where urban and rural communities are characterised by high levels of poverty. A workshop, held in Kenya, July 2017, brought together professionals from non-governmental organisations (NGOs) affiliated with the Making All Voices Count research programme, based in Indonesia, Kenya, Mozambique, the Philippines, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda.

The workshop enabled the identification of key transformations and adaptations in the participatory budgeting field. Three key shifts in how participatory budgeting is being used stand out across Making All Voices Count programme countries:

  • first, it is now being adopted in villages and rural environments where the state (nationally and locally) is fragile. The scope of projects in these programmes is thus much narrower than in middle- and high-income countries due to limited public resources as well as state capacity. Participatory budgeting is much more a citizen empowerment programme that is helping to initiate social accountability in these contexts, rather than a way to distribute portions of meaningful local budgets
  • second, participatory budgeting programmes are now more likely to use consensus-based decision-making models instead of a secret or even a public vote (show of hands). There are different interpretations of this new model. Advocates argue that consensus-based decision-making helps to unite disparate communities, overcome differences and create shared ownership of the programme. However, critics worry that a consensus-based model is more susceptible to elite capture, whereby traditional local powerbrokers will dominate the process and exclude marginalised groups
  • third, participatory budgeting programmes today are far less likely to use specific rules that promote social justice and mandate the distribution of greater resources to underserved communities. It is an important omission because the need to serve poor communities is very high in most cities that adopt participatory budgeting.


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