In 1989, the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre developed a new model of democratic participation, which has become known internationally as “participatory budgeting” (PB). Through this process, community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. In other words, the people who pay taxes (all of us) decide how they get spent.
This sounds simple, but it is not. Budgets are complex creatures, and it takes a lot of time and support for ordinary people to make wise spending decisions. For this reason, PB generally involves a year-long cycle of public meetings. Community members discuss local needs and develop project proposals to meet these needs, then invite the public to vote on which projects get funded.
This innovative model has become popular across Latin America, Europe, Africa, and Asia, and the United Nations has named PB a best practice of democratic governance. Cities, counties, states, schools, and housing authorities have used it to give local people control over public spending.