Participatory Budgeting Practices, Games, Resources

03 Economy, Budgets & Funding, Collective Intelligence
Tom Atlee Across Phi Beta Iota

Dear friends,

Recently I've seen a swirl of information (mostly on the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation listserv) about participatory budgeting.  Below, you'll find a sampling of this info, in relatively raw form.  I do not know enough to sort it all out, but it looks really fascinating.

Most of this material is about online public budgeting exercises, but some of it also describes the kind of face-to-face, seriously empowered mass-participatory civic budgeting processes developed in Brazil which have spread widely in the last decade or so.

I had no idea there was so much activity in this arena.  Given

(a) the attention currently focused on the budget crisis,

(b) the dire impact of that crisis at all levels of government in so many places,

(c) the extreme consequences that could arise from this or that approach to addressing the crisis, and

(d) the major social, economic, political and environmental issues that underly ANY approach to deal with budget shortfalls — and which thus surface in the debates about which approach to pursue, I think it is high time that We the People become directly involved in those decisions — and for politicians and bureaucrats to realize this may be the only way to avoid getting fried by the heat of this controversial fire.

The following resources provide a glimpse of the many experiments underway to enable such public involvement, to help well-intentioned politicians avoid public and partisan attack, and to bring more vitality and co-intelligence to our currently back-sliding democracy.

Were any country to seriously pursue and expand the extent, co-intelligence and power of participatory budgeting, the impact would be profound — not only on the functioning of society, but on the transformation of our dominant cultural narratives about what democracy is and what it is capable of.

Blessings on the Journey.



Online citizen participatory government budget tools





North Carolina

*  Next Ten
*  California Budget Balancer (LA Times)
*  Erase California's budget deficit (Sacramento Bee)


Wilmington, N.C.


Susanna Haas Lyons suggestions (online budget allocators):

Budget Simulator

Priority Spend

Corporate Bang the Table

and some examples of projects in play include

Federal Budget Challenge

MD Budget Game

NYT Deficits Graphic

Gotham Budget Game

Los Angeles Times California Budget Balancer

Budget Hero Briefing and Decisions

North Sydney Budget Allocator

UK Devon County Council Tough Choices


From Tim Bonnemann <tim@INTELLITICS.COM>

ParticipateDB along with some project examples that fall into the same general category:

*  Budget Allocator
*  Budget Simulator
*  Next 10
*  Maryland Budget Map Game
*  Demos-Budget

Tim Bonnemann's thoughts on two recent examples (LA Budget Challenge, New York Times Budget Puzzle) here:

* When Surveys Won't Take No For An Answer

Los Angeles Budget Challenge Feedback from the Mayor's Office

New York Times Budget Puzzle

Budget Puzzle Feedback, Criticism, Next Steps

Is the Budget Puzzle Deliberative Choice Work?

Tim says “I'd be very interested in sharing notes about how any of these tools could or should be improved and what a good overall process would look like, ideally.  The current “state of the art” is still lacking in many ways.  I have lots of questions around usability, bias, transparency, embedded learning, opportunities for deliberation, impact on decision making etc.”


From: Tiago Peixoto <>

Learning from the South: Participatory Budgeting Worldwide – an Invitation to Global Cooperation

By Yves Sintomer, Carsten Herzberg, Giovanni Allegretti – with the collaboration of Anja Röcke

This report represents the attempt to provide a first over- view of participatory budgets in the world. Our aim was to present and analyse existing cases using a coherent definiion and typology. This report, however, is not the result of a separate research project, but is designed to facilitate future research on the topic.

You can download the full report here

Thanks to Giovanni Allegretti for sharing this, and congratulations to him, Yves, Carsten and Anja!

E-participatory budgeting: innovative practice in Belo Horizonte (Brazil)

One of the most interesting e-participation experiments is the e-participatory budget of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil.
With 2.35 million inhabitants, this city is the sixth largest in Brazil and an important political centre in the country.
Its PB is one of the oldest in Brazil: it began in 1993 and its methodology has been innovative. Most notably, it has
included an autonomous housing PB designed to deal with this especially important issue. It is based on a two-year cycle, a feature that has tended to inspire other experiments in Brazil, and places emphasis on popular control over the real execution of the public works that have been chosen.  In 2006 a digital PB was added as a third pillar, which was
repeated in 2008 and 2010. The digital PB has three objectives:  to modernise PB through the use of ICTs; to increase
citizen involvement in the process, and to include big investments, concerning the whole city, in the participatory
budgeting process. In fact, most Brazilian PBs face a double problem: participation remains relatively limited (1 to 3
percent of the people in cities, somewhat higher in smaller towns) and the biggest investments tend to remain outside
their reach.  The idea is to organise an online vote open to all residents older than 16, in order to prioritise some investments that require much more than the amounts available at the district level. In order to participate, citizens have to access the e-voting platform through the city‘s official website, where information on the various public works is provided. The decision is made through majority rule, with no preference given to socially disadvantaged areas. In 2006, 25 million R$ (around 14 million US$) were made available to the digital PB. The amount was increased to 50 million (28 million US$) in 2008, so that one public work (a beltway around a very important square) could be selected. In comparison, around 80 million R$ (44 million US$) were given to the district PB in 2007-2008, and 110 million R$ (around 61 million US$) in 2009-2010. (In this last round, 110 public works were selected, which means that the average amount was 1 million R$, around 550,000 US$.) The methodology was somewhat different in 2006, when voters could cast 9 votes, one per district, and 2009, when voters had only one choice and it was also possible to vote by phone.  173,000 persons voted in 2006 (nearly 10 percent of the Belo Horizonte electorate), and 124,000 in 2008 – compared with 38,000, 34,000 and 44,000 voters for the district PB in 2005/2006, 2007/2008 and 2009/2010. The increase in participation with online voting has been a clear success.  However, the deliberative dimension has been virtually lost (only 1,200 contributions were made in the online forum in 2006), and the digital participatory budget looks more like a ‚light‘ referendum than a ‚traditional‘ PB. This peculiar success has made the Belo Horizonte digital PB an internationally recognised good practice (Peixoto, 2008).



La Plata (Argentina): Participatory Budgeting uses SMS-voting and electronic ballots.

Belo Horizonte (Brazil) Co-Governance: part of Belo Horizonte’s participatory budgeting includes Internet and interactive voice response (IVR) voting.

Recife (Brazil) Participatory Budgeting: includes electronic ballots and Internet voting.

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