Participation, Transparency and Accountability: Innovations in South Korea, Brazil, and the Philippines

A report by Brian Wampler for the Global Initiative for Fiscal Transparency (GIFT):

Citizen participation in budgetary and other fiscal processes has been expanding at international, national, and local levels over the past 15 years. The direct participation of citizens, it is hoped, will improve governance, limit misuse of public funds, and produce more informed, engaged citizens. At the national level, reformist governments now encourage the direct engagement of citizens during multiple moments of the policy cycle—from initial policy formulation to the oversight of policy implementation. Reformist governments hope to take advantage of increased citizen participation to increase their legitimacy, thus allowing them to change spending and policy priorities, increase state effectiveness by make public bureaucrats more responsive to citizens and elected officials, and, finally, ensure that the quality of public services improves. During the 1980s and 1990s, many subnational governments took advantage of policy decentralization to experiment with new institutional types. Direct citizen participation has been most robust at subnational levels due to the decreased costs and the greater direct impact of citizens on policymaking.


The main purpose of this report is to examine how three countries, South Korea, Brazil, and the Philippines, have made extensive efforts to create new institutions and policies that encourage the participation of citizens and CSOs in complex policy processes. South Korea developed an institutional arrangement based on policy experts, CSOs, and the Korean Development Institute. Brazil uses a model that relies extensively on the participation of citizens at multiple tiers of government. Finally, the Philippines use a mixed model that incorporates citizens and CSOs at national and subnational levels


Political reformers seeking to incorporate greater numbers of people into policymaking venues face a series of challenges. These include: (1) asymmetrical access to information as well as differing skills base to interpret information; (2) the difficultly of decision-making when groups grow in size; (3) a reduction in the importance of any single participant due to the greater number of participants; (4) political contestation over who has the right to participate; (5) who are the legitimate representatives of different groups; and (6) higher organizational costs (time, money, personnel). This report maps out how new participatory institutions and programs that are designed to help governments and their civil society allies draw citizens directly into decision-making processes.To explain the variation in the type of participatory experiences now used by different countries,we identify four factors that most strongly affect the types of participation-oriented reforms as well as the results. These four factors include: (a) presidential-level support for reform, (b) the configuration of civil society, (c) state capacity and (d) the geo-political direction of reform (topdown/center –periphery vs. bottom-up/periphery/center. It is the combination of these four factors that most strongly explains the type of institutions adopted in each of these countries.

Read the full report here [PDF]. 

Documentary: Participatory Budgeting in Belo Horizonte

Through the Facebook Participatory Budgeting group I came across a documentary about Belo Horizonte’s PB. The documentary, by Joao Ramos de Almeida, provides a unique view of the functioning of one of the oldest PBs in Brazil.

Among other things, the documentary shows how the process leads to a degree of civic empowerment and activism rarely seen in traditional governing models. It is particularly interesting to see how citizens contest, for instance, the cost estimates of public works made by the city administration. The documentary also shows how PB manages to engage citizens in an extremely time consuming process. It is also interesting to see that, while there is some degree of deliberation in the PB process, much of it is also about negotiation between the different communities involved.

Among other things, it shows that Belo Horizonte’s PB is far from perfect, and the suspicion of some degree of co-optation of some PB participants by the administration highlights difficulties that are inherent to many participatory processes. To some, it might come across as a sobering message. Yet, when looking at participatory initiatives, we should not only compare their functioning to an ideal vision of democracy. In this case, we should also compare it to the status quo, that is, how public budgeting takes place in the absence of public participation.

For those interested in citizen engagement this documentary (English subtitles, 55 mins) is worth watching.


Also read

Participatory Budgeting and Digital Democracy: the Belo Horizonte Case

The Effects of Participatory Budgeting on Infant Mortality in Brazil

Participatory Budgeting: Seven Defining Characteristics

Participatory Budgeting and Technology: Innovations in Open Government

The Participatory Turn: Participatory Budgeting Comes to America

Civil Society and Participation in Brazil: A Literature Review

This literature review is divided into six sections. The first section briefly describes the  theoretical and empirical background of debates about civil society and participation: the democratization process of the 1980s. The second section examines the first and second generation of studies of the best-known participatory mechanism in Brazil – participatory budgeting (PB). Next, this review turns attention toward research on policy councils, which fuelled more theoretical advances than studies of PB. A short section presents the few available studies about participation in the Northeast region of Brazil – a still largely unchartered territory in the literature. The fifth section discusses normative debates about the meaning and purpose of participation. Although the debate is not as contentious as it was in the early-2000s, two distinct views about participation still mark this literature. The last and longest section analyzes studies that treat citizen participation as a constitutive part of the representative system, which can help to improve government accountability and increase the quality of democracy.

Read full paper here [PDF].

The Potential of Twitter Data for Surveillance of Epidemics in Brazil

A while ago in Brazil I had the pleasure of meeting the folks from Federal University of Minas Gerais who are using twitter data to monitor disease (more specifically dengue) epidemics. Their work is awesome, and worth taking note of.
The website of the project is here

And here’s a paper that provides a more detailed account of the experience:

*Dengue surveillance based on a computational model of spatio-temporal locality of Twitter∗

Gomide et al. (2011)

Twitter is a unique social media channel, in the sense that users discuss and talk about the most diverse topics, in- cluding their health conditions. In this paper we analyze how Dengue epidemic is reflected on Twitter and to what extent that information can be used for the sake of surveillance. Dengue is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that is a leading cause of illness and death in tropical and sub- tropical regions, including Brazil. We propose an active surveillance methodology that is based on four dimensions: volume, location, time and public perception. First we ex- plore the public perception dimension by performing sentiment analysis. This analysis enables us to filter out con- tent that is not relevant for the sake of Dengue surveillance. Then, we verify the high correlation between the number of cases reported by official statistics and the number of tweets posted during the same time period (i.e., R2 = 0.9578). A clustering approach was used in order to exploit the spatio- temporal dimension, and the quality of the clusters obtained becomes evident when they are compared to official data (i.e., RandIndex = 0.8914). As an application, we propose a Dengue surveillance system that shows the evolution of the dengue situation reported in tweets.

Download paper (pdf) at

The Effects of Participatory Budgeting on Infant Mortality in Brazil

picture by Blog do Mílton Jung on Flickr

Adding pieces of evidence to the ROI of citizen participation. Highlights are mine:

Participatory budgeting, via which the common citizen is given the ability to interact with the elected politicians in the drafting of the local budget, became a popular political reform in Brazilian municipalities in the 1990s and attracted widespread attention across the world. This paper investigates whether the use of participatory budgeting in Brazilian municipalities in the period 1991-2004 has affected the pattern of municipal expenditures and had any measurable impact on living conditions. I show that the municipalities that made use of this participatory mechanism favoured an allocation of public expenditures that closely matched the ìpopular preferences and channeled a larger fraction of their total budget to key investments in sanitation and health services. I also found that this change in the composition of municipal expenditures is associated with a pronounced reduction in the infant mortality rates for municipalities which adopted participatory budgeting. This suggests that promoting a more direct interaction between service users and elected officials in budgetary design and implementation can affect both how local resources are spent and associated living standard outcomes.

You can read the full paper here [PDF].

Update:  The paper has been published in the World Development Journal. You can read the final version here [PDF].

Does access to information enhance accountability?

This paper [PDF] examines whether access to information enhances political accountability. Based upon the results of Brazil’s recent anti-corruption program that randomly audits municipal expenditures of federally-transferred funds, it estimates the effects of the disclosure of local government corruption practices upon the re-election success of incumbent mayors. Comparing municipalities audited before and after the elections, we show that the audit policy reduced the incumbent’s likelihood of re-election by approximately 20 percent, and was more pronounced in municipalities with radio stations. These findings highlight the value of information and the role of the media in reducing informational asymmetries in the political process. 

Ferraz, Claudio, and Frederico Finan. 2008. “Exposing Corrupt Politicians: The Effects of Brazil’s Publicly Released Audits on Electoral Outcomes.” Quarterly Journal of Economics, 123(2): 703–45.

The Guardian on Participatory Budgeting

The Guardian has come up with an interesting piece on Porto Alegre’s participatory budgeting, highlighting some of the benefits (well-known to some) of the process:

The effects have been overwhelmingly positive. Within seven years, the percentage of locals with access to sewers doubled from 46 to 95. The rate of roadbuilding, particularly in the favelas, rose five-fold. Tax evasion fell, as people saw what their money was being spent on.

Read the full article here.


Mapping Social & Environmental Risks in Rio de Janeiro

From the InSTEDD iLab Latin America blog

The main idea behind this project was to create a simple, low cost way to allow the youth living in the favelas to digitally map the socio-environmental risk factors that threatened their communities. We needed to do it in a way that would be publicly visIble so that the government and the public could be aware and respond.

Below a video on the first stage of the initiative

Definitely something to follow up on. It would be interesting to find out more about how they are planning to asses the impact of the initiative. In my very limited experience, most mapping initiatives are exciting to see but fail to show a link between outputs (e.g. maps) and tangible outcomes (i.e. impact). Let’s hope this initiative is one of the exceptions.

Trust and Political Information: Attitudinal Change in Participants in the Youth Parliament in Brazil


This article analyses the impact of socializing experiences on the political attitudes of youngsters. More specifically, our goal is to evaluate the impact of the Youth Parliament program on youngsters’ confidence levels in the Minas Gerais State Assembly (MGSA). The analysis focuses on the cognitive foundations of attitudes and results show a substantial increase in confidence levels in MGSA, an increase associated with the acquisition of information on the institution. It is asserted that the increase in confidence in MGSA represents and attitudinal “gain”. The study design involves quasi-experimental research on a non-random sample. We conducted two rounds of interviews in 2008, prior and subsequent to the program, with 335 participants (167 in the treatment group; and 168 in the control group).

By Mario Fuks, Gabriel Avila Casalecchi, Brazilian Political Science Review, Vol 6, No 1 (2012)

Scaling-up Deliberation to the National Level

This paper takes issue with the question of scaling up deliberation in connection to that of enlarged participation. Its aim is to argue that deliberation can be feasible and effective in wide participatory experiments, and therefore it can scale up to the national level and affect public decisions once the appropriate institutional design is in place. I propose feasibility and effectiveness as two overlapping dimensions of scaling-up deliberation. As for the feasibility dimension, I will argue that the institutional design of large participatory experiments should allow the kind of deliberation found in minipublics to scale up accordingly to three criteria: space, volume and actors. As for the effectiveness dimension, I will argue that large participatory experiments should provide that the deliberation process follows the criteria of transformation and impact in order to scale-up local preferences to the national level and make sure they affect policymaking. Such theoretical framework will be tested against the empirical background provided by the world’s largest participatory experiment known to date, the National Public Policy Conferences in Brazil.

Pogrebinschi, Thamy, The Squared Circle of Participatory Democracy: Scaling-up Deliberation to the National Level (2012). APSA 2012 Annual Meeting Paper. Available at SSRN: