Participatory Budgeting Produces Meaningful Change in Brazil

Since 1990, around half of Brazil's largest cities have adopted participatory budgeting. A new study finds the experiment has had positive impacts on health and quality of life. With more countries adopting the practice, the results are encouraging.

In 2012, Vallejo, California became the first U.S. municipality to embrace participatory budgeting on a citywide level. That same year, New York City launched a participatory budgeting pilot program in four City Council districts. Chicago recently announced it would work to expand its five-year-old program throughout the city. Though there are now "over 1,500 participatory budgets around the world," according to the Participatory Budgeting ProjectBrazil has the longest and most distinguished track record in embracing the practice.

A new study of the results of twenty years of participatory budgeting in Brazil has found that "municipalities with participatory programs improve the lives of their citizens," write Brian Wampler and Mike Touchton, professors at Boise State University and authors of the report. "We find PB programs are strongly associated with increases in health care spending, increases in civil society organizations, and decreases in infant mortality rates," the authors write in their report. "This connection strengthens dramatically as PB programs remain in place over longer time frames."

"Participatory programs will not necessarily produce fundamental change in the short term, but they are a vital part of building better institutions and improving citizens’ quality of life," conclude Wampler and Touchton.

Full Story: Brazil let its citizens make decisions about city budgets. Here’s what happened.

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