Municipalities thrive when citizens get involved in local processes and become actively engaged in the development of their community. One particularly effective option for citizen participation is participatory budgeting. This gives citizens an opportunity to help draw up their municipal budget by making informed proposals or having a say in deciding on priorities.
Interest in participatory budgeting is continuing to grow. In Germany today more than 130 municipalities are currently discussing introducing it, and more than 80 have already done so. The participatory budget has proved that it can be a useful instrument for forward-looking local development which can be feasibly implemented at low cost and a manageable level of administrative input. It improves dialogue between citizens, policymakers and administrators, and in so doing builds trust and confidence – an increasingly important asset when budgets are tight. It also fosters citizens’ willingness to actively shape their own environment, which is imperative if local policy is to be implemented sustainably.
Just how much participatory and transparent budgeting can improve local government administration and people’s everyday lives was first demonstrated by the participatory budget in Porto Alegre. This city in Brazil, which has a population of over one million, introduced the world’s first participatory budget in 1989. In the years since then it has gone on to develop a special implementation model that has gained recognition and won many imitators around the world. The idea of the participatory budget has also spread from Porto Alegre to Europe and Germany. Various participatory budgeting models have gradually emerged that have different objectives and procedures, and use different instruments. Nonetheless there is much common ground for a dialogue between local governments at the national and international levels.
We, the Service Agency Communities in One World, support such exchange of experiences both between the German municipalities practicing participatory budgeting, and with their partners in the South. This is best achieved through vibrant twinning arrangements and international networks. These are a good way for people to learn from and with each other, to work together and develop civic and municipal engagement. To support this process we develop strategies, advise interested municipalities, and upon request put them in touch with university and local government experts.
Together with the Federal Agency for Civic Education, since 2007 we have maintained a platform www.buergerhaushalt.org that enables policymakers, administrators and citizens to find out more about this topic and exchange ideas. All the municipalities in Germany that have either introduced participatory budgeting or are discussing doing so are shown on the "Participatory budgets in Germany" map, and their status is listed under the relevant heading. The Internet portal also provides up-to-date information and reports from the German municipalities practicing participatory budgeting, news of forthcoming events, press cuttings, and articles on the topic by academics and public administrators.
Through our Germany-wide "Participatory budgeting" network we offer what is so far the only opportunity of its kind to exchange knowledge and experiences. Numerous municipalities from all over Germany are currently making use of this opportunity, particularly at the network’s annual conferences. We intend to step up this dialogue, and support as many municipalities as possible in their work on participatory budgeting by providing them with suggestions and ideas, and examples of good practices and lessons learned. Be a part of it!
Developing capacities for participatory budgeting
Together with the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Federal Agency for Civic Education, the Service Agency actively supports municipalities in dealing with the challenges that arise when planning and implementing participatory budgets. Activities include jointly designing and realising training modules, guidelines and pilot projects. This will enable municipalities to identify appropriate solutions to their high-priority challenges, and thus improve the quality of participatory budgets.