Saturday, February 19, 2011

3 Participatory Budgeting Projects Make Finals of "Vitalizing Democracy" Prize

New Videos on Participatory Budgeting in Argentina & Brazil
Feb 16, 2011
The Bertelsmann Foundation has posted short videos (in English) describing the seven finalists for the 2011 “Vitalizing Democracy” Prize. 158 democratic innovations from around the world were submitted, and three of the finalists are cases of participatory budgeting. Each case also uses technology in innovative ways, for SMS-voting, internet voting, electronic ballots, or online forums.

- La Plata (Argentina): Participatory Budgeting uses SMS-voting and electronic ballots.

- Belo Horizonte (Brazil) Co-Governance: part of Belo Horizonte’s participatory budgeting includes Internet and interactive voice response (IVR) voting.

- Recife (Brazil) Participatory Budgeting: includes electronic ballots and Internet voting.

E-participatory budgeting:
innovative practice in Belo Horizonte (Brazil)
One of the most interesting e-participation experiments
is the e-participatory budget of Belo Horizonte, in Brazil.
With 2.35 million inhabitants, this city is the sixth largest
in Brazil and an important political centre in the country.
Its PB is one of the oldest in Brazil: it began in 1993 and
its methodology has been innovative. Most notably, it has
included an autonomous housing PB designed to deal with
this especially important issue. It is based on a two-year cycle,
a feature that has tended to inspire other experiments in
Brazil, and places emphasis on popular control over the real
execution of the public works that have been chosen.
In 2006 a digital PB was added as a third pillar, which was
repeated in 2008 and 2010. The digital PB has three objectives:
to modernise PB through the use of ICTs; to increase
citizen involvement in the process, and to include big investments,
concerning the whole city, in the participatory
budgeting process. In fact, most Brazilian PBs face a double
problem: participation remains relatively limited (1 to 3
percent of the people in cities, somewhat higher in smaller
towns) and the biggest investments tend to remain outside
their reach.

The idea is to organise an online vote open to all residents
older than 16, in order to prioritise some investments that
require much more than the amounts available at the district
level. In order to participate, citizens have to access the
e-voting platform through the city‘s official website, where
information on the various public works is provided. The
decision is made through majority rule, with no preference
given to socially disadvantaged areas. In 2006, 25 million
R$ (around 14 million US$) were made available to the digital
PB. The amount was increased to 50 million (28 million
US$) in 2008, so that one public work (a beltway around
a very important square) could be selected. In comparison,
around 80 million R$ (44 million US$) were given to the
district PB in 2007-2008, and 110 million R$ (around 61
million US$) in 2009-2010. (In this last round, 110 public
works were selected, which means that the average amount
was 1 million R$, around 550,000 US$.) The methodology
was somewhat different in 2006, when voters could cast
9 votes, one per district, and 2009, when voters had only
one choice and it was also possible to vote by phone.
173,000 persons voted in 2006 (nearly 10 percent of the
Belo Horizonte electorate), and 124,000 in 2008 – compared
with 38,000, 34,000 and 44,000 voters for the district
PB in 2005/2006, 2007/2008 and 2009/2010. The increase
in participation with online voting has been a clear success.
However, the deliberative dimension has been virtually lost
(only 1,200 contributions were made in the online forum in
2006), and the digital participatory budget looks more like
a ‚light‘ referendum than a ‚traditional‘ PB. This peculiar
success has made the Belo Horizonte digital PB an internationally
recognised good practice (Peixoto, 2008).

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