Participatory budgeting – where the process of allocating a city’s resources is open to all citizens rather than delegated to council officials – sees investment decisions made from the ground up, and finds its roots in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre.
Each of Porto Alegre’s 16 districts has a Popular Council made up of representatives from the community – from mothers clubs to housing cooperatives. Since 1989, these district-level assemblies have elected members to a city-wide Council of Representatives, with City Hall officials tasked with continuously liaising with these bodies. Through negotiation and feedback with the city’s grassroots groups, a list of priorities is created for local projects – such as improving sewerage systems, building local schools and hospitals, and paving streets. Once these public works have been agreed upon, community representatives can supervise the progress of each project and monitor how the funds are spent.
Participatory budgeting has proved popular with Porto Alegre’s residents, tens of thousands of whom debate and decide spending priorities within neighbourhood associations. These procedures can help redirect local spending to the poorest neighbourhoods and bridge the gap between citizens, politicians and public employees. By 2001, over a hundred Brazilian cities had adopted this model, which has led to nationwide improvements in a number of areas including water sanitation and levels of pre-school enrolment.