Participatory Budgeting & Technology: Innovation in Open Government

(NB: overly descriptive post with links to initiatives websites / case studies)

Participatory budgeting has been a source of innovation in itself with regards to the use of technologies.

Over two decades ago the city of Porto Alegre started to use the Internet as a means to facilitate citizen monitoring of its budget execution. In 1997, the medium-sized city of Ipatinga [pdf] started to provide online geo-referenced information about its budgetary allocation and status of public works. Noteworthy, both initiatives anticipated practices that years later would become so popular: the use of Internet to foster budget transparency and the mapping of government spending.

In 2001 the use of ICT in participatory budgeting towards increasing citizen participation is put forward, with the municipalities of Ipatinga and Porto Alegre enabling their citizens to submit their demands for budget allocation via the Internet. Although embryonic, these initiatives can be situated at the origin of an entire new field of ICT mediated participation. Since then, the use of ICT to facilitate participatory budgeting processes has gone beyond the Brazilian context, offering a wealth of innovative practices to be explored.

In Europe, for instance, the issue has gained significant traction in the recent years. In Germany, since 2005 Berlin-Lichtenberg combines face-to-face citizen assemblies with online participation. An online platform enables citizens to discuss and elaborate budgetary proposals to, subsequently, prioritize them. In 2008 the city of Freiburg combined online deliberation with the use of a budget simulator, enabling citizens to better assess the impacts of their choices. The results of this deliberative process were then collaboratively aggregated in a wiki and edited by the participants of the process themselves. Similar initiatives have been also conducted in the cities of Bergheim, Cologne, Hamburg and Leipzig.

In Italy, developing upon the combination of online and offline methods adopted earlier on in Brazil, in 2006 the city of Modena allowed its citizens to send by e-mail proposals to be discussed by the PB assemblies. Modena citizens could also watch live video streaming of the PB meetings and be updated about the process via SMS. The use of SMS as a means to reach a broader and younger audience, pioneered by the Brazilian city of Ipatinga in 2004, has also been identified in other Italian PB processes, such as those of Rome, Bergamo and Reggio Emilia. The ability to vote via the Internet for the public works in Italy can be illustrated by the experience of the cities of Vimercate and Parma. For example, through the Parmesan website votes can be case once ID number is provided, allowing the system to identify the eligible participants, that is, Parma residents. Finally, the website provides geo-referenced information, allowing citizens to visualize the location of the projects and to access further information about each of them.

In Spain, I have identified the use of the Internet to support citizens’ participation in the cities of Albacete, Cordoba, Getafe, Jun, Petrer, Malaga and Jerez. For instance, in the city of Getafe in 2008, in one of the districts of the city, citizens were allowed to watch live video streaming of the PB meeting and to cast their vote online. Through the Getafe’s PB website citizens are able to submit individually or collectively proposals for the PB process. In the municipality of Malaga citizens can submit proposals online and subscribe to SMS updates that inform them on the status of public works selected in the. In Lisbon, Portugal, through the Internet citizens can submit proposals for public works online. Once the municipal services analyze the technical feasibility of the public works and estimate their costs, eligible public works are resubmitted online to be voted for by the public. 

The use of ICT in PB processes has not been confined to Brazil and Europe however. In Africa, more precisely in the South-Kivu region in the Democratic Republic of Congo, mobile phones have been used to mobilize citizens to attend PB meetings, to vote on budgetary priorities and to update citizens on the status of public works selected.

The website of the municipality of Miraflores, Peru, apart from providing citizens with in-depth information about the process (e.g. training modules, meeting minutes), also enables citizen to remotely cast their votes for the prioritization of public works.

In the district of Buk-Gu, Korea, citizens provide feedback on the PB process through the Internet since 2004. In 2006, the district launched the “e-Budget Portal”, to provide citizens with detailed budget information and enabling enhanced interactivity amongst the participants in the process.

In Pune, India, citizens submit their priorities for the allocation of budget through the e-Budgeting application, available on the municipality’s website. In Solo, Indonesia, with the support of geographic information systems, an online platform provides residents with interactive and downloadable maps for each of the neighborhoods in the city. The resulting maps and visualizations, geo-referencing and highlighting relevant issues to the population (e.g. health, poverty), are printed and used to inform the PB’s deliberative process.

Needless to say, the cases described above vary amongst themselves in terms of objectives, impacts, prospects and limits. Nevertheless, they are illustrative of the richness of initiatives that are currently taking place in which ICTs are used to support citizens’ participation in the budget allocation process. You can find more about it here

2 thoughts on “Participatory Budgeting & Technology: Innovation in Open Government

  1. Pingback: Documentary: Participatory Budgeting in Belo Horizonte | DemocracySpot

  2. Pingback: CivicTales

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