Participatory Budgeting

A meta-level review

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Rebecca Rumbul, Alex Parsons, Jen Bramley

Much has been written about participatory budgeting over the last 30 years. From humble beginnings in Brazil, it has swept over the globe and is considered by many institutions and governments to be an ideal method of tangibly engaging citizens in the operation of their communities. It has, however, developed beyond the original Porto Alegre model, and the evolution, exportation into different cultural landscapes, and digitisation of the model have posed new challenges for implementers, innovators and supporters. This report, conducted primarily for the Hewlett Foundation with the involvement of the Omidyar Network, examines some of those challenges. The research was conducted from a meta-level perspective, seeking not to replicate the many excellent case-studies on individual instances of participatory budgeting, and instead identifying where additional support for participatory budgeting could be targeted to benefit the community of practice as a whole.

This research identified significant challenges in the participatory budgeting sphere, from a very common lack of goals to be achieved through participatory budgeting exercises, to very weak network links and peer support for implementers, to the frustrations of the exercises as a result of political corruption or subversion. The migration to managing participatory budgeting digitally presents the very real risk of the process becoming gentrified, and is just one example of the consequences of scale in participatory budgeting only being achieved at the expense of disenfranchising the most under-represented.


  1. Summary
  2. Introduction
  3. Problem statement
  4. Research methods
  5. Case studies
    1. Kenya
    2. Mexico
  6. Thematic findings
    1. A lack of clear vision
    2. Poor quality of impact / evaluation research
    3. Risks of top-down prescribed participatory budgeting programmes
    4. Funding of participatory budgeting
    5. Political vulnerability and corruption
    6. Monitoring
    7. Costs of managing opposition to participatory budgeting
    8. Diffusion, networking and knowledge sharing
    9. Longterm issue for networks
    10. The World Bank influence
    11. Going digital
  7. Further research and recommendations
    1. Recommendation 1
    2. Recommendation 2
    3. Recommendation 3
    4. Recommendation 4
  8. Conclusion
  9. About mySociety

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Cite this

Rumbul, R., Parsons, A. and Bramley, J. (2018). Participatory Budgeting. [online] mySociety Research. Available at: [Accessed 27 Nov 2021].