The Lisbon City Council adopted Participatory Budgeting on July 9th, 2008. From 2008 to 2016 – 5,570 proposals were submitted, 1829 of them were selected and a total of 31, 205,688.00 Euros have been allocated to 105 projects. The program is ongoing.
Problems and Purpose
Lisbon Participatory budgeting (here in after, Lx-PB) structure is designed in such away that the public and the city council should work together. It also embraces ICT, that is, it uses the internet and SMS, ecourages the people to take part – face-to-face as well as through online platform (https://www.lisboaparticipa.pt/). The face-to-face platform where the citizens of Lisbon could take part in budgeting process is known as Participatory Assemblies (PAs, here in after). Often, several PAs takes place during Spring and Autmun time period. PAs allow the participants to propose new proposals, present to the audience and discuss. Comments and inputs from the participnts will be included into the proposal. Nevertheless, where in PAs a person can submit two proposals, an online portal can only accept one proposal. The rationale behind is to encouraged citizens to meet and deliberate on their proposals face-to-face. Besides, it sparks “contest of ideas” (Dias, 2010) among proposers and the latter also invite citizens to vote on the proposal.
Background History and Context
Portugal is one of the European countries and EU member, affected by the 2007/8 financial global crisis. Following this, in 2008, it became the first European country for public funds invested in participatory budgeting – drawing lessons from the Brazilian Participatory Budgeting experiences (Avritzer 2009, Allegretti 2003, Santos 2003, Wampler and Avritzer, 2004). Where the primary test of PB took place in Lisbon, other cities of Portugal followed the footsteps of Lisbon Participatory Budgeting (here in after, Lx-PB). The aim of Lx-PB is to reinforce democratic participation of citizens in public-decision making. Lx-PB is a good tool to engage the residents of Lisbon annually.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Lx-PB was first adopted by Lisbon City Council on July 9th, 2008. The City Council also enacted "Chater of Principles", a road map to Participatory Budgeting for citizen participation. For the first time, in the history of the city, 5,000,000 (five million Euros) equivalent to 5.4% of the Lisbon city´s annual budget. Although the amount allocated every year has been reduced by half, the City Council continuesly allot and call for citizens participation to vote on the projects of their choice.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Lx-PB is open to any person over 18 years of age to take part in the process. Hence, LX-PB is open to officials, representatives of associations, companies, civil society and NGOs in the city. Another important contribution of Lx-PB is the development of Participatory Associations (PAs) and Polling stations (PSs), in 2012. Where PAs serve as the space for question formulation and discussion, PSs serves as a space for casting votes for those who lack access to the internet facility (Allegretti and Antunes 2013: 4). As the number of the proposals are many in number and often overlaps, it is time consuming for CML to review all proposals and integrate them into solid projects. Even when overlapping projects are merged, often it raises grievances and questions. Hence, the CMP had to justify whenever complaints came to its table.
Methods and Tools Used
The Lx-PB follows the following cycle: from January to March is preparation cycle - where evaluation and report shall be undertaken; from March to April the rules of the game and the amount alloted shall be made public; from May to June proposals shall be submitted through internet as well as traditional means; from July to mid-september there shall be technical analysis and transformation into projects; from mid-September to end of September list of provisionally selected projects shall be announced; in October up on review and analysis, projects that have won majority vote shall be finalized; and finally, between November to December voted projects shall presented for budget approval (See Giovanni and Nunes 2014).
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
One of the quality PB is that it “stands out for its capability to generate a concrete decision-making space beyond representative elections” (Alves and Allegretti 2012). In the aftermath of its formation, Lx-PB was given wide media coverage and thus it invoked wider public debates in several municipalities and among political parties in Portugal (Allegretti and Antunes 2013: 2). The Charter of Principle provides for CML and citizens co-decisional approach for a certain amount of public funds (in the first round the CML allotted some 5million Euros although later it was reduced by half).
Once proposals are deliberated over and consolidated, it will be disseminated into the wider public for further discussion and vote. The prootion of proposals is often made throug online platforms desined for this purpose, that is, “PB Bus”. Hence, the promotion and voting process will be across the board and invites every capable citizen to take part in the process. However, since 2013, citizens can vote through SMS. Proposals that have received majority vote will be included into the Lisbon City plans and will be further evaluated by the CML. Hence, between Fall and Winter, the CML will approve the proposal that got majority vote and followsup its implimentation.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
In terms of influencing Lisbon City Council, the Lx-PB is playing crucial role. The aim of Lx-PB is more than assuming an advisory role. Rather, it activates citizens to play active role in decision-making process in defining public policies and strategies of their municipality. It is interesting also to note that every time Lx-PB evolves and adopt to new developments, and embraces the socio-political dynamics in the city. For example, Lx-PB process we have today is not the same as the Lx-PB practiced in 2008 and every year there are new proposals, new participants, and increasing participants. Therefore, the quality of Lx-PB are its flexibility, evolutive essence, and open process. Lx-PB continuously evolve and update itself. Besides, Lx-PB has working rules and working groups dedicated to Lx-PB process. Above all, it has annual review of the process and receives feedbacks from the stakeholders.
In terms of increasing participants in Lx-PB a remarkable result has been achieved. Every year, the number of participants, proposals and projects increases. Through Lx-PB a horizontal, as opposed to a vertical power relations, public dialogue has been created. That is, citizens were grouped as per their age, profession, and literacy level and dialogue on matters important to their city. The introduction of the “on-site” assemblies adds to the development of horizontal social relations. The positive side of this horizontality is that – it, broadly speaking, increases active and vigilant citizens; and it reinforces proposals submitted to the Lisbon City Council. As stated above, Lx-PB is a model for other cities and towns in Portugal. However, Allegretti and Antunes shades light on the limitation of decision-making capacity of citizens that, since “´filtering´ is performed by an institutional entity, the choices made can be perceived by citizens as ´discretionary´ and ill-founded” (Allegretti and Antunes 2014)
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Despite the Lx-PB a decade contnuous development, the followng limitations are observable:
Disparity between demand and accomplishment: the process and implementation of projects is time consuming. Since 2009 to 2013, it is reported that only 30% of Lx-PB were finalized. So far, Lx-PB has not produced a ground-breaking political change. To address this issue, since 2011, the Lx-PB has taken initiative to strengthen the commitment to undertake Lx-PB and complete projects within reasonable period, i.e. in less than 2 years.
Lack of supervision: over the procedure of registration of voters, voting mechanism, lack of clarity of web portals displaying proposals, and infiltration of fake emails and names. Therefore, due to lack of supervision and control, the online voting mechanism susceptible to falsely “organized lobbies and subscribers” (ibid), its credibility of the voting process is being compromised.
Limited Deliberation: the lack of “real” discussion on proposals is one of the limitations of Lx-PB. Critics also points out that the participants gather and take photos without serious debate. This indicates the failure to understand the importance and nature of the PB on the part of the citizens and CML inability to open spaces for broader issues beyond allocation of public funds for proposed projects. Moreover, “the political commitment of the City Council … is not very positive, due to a lower presence of the Mayor in acts related to the PB and a general distrust in public institutions…” (Optar Report, 2012 cited in Allegretti and Antunes 2013: 8). Therefore, Lx-PB cycle does not extend to the “implementation and monitoring phase” and it lacks broader transformative goal such as “redistributive justice ... greater transparency and accountability …” (Allegretti and Nunes 2013: 8)
Table 1. The Lx-PB in numbers from 2008 to 2016
Participatory Budgeting (method)
Allegretti, G. (2003), “L’insegnamento di Porto Alegre. Autoprogettualità come paradigma urbano.” Alinea, Florence.
Allegretti, Giovanni and Antunes, Sofia (2014), “The Lisbon Participatory Budget: results and perspectives on an experience in slow but continuous transformation,” Field Actions Science Reports [Online], Special Issue 11, 2014, URL:http://factsreports.revues.org/3363
Alves, M.; Allegretti, G. (2012) “(In)stability, a key element to understand participatory budgeting: Discussing Portuguese cases”, Journal of Public Deliberation: Vol. 8: Iss. 2, Article 3. Available at: http://www.publicdeliberation.net/jpd/vol8/iss2/art3
Dias, N. (2010), “Orçamentos Participativos em Portugal” in Vez e Voz no. 97, ANIMAR, Lisbon.
Avritzer, L.(2009) “Participatory Institutions in Democratic Brazil,” John Hopkins University Press, Washington.
Wampler, B. and Avritzer, L. (2004) “Participatory publics: civil society and new institutions.” New York: Comparative Politics.
Santos, B. (2003) “Democratizar a democracia. Os caminhos da democracia participativa,” Edições Afrontamento, Porto
Lead image: Lisboa Participa/Facebook https://goo.gl/HsckgS