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Participatory budgeting in the UK: a challenge to the system? (PLA 58)

Heather Blakey

Journal article

Guest editors: Tom Wakeford and Jasber Singh. To read the full table of contents please click on ‘More information’ above.

Keywords: citizens juries, participatory budgeting, grassroots participation, gender, community activism.

Participatory budgeting is a way of involving communities in real decisions, derived from nearly 20 years’ experience of popular mobilisation in Latin America. The people of Porto Alegre, Brazil, have been involved in spending the city’s regeneration budget since 1989. In Brazil, participatory budgeting grew out of a particular social, political and ideological context, led by a grassroots impetus for greater participation. This article is a shortened version of a paper entitled ‘Radical innovation or technical fix? Participatory Budgeting in the UK’, which explores what happened when that model of participation was transplanted to the UK, where it risks being seen as a ‘technical fix’ divorced from its original context. In one pilot in the north of England, participatory budgeting inspired large turnouts at public meetings, when people understood that their actions would make a tangible difference to outcomes. However, national constraints, such as pre-set government ‘targets’, conflicted with a commitment to genuine participation, and encouraged control by official organisers. Local participation was focused on helping to find the best way of meeting the targets, rather than deciding what the priorities should be. This article (and the paper from which it is drawn) considers what the potential of PB in the UK might be.

Participatory Learning and Action (PLA, formerly PLA Notes) is the world's leading series on participatory learning and action approaches and methods. PLA publishes articles on participation aimed at practitioners, researchers, academics and activists. All articles are peer-reviewed by an international editorial board. See: www.planotes.org

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