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Decide Madrid- A participatory budgeting tool in the Spanish capital
Decide Madrid- A participatory budgeting tool in the Spanish capital
In the 1980’s, Porto Alegre experimented with the idea of participatory budgeting, a form of deliberation which put people in power of the decision-making process. Participatory budgeting is a process where assemblies of people from all walks of life make decisions that affect their local area. The participants are given a budget and debate where that money should go. According to Abers (2000), ‘the Porto Alegre system was a window of opportunity, which opened after the election of the Brazilian Labour Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores [PT]). The PT had looked to translate their grassroots self-conception into municipal politics’ (SINTOMER, HERZBERG and RÖCKE, 2008, p.166-167). Porto Alegre has been a huge success, according to Touchton and Wampler, with better infant mortality rates, and greater participation by empowered citizens (Touchton and Wampler, 2013, p.1447). The success of Porto Alegre has meant many European cities have experimented with the idea of participatory budgeting. One of these is Madrid, the capital of Spain. The city has created a platform called Decide Madrid.
Decide Madrid was partially established in 2014/2015 (fully established in 2016) and is a citizen participation program with the goal of involving Madrid citizens in the decision-making process within local government. One branch of the program is the participatory budgeting program. Decide Madrid does not have a sample size as anyone in the world can contribute, but only Madrid citizens can vote and support the suggestions. Since the population of Madrid is 6, 435, 152 (World Bank, 2003), this would be the sample size. The system is a completely online process and is therefore very accessible and easy to use if the participants have sufficient knowledge of computer systems. The size of the budget is approximately 60 million euros.
Decide Madrid was established to hand the people of Madrid the power to create ideas and advertise them on a platform where the maximum amount of people could see them and support them. People would put up ideas and would garner support in the time frame of three months. Then, Madrid citizens would vote on the most important issues within one month and 15 days. The ideas that are most voted on are selected and included in the initial draft of the General Budget of the City of Madrid (Decide Madrid, 2016).
Spain has had previous experience with the participatory budgeting system. The city of Albacete favored the participation of local associations in a context in which they had exceptional levels of independence and vitality (Sintomer, Röcke, and Herzberg, 2016, p.63). The Albacete model is considered a diverse system as ethnic groups have permanent seats in the participatory council (Sintomer et al., 2012, p.11).
A more recent model is the Seville participatory budgeting system. This form of participatory budgeting was established in 2004 and lasted for nine years and its main objective was to promote citizen’s direct participation in the design of the city’s budget (OECD Territorial Reviews: The Gauteng City-Region, South Africa 2011, 2011, p.250). The Seville model was different to the current Madrid model in that in that it made use of online participatory tools and also had assemblies of people that could discuss different ideas. The residents decided on 50% of local spending, and between 2004 and 2009, an annual budget of 19 million euros was set aside for the budget (participatorybudgeting.org, 2014). Seville was also an important participatory budget system to further the rights of women and pay direct attention to gender sensitive issues (Ng, 2015, p.42). As we can see from Seville, participatory budgeting has evolved from local issues in Porto Alegre to much deeper social issues that have implications nationwide.
Cordoba is another Spanish city to experiment with participatory budgeting. The city established participatory budgeting in 1979, making it the oldest in Spain. Cordoba was in many ways like the Porto Alegre in the decision-making process. As Sintomer, Rocke and Herzberg explain ‘As an adaptation to Porto Alegre distribution criteria, Cordoba used criteria to rank citizen’s proposals into a hierarchy (Sintomer, 2016, p.65). The Cordoba budgeting system was eventually suspended due to a lack of legitimacy (Sintomer, 2016, p.67), but it has led to other national copies such as in Seville and Madrid.
As we can see, Spain has experimented with the ideas of participatory budgeting but they have not been on the scale of the Madrid system. Seville, Cordoba, and Albacete followed a basic copy of the Porto Alegre model of participatory budgeting but the Madrid system is largest ever attempted in Spain and is designed to be more inclusive. This creates a logistical problem, but one that is greatly diminished due to the online only presence of the system, allowing participatory budgeting in Spain to be manageable.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Since Decide Madrid is a new system, there is very little on their outcomes but there have been promising signs that participatory budgeting in Madrid is affecting the level of political participation in the city. In the Madrid City Council elections, turnout increased by 1.63% (Ministry of The Interior, 2015). Here we can make the link between Decide Madrid and political participation such that since the introduction of the Decide system, political participation in Madrid has increased. We can also draw a link between Decide and Madrid’s economy. Since the introduction of Decide, the per capita GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the community of Madrid was 36.1%, higher than the national average (EURES, 2016). Therefore, we could say that participatory budgeting has an impact on local economies, as Madrid has shown.
The influence of the system is quite large considering the impact it has on the Madrid budget. After the voting process, the most elected proposals go directly into the draft of the general budget of the city of Madrid. We can, therefore, say that participatory budgeting, at least in the case of Madrid, has had an impact on local government policy, a view that is backed by Touchton and Wampler, who state in ‘Improving Social Well-being Through New Democratic Institutions’, ‘Our results imply that PB is associated with long-term institutional and political change, not just short-term shifts in funding priorities’ (Touchton and Wampler, 2013, p.1458). What we can expect from the Madrid model is large numbers of support and idea creation due to the large sample size and it is also very likely that we will see the rise of participatory budgeting in more cities in Spain and even other parts of Europe, due to the historical and present day popularity of the concept.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Decide Madrid is a new system, but there are flaws within it that need to be addressed. If we compare the Seville and Madrid models, we can see that an immediate flaw of the Madrid model is that there is no deliberation aspect. Decide uses online idea creation and support for the backbone of its budget system. This is a major flaw as there is no deliberation between citizens over the suggestions and therefore, a decision may be taken by the City of Madrid that does not reflect public opinion and does not involve those who have a different view on a topic. Wampler makes the point that deliberation is a core principle of participatory budgeting as ‘active citizen participation extends the possibility of political renewal because it induces citizens to debate with each other and with government officials over public priorities’ (Wampler, 2012, p.3). If there is no deliberation in the suggestion process, can we say that Decide is a true participatory budgeting system, as Wampler suggests?
A further flaw is the identification of groups who use Decide. The system does not allow local government to see which ethnic groups, genders, religious groups have higher or lower participation. This is quite a universal problem with participatory budgeting as little attention is being focused on political participation in participatory budgeting from different groups (Cabannes, 2004, p.42). The purpose of new innovations in a democracy is to get people involved in politics and counteract the problems of apathy and alienation. If we cannot identify which groups are more apathetic than others, we cannot fix these two problems therefore that innovation is futile in strengthening the values of democracy. These two flaws question the legitimacy of the participatory model of Madrid, and also its inclusiveness.
However, Decide does have its advantages that make it stand out from the old Porto Alegre model and the previous Spanish models. The Porto Alegre participants meet in a location to deliberate and come to decisions. In Bello Horizonte, another city that experiments with participatory budgeting, the problem was that when citizen’s demands were met by the budgeting program, the participation of local citizens dropped (Souza, 2001, p.179), leading to the point that participatory budgeting could be a one-time fix for problems in the community and that it does not need to happen as regularly as the Porto Alegre model. The Madrid model eliminates this problem as suggestions and ideas are put forward in such a way that citizens do not lose interest as there are other ideas that can be supported at the same time. Essentially, the Madrid model follows the Porto Alegre model but citizens can pitch any ideas at any time before the voting period. This allows for a broader range of ideas and a larger and more diverse sample within the system i.e. different districts will have different problems, but they will be able to pitch them regardless of whether there is an assembly or not in their local area. This in some ways, shows that the Madrid system is more flexible, inclusive and feasible than previous models of participatory budgeting. The Madrid model also allows for immediate reaction to problems. Whereas the Porto Alegre model took a process of deliberation and discussion, the Madrid model allows for citizens to make suggestions immediately, thereby eliminating the need for assemblies. If we are making a process simpler, we can expect more citizens to be involved as it would be less time consuming and flexible to the people.
Since Decide Madrid is in a very early stage, it is very difficult to draw on what could be done better and how it could be done. But as mentioned before, there are immediate weaknesses. The deliberation aspect is an important flaw, but one that can be improved. If Madrid took the example of Seville, where an online presence and actual assemblies were twinned together, it could make the process a much more democratic stimulating process. Madrid has 21 districts and if these could be incorporated into the process, it would mean a larger, and more diverse system. The way to carry this action would be following the Porto Alegre model, where different assemblies would be held at different times, allowing for different citizens to give views that they couldn’t before. This would allow the local government of Madrid the ability to hear new ideas from their residents and to gain immediate feedback from citizens on particular issues.
Again, the identification of apathetic groups can be remedied. Decide Madrid could obtain more information from citizens concerning their nationality, religion, ethnic origin etc.… This is difficult as people are not giving in this type of information. Decide could put a message up saying that the participant’s information will only be used if they consent to it in the registration process. This information will help dramatically in identifying which groups are apathetic to regional politics and issues. By identifying them, we can resolve the problem of apathy by talking to citizens. The information gathered about the apathetic citizens can also lead to further research in alleviating the effects of apathy on national and international scale. This will not be just the interest of Spain, but all democratic scholars who are yet to find the definitive cause of political apathy.
Another problem that can be averted is the idea creation process from non-inhabitants. At the moment, citizens outside Madrid and even out of Spain can pitch ideas. This goes against the very idea of participatory budgeting in that the inhabitants should play the biggest role in idea creation and decision making. If an outside individual’s ideas are taken into the consideration of the Madrid budget, it undermines the views of Madrid residents and therefore is counter-productive to the idea of participatory budgeting. Citizens of Madrid should be the only ones involved in the whole process, as their area is implicated in the idea and decision-making. Decide could fix this by only allowing Madrid citizens to sign up for the project. This can be done by voter registration numbers, census data and additional information that determines whether a person is a citizen of Madrid and belongs to any of the 21 districts. This would allow Madrid citizens the ability to make their own ideas, and not have interference from those who do not know local issues.
The final change that could be made is taking this idea nationally. The success of Porto Alegre has led to numerous participatory budgeting systems being implemented across South America such as in Belo Horizonte, La Plate, and Rosario. If there was one national participatory budgeting program, national issues could be fixed, with less bureaucracy and more deliberation. The idea of a united participatory budget has merit in that it would be less costly as each city would not have to create their own assembly. The government of Spain will create a traveling assembly, which would be year-long and would listen to citizens on their needs, both nationally and locally. At November time, for example, the government would deliberate all ideas and put the most important ones into the national budget. The smaller issues more relating to local citizens, would then be delegated to the local government, thereby creating a system where citizens have an impact on both national and local policy making.
Challenges with data collection
Data collection was very difficult in this case study due to the short start that Decide Madrid has had. The system has only been fully functional since early 2016. There was the incomplete version in 2015 which did provide some data about the participants. This data was then used to draw the link between participatory budgeting and the local economy of Madrid.
Much of the data about the budget and the number of participants was available on the Decide Madrid website, which was very professional and understandable.