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How to Spend Tax Money? Ask the Taxpayers!

What is the best way to spend government money? Typically, public budgets are decided through a process driven largely by policy makers and politicians.

What is often missing from this equation is a significant amount of input from local citizens who are the direct recipients of these services. Flipping this script is something called “participatory budgeting.”

It’s a process in which local citizens decide on how to allocate part of a municipal budget through a highly democratic process. It generally involves four basic steps: 1) community members identify spending priorities and select budget delegates, 2) budget delegates develop specific spending proposals with the help of experts, 3) community members vote on which proposals to fund, and 4) the government implements the top proposals.

Developed in the 1980s in Brazil, the first full participatory budgeting process occurred in the city of Porto Alegre in 1989. In an attempt to encourage local participation in government and channel more resources to the poor, a participatory budgeting process was rolled out citywide.
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