Review: Participatory Budgeting (Public Sector Governance)

Participatory Budgeting

The Best Book on the Topic, with a CD-ROM, Totally Rich,April 15, 2008

Anwar Shah

This is the very best book on Participatory Budgeting I could find (other than those on Puerto Alegre specifically, I will review one of those later) and once in hand, it has fully satisfied. The higher than normal cost for a book of this type is fully justified by the CD ROM.

Use the Search Inside This Book line under the book cover to see the Table of Contents and other elements of the book. I did not do that but if you have any doubts at all, reading the Table of Contents should be more than enough to overcome them.

For my purposes the two most important parts of the book were overview by the editor Anwar Shah (top expert with the World Bank); the guide to participatory budgeting by Brian Wampler; and the concluding appendix by Alan Folscher, on Citizen Participation and State Effectiveness, and also–very important–Preconditions and Enabling Factors for Citizen Engagement with Public Decisions. The rest of the book is regional case studies, and the CD ROM is country case studies.

From the Overview

+ Participatory Budgeting is direct democracy
+ It empowers citizens to deliberate, debate, and influence
+ It is a tool for educating, engaging, and empowering citizens
+ Transparency can reduce inefficiency as well as corruption
+ It strengthens governance by including the marginalized
+ It comes with significant risks (this was the new stuff for me)
- Process can be captured by interest groups
- Can cover up existing injustices
- Tyranny of group dynamics can overpower good intentions
- Tyranny of method can exclude other democratic means (much as the fine print in many legal agreements excludes access to courts and juries by including a concealed agreement to abide by arbitration)

Introduction to Participatory Budgetng

+ Four factors for success
- Strong mayoral support
- Civil society willing and able to engage in the debate (harder to find that I realized)
- Supportive policy environment that can withstand legislative pressure\
- Financial resources to actually fund programs sponsored by citizens

Guiding Tenets Include:

+ Division of municipality into regions for easier discussion and implementation
+ Government-sponsored meetings throughout the year
+ Quality of Life Index is created to weight program toward less well off
+ Deliberation and negotiatiion is public
+ Bus caravan visits all the proposed projects before voting on them
+ Elected representatives vote on all the projects (open or secret)
+ Municipal councel is elected with two representatives from each region
+ Year end report is published
+ Everything in monitored publicly year round

The above cannot possibly capture the nuances and complexities of each individual case study, so that is where ethnographic specificity must be applied.

Appendix on Citizen Participation

+ Types of participation
- Information sharing
- Consultation
- Joint decision making
- Initiation and control by citizen stakeholders

+ Preconditions and Enabling Factors
- Openness and democratic depth of the political and governance systems
- Existence of enabling legal frameworks
- Capacity for participation inside and outside government
- Existence of functional and free media institutions
- Willingness and capacity of government to make budget information open

What most surprise me as a lay reader (i.e. I claim no expertise at all, I simply believe to direct democracy) was the MANY OBSTACLES to participatory budgeting. I have heard that WikiCalc is coming along, which would along for budget information to be commented on and then different perspectives aggregated from the individual to the neighborhood or political preference level; and I hope that EarthGame will become a reality in which each person plays themselves and has access to full information, but in the context of populations that struggle day to day, it is going to take much more than an “invitation” to achieve participatory budgeting. In a nutshell, we know now that it can work, but getting it to work anywhere is going to be a real challenge.

Great book. A solid academic endeavor that if I were repeating my MPA this year, should certainly be in the Budgeting Course.

See also:
The Tao of Democracy: Using Co-Intelligence to Create a World That Works for All
The World Cafe: Shaping Our Futures Through Conversations That Matter
Society’s Breakthrough!: Releasing Essential Wisdom and Virtue in All the People
How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition
The leadership of civilization building: Administrative and civilization theory, symbolic dialogue, and citizen skills for the 21st century
Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution
The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
Collective Intelligence: Mankind’s Emerging World in Cyberspace
Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration
Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace