Apolitical, a website that describes its mission ‘to make government great for citizens everywhere’ has reported on the exciting development of what is believed to be the first national participatory budgeting programme on a national scale. The project will let people submit ideas for what the government should spend its money on, and then vote on which ideas are adopted.
Graça Fonseca, the minister responsible, told Apolitical: ‘It’s about quality of life, it’s about the quality of public space, it’s about the quality of life for your children. It’s about your life, OK?’
Portugal’s national PB was also a topic at the recent Engage, Think, Do conference, where Giovanni Allegretti talked about the long journey to building a national PB network in Portugal. That now sees a majority of local mayors signing up, and a wealth of PB programmes underway, many of them embracing online technology. And we heard about it and about the 120 municipalities doing PB in Portugal on the recent learning exchange between Scotland and Portugal brokered by DEMSOC and Cesar Silva of ChangeTomorrow.
Deep changes like those happening in Portugal take time, with PB evolving over many years. In the book Hope for Democracy, 25 years of participatory budgeting worldwide, Nelson Dias, a leading proponent of PB in Portugal noted: "The year 2012 was a turning point in the history of PBs in Portugal. For the first time, there was a slight majority of deliberative processes recorded in relation to advisory ones."
This book represents the efforts of more than forty authors and many other direct and indirect contributions spread across different continents and thereby providing a comprehensive overview on Participatory Budgeting (PB) from different perspectives. Some are researchers, others are consultants, and others activists connected to social movements. All this points to the fact that PB in one country can inform and inspire people in others to go further and do better. Portugal, for now, has taken the lead on PB at scale.
One of the exciting ideas in the Apolitical article is that cashpoint machines (ATM’s) could be deployed in future years to allow people to review and vote for on proposals.
Although they will not be used for voting this year, as Portugal’s national PB is still very much in the trial phase, the use of ATMs is potentially revolutionary. As Fonseca puts it, speaking exclusively to Apolitical ‘In every remote part of the country, you might have nothing else, but you have an ATM.’ Moreover, an ATM could display proposals and allow people to vote directly, not least because it already contains a secure way of verifying their identity.
- Read the full article on Portugal’s national PB on the Apolitical website
- Access Hope for Democracy, 25 years of participatory budgeting worldwide (free PDF download)