Innovative Examples of Participatory Budgeting in Government

March 4, 2019 – Lane Hartman


One way for governments to become more transparent is through participatory budgeting, a process where citizens take part in choosing how a portion of government money is spent.

First piloted in 1989 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, participatory budgeting is now practiced in more than 1,500 municipalities around the world. With the advance of technology like The OpenGov Cloud™ that enables citizen participation and engagement in the budgeting processes, governments are finding that participatory budgeting can be a good fit for their communities.

What is the participatory budgeting process?

The process breaks down as such:

  1. The government first allocates a certain portion of the budget to the participatory process.
  2. The government then provides information to orient public knowledge to the specific budget items and issues involved.
  3. Citizens then deliberate and decide how the budgeted money should be spent.
  4. Ultimately, the government adopts and approves the budget.
  5. Finally, implementation progress is reported to the public.

Reasons why local, state, and federal governments choose participatory budgeting

One outcome of participatory budgeting is creating more transparent governments so citizens get a say in how their communities are shaped based on disseminated information. Participatory budgeting is also a way to increase the influence of under-resourced citizens, create a more informed citizenry, and improve fiscal efficiency. Some cities and municipalities have seen spending decrease through this process. Additionally, a public that has more in-depth and personal experience with the budget process is also more likely to accept budget cuts.

Online citizen engagement helps test the waters

If your government is not ready to jump fully into participatory budgeting, using a citizen engagement platform like The OpenGov Cloud™ can be a way to test the waters and then later expand the process. By starting small, your government can get a feel for the public’s level of interest in budgeting, get citizens used to participating, and can learn about what community members view as key priorities.

Real-world examples of participatory budgeting for local governments

Thurston County, WA - Dollars & Sense Campaign

The county of Thurston, Washington, found themselves in a situation where projected revenues would not support current services. They took a public engagement approach by presenting the situation clearly to their residents and asked people “How would you spend $500 in the county’s budget?”. The dollars were representative of the county’s overall budget, and people were asked to say how they would allocate the money.

Using The OpenGov Cloud™ citizen engagement features, Thurston County was able to easily let people provide input and see by percentage what their spending priorities were. They garnered more than 350 thoughtful responses and were able to better understand what the community valued. As a result, the County plans to change some funding priorities in the future.

Sandpoint, ID - Tracking City & Parks Expenses

The city of Sandpoint, Idaho presented the public with information regarding the costs involved in operating parks. By clearly breaking down the expenditures on a park-by-park basis, they were able to identify a cost per acre and cost by use of those parks. Using The Opengov Cloud™, the public was invited to provide input on how the parks were used, which parks were priorities and give feedback on future park planning.

Engage Your Citizens in Participatory Budgeting

These are just two examples of how governments can start a participatory budgeting process and create the conditions for later expanding it to s larger process where the public votes on spending decisions.

If your government is interested in learning how The OpenGov Cloud™ can help you tell important stories, and invite engaged discussion and input, we’d love to hear from you.

For more information, contact us or learn more about The OpenGov Cloud™.

Category: Civic Engagement