Participatory methods

Participatory budget


Participatory budgeting (PB) is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide, how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. It enables taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.

One of the most important reference for this method is the Porto Alegre’s example (Smith and Fletcher, 2016). Another one, that introduces also elements of e-democracy and of territorial division is the French PBs (Participatory Budgeting).  The first documented experiment of PB was made in the Brazilian in  city of Porto Alegre in 1989, and immediately became a best practice for all. After Porto Alegre experiment, this type of democratic deliberative systems was implemented in many other urban and populated areas of the world. In general, PB is used predominantly inside small geopolitical scope, focusing mainly on local municipalities and medium/big cities, but never an entire nation state. The reason for this has been explained by Pateman (2014), who highlights the fact that working in small units, enhances cooperation and equality, which consequently translates into efficiency and a higher popular involvement within the local community. This is why one of the challenge is to apply this method in a larger urban scale.

  • This method is used to improve the involvement of the citizens in the management of the public resources, in a collaborative way, stimulating collecting deliberation over city budget spending, even if only on a subset of the entire budget.
  • It is working well to enhances cooperation and equality, which consequently translates into efficiency and a higher popular involvement within the local community promoting the redistribution of available resources reaching a consensus between administration and citizens, avoiding to the public administration unilaterally decide what and how much spending in certain priorities on certain specific thematic or geographical areas.
  • Stimulates collective deliberation involving citizens residents are not invited to get together and participate in regular and large public deliberation, going beyond the habit to residents to submitting projects to the public administration individually or with small collectives.
  • When participation should be de-fragmented and represented in a identifiable group of citizens, in order to facilitate people to discussing and determining priority issues in a collective manner.
  • To reducing, at least in certain topics or projects, the reality that city administration seems to unilaterally decide what are the priorities and influence projects to look at specific thematic or geographical areas.


The PB process could be started and communicated online/offline, with a communication campaign that is targeting the target groups. Institutional communication channels are important to provide the branding and the sense of commitment from the public authority.



Direct support from the public administration, and information about the budgeting process and budgeting data

  • Professional facilitators to planning the overall process and to organize the public meeting with citizens
  • Peer facilitators for sub group workshops
  • Data and documentation from the city
  • Physical places where to meet
  • Communication Manager to manage the online platform and Social Medias
  • An online participatory platform (to visualize budget data, to describe co-developed projects and then vote them)
  • A website to support communication and the story telling.



The overall planning and execution of the PB could be facilitated by some professional facilitation experts. In particular the meeting events with the citizens could be much more effective under the guidance of professional facilitators, to develop positive and productive discussion with participants, with participative instruments and techniques (canvas, presentation, group working). The objective of these meetings is to stimulate the participants to address the main issues they had experienced while living in the city and collect them in a set of “initial ideas”. The initial ideas have to be then developed into specific development projects, intervention projects, monitoring projects.

Beside this, it is suggested to establish supplementary assemblies, organized and run by citizens, working on subtask and/or specific issues, with elected-by-the-assembly peer facilitators.


The overall PB process is to collect citizens ideas, group them and then develop them into specific development projects,  intervention projects, monitoring projects.

The purpose has to be clear internally, with the PB stakeholder group, from the beginning of the planning, and could be geographical (an area of the city, a district, a quarter) or/and a specific policy sector (e.g. actions to improve the social welfare in the city, actions to improve the alternative transport means, etc.). The purpose has to be clear (and coherent) also externally, when the communication starts to the citizens.

The PB stakeholder group has to be setup and engaged in order to define the purpose, considering all the potential pros/cons of the PB project.


The logistic of the meetings is important to the realization of the PB project. In general the participants could be split into 10-15 different groups, assigning them specific physical meeting points, depending from which of the  different areas/district of the city they are from. This latter aspect was key to fully exploit the efficiency deriving from the direct interest of the citizens. The Municipality of Milan also tried to address the minority issue and reached out to the various communities, with a total of 60 members -coming from 12 different minority groups- autonomously participating to the meetings. Various charities and other associations helped the Municipality getting in contact with members of minorities.


As mentioned before, the PB could establish an interaction/communication channel with the citizens, composed by physical event with the support of online tools, not only to permit to vote project proposals but also to establish a communication channel with the citizens in order to provide the most relevant information to them, and in the other side to be open to receive and answer any kind of question citizens could rise.

For this reason the minimum level is to setup a PB dedicated web site (that could be a subsection of the Municipality web site) in order to provide clear information and digital documents required to startup the participatory process with at least a unique and clearly dedicated email address where the citizens could forward questions.

More than this, in order to improve the interaction with citizens, social media channels, like FB, Twitter, could be very useful also to share and work online on project proposals (e.g. Slack or Google Docs) with citizens organized in online groups.


The target of the PB is involving at least 2-3% of the target population (of the city, of the quarter, of the district), so invitation should be massive even if the return could not be satisfactory and just a small part of the population is willing to contribute (dedicating time and some effort) to the working group established. Interaction with/between them are the following:

  • Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
  • Express opinions/preferences only
  • Listen/watch as spectator.


Establish communication guidelines for everyone. State clear the objective of the PB, write it  down and paint it on the wall. It has to be there for the entire process.

Communicate and keep all with the information available. No one excluded, and who is not attending is still a beneficiary of the process, so it could be part later, or at least keep informed.

PB is typically promoted by the public authority, so try to smooth the formal requirements of a public authority with the informal requirement of citizens living daily life, and with not a lot of time to spend.

Organize meeting when person could attend, think about your target, try to plan the meeting thinking the different target groups, maybe doing 2 in order to give all a possibility.



  • PHASE 1 – ‘Listening: public meetings for the gathering of needs’
    Set of meetings need to be scheduled by the Municipality and the participation to these public hearings has to be open to the general public, the totality of the proposals was gathered for Phase.
  • PHASE 2 – ‘Co-design: workshops to design interventions’
    Aiming at rearranging citizens proposals, shaping and grouping them  together as many of them as possible into bigger ones. The outcome of the meetings in Phase 2 are the projects to be advanced to the voting phase (Phase 3).
  • PHASE 3 - Voting: choosing the projects to be carried out
    Projects from phase 2 should be made accessible to every citizen (online tools could be very helpful in doing that and manage communication. This phase is basically the citizen voting “assisted” process, in a defined elapse of time, and could online or offline. The voting process should considers different target groups and ages of population, aiming to gather the largest amount of target population involved (2-3% of the urban area population must be considered as baseline)
  • PHASE 4 – Outcomes: projects updates and accountability
    The outcome of the voting process must be published online with a detailed description of all projects and number of votes attributed to each one of them. In addition to that, an official publication listing the winning projects and their description has to be published on the official web site.


The outcome of the voting process must be published online with a detailed description of all projects and number of votes attributed to each one of them. In addition to that, an official publication listing the winning projects and their description has to be published on the official web site.

The sharing of results could be published with the support of a Communication Manager in the framework of available (there should be one) online platform and through the social media established and most used.

The result of the voting, on the online participatory platform, should be described and stored as well as all the project proposals developed in order to give evidence of the work made.

Through the dedicated website, that should be keep maintained for several years, to support communication through the use of storytelling techniques, with participants short videos and with some evidence (if any hopefully) of the impacts made by the projects budget through the PB process (even after some years). 

Avoid to forget that citizens that participated, and the projects delivered. Define a monitoring process even after the PB end. It could be a future drawback if not made. Contents created could be:

  • Public Report
  • Public Hearings/Meetings
  • New Media (i.e. internet, texting, etc)


  • Social and economical issues. In general, the majority of projects selected, aim at making the city or a district more welcoming, modern and prettier, but a few actually take on serious social or economic issues, so this aspect should be developed as soon as possible the idea is designed, in order to minimize the rejection possibilities coming from a too expensive or falling outside of the competencies of the city project.
  • Take in account the level of power given to citizens in PB processes in the selection of topics and priorities. It could be argued that renovation projects such as repairing toilets in a school should not be left to the selection process of PB, but instead, is responsibility of the city to maintain the quality of infrastructures.
  • Consider practices and process to avoid voting irregularities, in particular online. Although an online/mobile voting functionality increases inclusiveness and “smartness” of the PB, in the other side it improve the difficulties to monitor and to ensure 1 citizen=1 vote rule. In facts, online voting increases the risk of fraud that are typically engineered to provide an unbalanced support of certain PB projects. But voting irregularities can also happen in physical locations especially manage carefully the ones where the choice of voting location can impact the support of projects. it’s vital to establish and enforce regulations to maintain always the legitimacy of the PB process.
  • The PB process will takes time, so who start a PB process should be aware that it will takes longer than the normal decision process. But this should be considered with the other potential issues that a non-participated process could imply.  Often cost-analysis made by public servant were over/under evaluated because of lack of resources, time, know-how, or information, that at the end caused construction delays or mistakes in final decision. The PB takes time, but decision and project could have bigger impacts on the urban area 
  • Communication, Communication, Communication. Participating people/citizens need to see results or else they won’t see the benefits of participating and investing their time. In the same way, last minute changes can be detrimental to the process as they show irregularities and discontinuity. If changes need to be made, they should be communicated earlier and effectively to all.


  • Paris PB Overview:
  • APUR (2017). « La ville autrement: Initiatives citoyennes // Urbanisme temporaire //
  • Baiocchi G. (2003). « Participation, Activism, and Politics : the Porto Alegre experiment and deliberative democratic theory. » Politics & Society 29(1) : 43-72
  • Carrel M. and Houard N. (2012). La participation des habitants: trois pistes pour rénover la politique de la ville, Paris, Centre d’analyse stratégique, note d’analyse, n° 278.
  • Shah A, ed. (2007). Participatory Budgeting. Washington D.C.: The World Bank

External Links

“I Count, I Participate, I Decide” - Participatory Budgeting in Milan, Italy



“RIVAPARTECIPA 2018”- A participatory budget initiative