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WP 4 : case study report : participatory budgeting

Authors: Cipolla, Carla; Afonso, Rita; Wittmayer, Julia; Bibiana, Serpa and Rach, Sarah
Publication date: 2016
Keywords: Brazil, case_studies;, democracy, Netherlands, participatory budgeting, narratives of change

This report focuses on the Observatório Internacional de Democracia Participativa (International Observatory of Participatory Democracy - OIDP), a global network of cities, associations, organizations and research centers. These are interested in learning and exchanging impressions about and applying participatory democracy on a local scale within municipal governments. The network started in 2001 and currently has participants in 71 countries: 341 local governments as associate members and 274 universities and research centers as collaborating members. The central network office is located in Barcelona, Spain.

Next to the network, the report also covers two local initiatives associated with the OIDP, namely Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil and Participatory Budgeting in the Indische Buurt, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. The first local initiative is located in the city of Porto Alegre, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil. It started in 1989 and is a recurrent yearly process of deliberation and decision-making between the local population and the local government with regards to the municipal spending for the coming year. The final product of each year’s process is the city's investment plan created by its citizens with the local government. The second local initiative is located in the Indische Buurt, Amsterdam, the Netherlands. It started in 2010 and aims for more budget transparency and accountability on the local level as well as for strengthening participatory democracy by increasing the awareness, knowledge and influence of citizens in the neighbourhood about and on the municipal budget. It emerged out of two distinct initiatives: a citizen-initiated stream focusing on budget monitoring and a municipality-initiated stream focusing on a neighbourhood budget instrument. In the meanwhile, the two streams converged into a co-creation process between the local administration and citizens to prioritize policy and to collaboratively write an area plan.

The transnational network is an exemplary initiative for scaling social innovation experiences in participatory democracy and has close ties with the oldest participatory budgeting initiative, the Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre. This report covers the development of OIDP by distinguishing two phases (2001-2011 and 2012-2015). In these phases, the largest and most important changes within the network took place. The network was created as a “project within the framework of the Decentralized Cooperation Projects of the European´s Union URB-AL Programme” (2013). URB-AL is defined by the official URB-AL website as “a regional cooperation programme involving sub-national governments of the EU and Latin America”.

For the initiative in Porto Alegre, the report covers the whole period since its inception in 1989, also distinguishing two phases (1989-2005 and 2005-2015) to cover the most important changes. In Porto Alegre, the participatory budgeting emerged at a very peculiar time. During the 80s, the country experienced a transition from a military dictatorship to a democratic state with huge social mobilization asking for social and political changes. Next to other leftist political action, the experimentation with participatory budgeting made the city of Porto Alegre a prominent actor in those massive changes occurring all over Brazil. The experience with participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre was the basis for this social innovation to scale and spread to other places.

The local initiative in the Indische Buurt in Amsterdam emerged in a context of an economic crisis and government budget cuts accompanied by discourses, trends and practices that questioned the relation between government and citizens, such as ‘active citizenship’, ‘participation society’, ‘Big Society’, ‘area-focused working’ or participatory democracy. Participatory budgeting became a tool through which to address and newly define the relation between citizens and their representatives and through which citizens gain influence on local policy making. The report covers the initiative as of its start-up period in 2010.

The two local manifestations are quite distinct. Firstly, the Dutch initiative is situated in a neighbourhood, while the Brazilian initiative covers the whole city. Secondly, the affiliation to the OIDP is different. While Porto Alegre is an associate member of OIDP (as a municipality), represented by its municipal government, in the Dutch case it is a community foundation located in the neighbourhood which is a collaborating member. Thirdly, participatory budgeting has a much longer history in Porto Alegre than it has in Amsterdam (26 years as compared to 5 years). Fourthly, in Amsterdam it is two initiatives (one from the local government and one from citizens) which together form the participatory budgeting, while in Porto Alegre, this is one coherent, and currently highly institutionalized process.

While we focus in this report on participatory budgeting as an emblematic approach to participatory democracy, it is not the only one, there are also others. However, participatory budgeting is an important aspect of participatory democracy and also a long-standing practice allowing to trace the emergence and changes in social innovation. As such, it seems perfectly suitable to inform the building of a theory [Taken from the report’s introduction].


Cipolla, C., Afonso, R., Wittmayer, J., Bibiana, S. and Rach, S. (2016) WP 4 : case study report : participatory budgeting, TRANSIT: EU SSH.2013.3.2-1. Grant agreement no: 613169.

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