Participatory Budgeting

Besides crisis management, one differentiating area the government uses crowdsourcing in is participatory budgeting. 


A summary of Participatory Budgeting (PB)

As this post aims to analyse how environmental sustainability is linked to participatory budgeting, a clear basic understanding of PB is some what necessary. 

Participatory budgeting is a new form of economic democracy that strives to replace the present economic order (free market) – to reduce the great inequalities of wealth and economic power [1]. The World Bank defines PB as “an innovative mechanism which aims to involve citizens in the decision-making process of public budgeting” [A].

That said, participatory budgeting basically is crowdsourcing ideas and alternatives for decision-making. Technology has made this process more convenient especially for younger individual. 

Brazil, New York and even Singapore are but a few of the many cities that engage in participatory budgeting. The good about PB is that it improves efficiency in management, governance and increases the power of the people (hence, increasing democracy). 

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According to Cabannes and Lipertz (2015), PB helps:

  1. Finances/Managerial: better maximises the potential of scarce public resources, PB helps to respond to governance issues.
  2. Political: PB helps to give individuals a voice that can be heard. This strengthens democracy
  3. Good governance: PB helps build trust and healthy ties with the government. (Increased transparency)

The basic steps involved in PB are the following: 


Source: [A]

Cabannes (2004) also shares 7 dimensions and another 18 factors in which PB can differ in from country to country. These show how diverse and popular PB is around the world. You can read more here!

Participatory Budgeting for Environmental Sustainability?

According to UCLG (2014), Participatory Budgeting has 7 areas that focuses on basic services. These 7 categories are: 

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These categories require attention due to their current unsustainable infrastructure. All these basic services involve natural capital (e.g. water, waste, energy, gas, etc.) and all contribute to the environment of cities. In lecture, I learnt that even the material used in buildings (e.g. using glass = more heat retention + high energy exploited in life cycle of material creation) can reduce the sustainability of the environmental. A decision made in haste, may lead to efforts being put to waste. As such, if PB has the capacity to increase the effectiveness of dealing with natural capital and their waste, it should be studied in greater detail.

Assessment of the effectiveness of PB for environmental sustainability:


  • A study showed that Finland’s PB on traffic congestion served an educational purpose [2]. Individuals are exposed to a diversity of views and receive new information. 
  • The same study also showed that PB allowed “distributed deliberation” to happen [2]. Participants who initially did not have ideas to deal with traffic congestion started developing their own ideas as they start reading the ideas available out there. The deliberation process branched outwards as people try to refine their ideas and thoughts which gives a lot of insight to individual preference and adds to the idea pool. 


Environmental sustainability is hardly the priority in individuals’ decision making process. As such:

  • Individuals with more time, money, education and are more vocal push for their agenda:
    • Case: Land use suggestions in New York: library, open park, new buildings, dog park, etc.
    • Cost: There is a dog park community and they push for a dog park. It is not that it is less beneficial then other causes but it does favour a certain demographic of people who use it: those who own dogs. [B] 
  • NIMBY: Not-in-my-backyard syndrome
    • Case 1: Building working dormitory at Serangoon Gardens[C]
      • Environment Benefits: reduced travelling distance due to central location, better living condition (surrounded by greenery + better infrastructure)
      • Cost: Residents around the area started accusing these workers of potentially reducing their property price, increase noise pollution and traffic congestion and even, increasing crime rates. This caused an uproar over these anti-foreign workers sentiments. 
    • Case 2: Building wind turbines in UK [D]
      • Environmental Benefits: create clean energy 
      • Cost: Individuals want this initiative but no one is willing to have it near their homes.
  • Governments must have a heart for environmental sustainability for this to succeed.
    • In the case of Porto Algre where PB for environmental sustainability was a huge success, the government painstakingly released “Environmental Atlas of Porto Alegre”, a book which describes the important details about their environment and emphasises an urgency to motivate people to participate. Furthermore, the municipal education system uses this book to education children since 1998. [3]
    • However, if environmental sustainability isn’t actively pursued by the government and its subsidiaries, then PB will not be effective.

To read more, do google the following articles under the citations 🙂


[1] Marquetti, A., da Silva, C. E. S., & Campbell, A. (2012). Participatory Economic Democracy in Action Participatory Budgeting in Porto Alegre, 1989–2004. Review of Radical Political Economics, 44(1), 62-81.

Cabannes, Yves. (2004) Participatory Budgeting: Conceptual Framework and Analysis of its Contribution to Urban Governance and the Millennium Development Goals. Concept Paper. Quito, Working paper 140, UMP-LAC, UN-HABITAT, UNDP

Cabannes, Y., & Lipietz, B. (2015). The Democratic Contribution of Participatory Budgeting. LSE International Development Working Papers, 2015(168). Retrieved March 22, 2016, from

United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) (2014), Basic Services for All in an Urbanizing World; Third Global Report on Local Democracy and Decentralization, Routledge, London.

[2] Aitamurto, T., & Landemore, H. (2013, June). Democratic participation and deliberation in crowdsourced legislative processes: the case of the law on off-road traffic in finland. In Communities and Technologies: Workshop on Large-Scale Idea Management and Deliberation Systems. 

[3] Menegat, R. (2002). Participatory democracy and sustainable development: integrated urban environmental management in Porto Alegre, Brazil. Environment and Urbanization, 14(2), 181-206. Chicago








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