Participatory Budgeting in Wuppertal, Germany

First Submitted By marcomeloni

Most Recent Changes By sergiosilva

General Issues
Governance & Political Institutions
Planning & Development
Science & Technology
Specific Topics
Citizenship & Role of Citizens
Government Transparency
Budget - Local
Start Date
End Date
Time Limited or Repeated?
A single, defined period of time
Deliver goods & services
Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
Citizenship building
Direct decision making
Spectrum of Public Participation
Total Number of Participants
Open to All or Limited to Some?
Open to All
Facilitator Training
Professional Facilitators
Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
Types of Interaction Among Participants
Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
Negotiation & Bargaining
Information & Learning Resources
Expert Presentations
Participant Presentations
Written Briefing Materials
Decision Methods
Idea Generation
Communication of Insights & Outcomes
New Media
Public Report
Public Hearings/Meetings
Type of Organizer/Manager
Academic Institution
Non-Governmental Organization
Local Government
Horizon 2020 - European Union programme, Call: ICT-2015/H2020-ICT-201, grant agreement n. 687920; Municipality of Milan
Type of Funder
International Organization
Local Government
Academic Institution
Evidence of Impact
Implementers of Change
Elected Public Officials
Appointed Public Servants
Stakeholder Organizations
Formal Evaluation
Evaluation Report Links

Multichannel Participatory Budgeting process conducted by the German city of Wuppertal with the support of EMPATIA project, May-October 2017. It has been a new and innovative approach for German municipalities since the consultative model of PB is the dominant one in Germany.

Problems and Purpose

The Wuppertal PB has been generated by the meeting of different actors purposes: the EMPATIA project, the Wuppertal municipality and the pilot partner Zebralog. Jointly decided to set up the goals through process design workshops held with citizens and municipal staff. The goals identified and collected have been:

  • Citizens shall be better able to understand how a budget works and how municipal staff and political representatives work.
  • The complex topic of budget planning, the dilemma of limited resources and therefore the necessity to make difficult decisions shall be made transparent to the public.
  • Thereby, the legitimacy of “harmful” decisions (e.g. cost cuts) shall be increased.

Moreover, a number of success factors – i.e. factors that are important in order to reach the identified goals of PB - were collected as part of the workshops. They served sub goals for the whole process:

  • Participation by many and diverse kind of citizens.
  • Positive interaction between citizens and municipal staff.
  • Involvement of political representatives in the process.
  • Giving feedback on proposals, and only asking for proposals where there is a chance of implementation (e.g. no participation when there is no scope or willingness for it).
  • Efficient processes for municipal staff who have limited capacity for interaction.

In the workshops, it became apparent that the main goals of PB in Wuppertal are information provision, political education and legitimacy of budget decisions (and not so much on distributive justice and involving the disadvantaged, as it is the case in processes similar to the original Porto Alegre model)[1].

Besides the workshops, the goals of the municipality regarding the participation model were well in line with the goals of EMPATIA. More precisely, the following objectives were tested with the Wuppertal pilot:

  • Inclusion (lowering the barriers to participation);
  • Efficiency (optimising time spent by citizens and municipal staff);
  • Transparency (providing information about the municipal budget and process);
  • Multichannel innovation (connecting different channels of participation).

The objective “inclusion” relates directly to the success criteria of “participation by many and diverse kind of citizens”. “Efficiency” relates to the limited capacity of municipal staff in Wuppertal, the objective of “transparency” is in line with the municipal goal of providing information about the budget, and the objective of “multichannel innovation” was the basis for the process model with positive interaction between citizens and municipal staff.

Lastly, the EMPATIA project objectives for the German pilot were specifically: 

  1. Adapting the PB cycle: adding face-to-face events and adding additional ICT tools/features like proposals versioning and SMS verification.
  2. Adding multichannel participation through face-to-face events for proposals submissions and evaluation, and multichannel voting.
  3. Increasing community building support and empowerment of participants to promote their proposals.
  4. Providing better support to the municipality managing the process, aimed at increasing accountability and improving monitoring of internal processes (requires the definition of administration procedures).
  5. Improving secure authentication of users and avoid fraud.
  6. Increasing support for mechanism and tools to avoid ‘similar proposals’, and ensure more transparency within the process for citizens [2].

Background History and Context

Wuppertal is a municipality of about 360.000 inhabitants, located in the state of North Rhine Westphalia close to Düsseldorf, Germany. It is a major industrial center with the river Wupper at its heart, and lots of green space.

The Wuppertal municipality jointed EMPATIA project through an open call for a new pilot municipality, published by the Pilot partner Zebralog via the German PB portal, becoming the official German pilot of the project. 

Zebralog was approached by the city of Wuppertal only a few days after the opening of the call. Their Department for participation was founded only a year before. It is directly connected to the Mayor and consists of a team responsible for strengthening citizen participation in Wuppertal, with a high interest in developing a new model of Participatory Budgeting.

Wuppertal has had previous experience with several consultative PB processes. However, they saw the need to rethink this dominant model of PB in Wuppertal – just as in many other consultative PB processes throughout Germany – since only a minority of proposals by citizens that made it to the TOP list could actually be implemented, a situation which often led to dissatisfaction amongst citizens, municipal staff and political representatives [3]. 

More precisely, in the German consultative PB model, there is no predefined budget, but citizens can submit proposals regarding the whole municipal budget, including both suggestions for cost cutting, such as the stop of funding a particular cultural site like a theatre, and ‘big ideas’ like the building of a new site or the restructuring of particular municipal processes. In the case of the previous PBs in Wuppertal and many other German municipalities, the scope for change due to such proposals is usually very limited; many proposals cannot be accepted because they contradict previous city council resolutions, or certain political commitments like the promise not to cut the budget for cultural activities. The particular challenge in Wuppertal was thus to create a participation process with a clear scope of participation, including a defined financial scope. With this process the city of Wuppertal had the opportunity to “reinvent” the classical consultative German model of PB. 

Moreover, PB processes in Germany – and in Wuppertal as well – have in the past almost exclusively been conducted via an online platform, and there has been little integration of on-site opportunities of deliberation. By developing a new multichannel model of PB in Germany, Wuppertal aimed to set an example for other municipalities in Germany as well. Thus, the past experience with participatory budgeting in the city of Wuppertal was significant but overtime the interest with the traditional model had decreased and the overall perception of the citizens of the traditional consultative model was negative. This negative past experience is reflected in the pre-surveys that show that the majority of participants had not participated in previous public consultations organized by the city [4].

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The Wuppertal PB 2017 has been supported and funded by two main actors: the EMPATIA Project - Enabling Multichannel PArticipation Through ICT Adaptations, funded by Horizon 2020 European Union programme, Call: ICT-2015/H2020-ICT-201, grant agreement n. 687920, by the direct action of Zebralog agency, pilot partner of the project; and the Wuppertal municipality. The process has been developed by the initiative of the two main actors with the fundamental contribution of the citizenry.

The citizens that attended the first design workshop afterwards built a so called “steering group” for the remainder of the process, consisting of thirteen citizens. They were invited by the municipality several times to discuss questions regarding the design of the process (including feedback on the platform and on site events). This group of citizens that was involved in the whole process from beginning to end was also invited to the evaluation workshop that took place in November 2017.

The steering group met five times, with the following topics:

  1. Evaluation of previous PB and design of new PB (focus group I);
  2. Presentation of developed process model and feedback;
  3. Citizen assembly / Common good check (together with Wuppertal Institute);
  4. Presentation of pilot platform and feedback;
  5. Evaluation (focus group II) [5].

The level of political support throughout the pilot was medium. On one hand the city of Wuppertal directly requested the EMPATIA support and shared, with the pilot implementer Zebralog, the objective of reinventing the classical consultative German model of PB (for more detail see deliverable 3.2). On the other hand, the pot of funds that the citizens controlled in the PB was extremely low, 150.000 euros, that for a city of 360.000 inhabitants is very little. Nonetheless the city provided significant support and resources to the communication campaign allowing Zebralog to utilize official channels and spaces to promote the process. This while the experiment was small, the amount of resources to run such experiment were high, potentially higher than the amount of money destined to the decision of the citizens [6]. 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The Wuppertal 2017 PB was an open process: all residents over the age of 16 (298,562 people) were invited to participate at various phases. The total number of participants has been 3,324 (1.11% of the population), of which 2,404 defined “active” (72.32% of the participants). The proposers has been 134 citizens (0.04% of the population, 5.57% of the “active” participants) [7].

Wuppertal has been the most inclusive EMPATIA project pilot. The process managed to include a fairly representative sample of the population both in terms of gender distribution and age. In term of age there was some difficulty at engaging the population bracket above 65. However, observing the education level of participants, even for the Wuppertal PB was difficult engaging people with less education. In particular the large number of people with primary education is left out. Wuppertal perform stands out for engaging people that do not have a university degree but have completed high school. The difference between participants with superior education and the general population is “only” 23 percentage points, while in Milan is 37 percentage points, and in Lisbon a staggering 44%.

Moreover, one very peculiar characteristic of the Wuppertal process was the extremely low retention rate between the ideation phase and the vote phase. The retention rate is so low that it almost appears as if Wuppertal has conducted two separate processes and two separate engagement campaigns. Only 4% of the participants both participated the ideation phase and in the voting phase. This incredibly low retention rate might be a feature of the fact that prevailing model of German participatory budgeting does not have a voting phase and concludes with the ideation phase. Not surprisingly the participants that participated in both phases have a higher level of education with respect the others [8].

Methods and Tools Used

A comprehensive new model of Participatory Budgeting was developed in the city of Wuppertal. At the heart of the model was the EMPATIA platform, being used as a kind of show window for the financial department of the municipality, channeling all aspects of information and participation regarding the municipal budget into one platform. The model consisted of two main pillars:

I) Information about the municipal budget.

The platform provided an elaborate space for information about the municipal budget online. The focus was on providing easy to understand information in an attractive format, including FAQs, short videos quiz questions, and information about upcoming events. It was also possible to ask questions directly to the financial department through a questions and answers format “Ask the treasurer”.

II) Participation through the citizen budget: Participatory Budgeting.

A budget of 150.000€ was dedicated for proposals by citizens. The PB process was conducted with a multichannel approach and along three main phases, with innovative, new methods tested in every step:

  1. Idea collection and first ranking (May 2017): In the first phase, citizens could submit ideas online, via telephone, and in the streets at a mobile stand. All ideas were channelled on the platform where they could be commented and prioritized (by way of giving “likes”). The main innovative feature in this phase was that parallel to the participation the municipality conducted a preliminary review along the main criteria for idea submission. Those that did not pass the criteria were moved to an archive where they were still accessible but no longer open for ‘liking’. The result of the phase was a list of the TOP 109 submitted project ideas (from a total of 267 ideas).
  2. Common good check and municipal review (June to August 2017): The second phase started with a citizen assembly in which about 170 citizens performed a “common good check” on the TOP 100 project ideas. In small groups, they prioritized the ideas with the help of common good criteria developed by the Wuppertal Institute. The filtering method used for this event was created specifically for this pilot, and provoked a lot of interest by the media and also other municipalities. The result of the co-creative common good check was a list of the TOP 32 ideas with the most contribution to the common good. These 32 ideas were subsequently reviewed in detail by the municipality regarding their costs and implementation. In total, 48 ideas were reviewed because some ideas from the TOP 32 did not pass the review. The result of the second phase was a list of TOP 32 projects that passed the municipal review and moved further to the final voting.
  3. Voting (September to October 2017) and implementation (2018 to 2019): The third phase started with a so called voting party which included a gallery of all final TOP 32 ideas. About 120 citizens attended the event and voted on site. People who could not attend the event could also vote online or in the town hall the weeks after. The main innovative feature tested in this phase was the SMS verification and the way of voting in which every participant had a limited amount of votes (i.e. five). In Germany, new means of verification of users in online voting are crucial because the verification via ID card numbers is seen very critically in Germany’s political culture and is (as of today) not an accepted means. In total, more 1.627 people voted. The six winning projects were announced in October 2017, amongst them the renewal of a playground, the prohibition of cars in a particular street, the support of a project connecting young people and the elderly, new benches in a certain area, and the support of a project against racism and antisemitism. These projects will now be included in the municipal budget plan and implemented within the next two years [9].

A important feature that differentiates Wuppertal from other European PB is the focus on high quality and curated face to face experience. Two large scale deliberative events were implemented. The first event during the filtering phase, i.e. the phase that selects the project ideas that will enter the final referendum. Instead of relying exclusively on a competitive design, in which the project ideas with the most “likes” were the ones that would be evaluated by the city (e.g. Milan, Lisbon and Říčany PB), in Wuppertal the filtering of ideas was conducted via a deliberative event [10].

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The new Wuppertal Participatory Budgeting took place in 2017. The process consisted of 3 phases:

Phase 1: Idea collection and first ranking Idea collection

Between 3rd and 24th May 2017, citizens were invited to submit project ideas. Submission was possible online via a form on the platform, via a municipal telephone hotline, and at a local stall during a two-days street campaign. All project ideas submitted via telephone or at the local stall were submitted online by the municipal team so that there was full transparency regarding all collected ideas. In all three channels, the forms for idea submission were clearly structured, and citizens were asked to complete the following information:

  • Title of project idea
  • Description of project idea
  • Added value of the idea for Wuppertal
  • Estimated time needed for implementation
  • Envisioned role of the city of Wuppertal
  • Envisioned own role / role of citizens in implementation
  • Estimated costs

Topic category (the categories were analogue to the common good criteria developed by the Wuppertal Institute, ranging from ‘community’ to ‘infrastructure’)

Online, they could also:

  • Add a picture to their idea
  • Locate the idea on a map (google maps)

The detailed form ensured on the one hand a good quality of the proposals, on the other hand it ensured that the citizens understood the criteria for project idea submission. Parallel to the ideas submission period, citizens could also comment ideas online. In this way, they could add information and discuss the pros and cons of every project idea: 157 comments were submitted. During the ideas submission period and one week after (i.e. between 3rd and 31st May), participants could also express their preferences regarding project ideas by way of giving “likes” (thumbs up) to ideas. In total, 2.300 ‘likes’ were given. 

Prior to the start of the PB, a number of criteria were defined and communicated for project ideas submitted by citizens. These were:

  1. Time: The proposal must be able to be implemented within the next two years (period of the budget plan).
  2. Budget: The investments for the proposal must not exceed 50.000 €.
  3. Responsibility: The implementation must be in the scope of the city’s responsibility.
  4. Common good: The idea must contribute to the common good (i.e. it must not be dominated by private interests of single political parties or religious organisations).

Parallel to project ideas submission, the municipality did an initial criteria check on all proposals, focusing notably on the first three criteria (and leaving the evaluation of the fourth to the common good check in the citizen assembly, see Phase 2). In the back office, they could define the status of each submitted idea. Ideas classified as ‘did not pass the initial criteria check’ were moved to an archive where they were still visible but no longer open for ‘liking’. The status of each idea was made transparent in a ‘status list’ for each proposal. The aim of the initial criteria check was to exclude ideas that did not fulfil the basic criteria from the further discussion and ranking [11].

Phase 2: Common good check and municipal review

On June 7, 2017 (i.e. a week after the end of phase 1), a citizen assembly facilitated by pilot partner Zebralog took place in Wuppertal (in a local school). The aim of the citizen assembly was for citizens to prioritize the ideas collected online according to their contribution to the common good, and thereby perform a further filtering of project ideas to a list of TOP 30. The main reason why this filtering was not done exclusively online was that online rating may privilege ideas from associations and citizens with a large network of friends. With an on-site assembly it was possible to use a method that would move the focus from personal interests to the common good. Thus, the Wuppertal case developed a new facilitation method for a ‘common good check’ performed by citizens. 

About 170 citizens attended the event. People who knew each other were asked to sit at different tables. In total, there were 20 tables with five to eight citizens each. In four rounds of 20 minutes each, each table was given a set of five ideas that were randomly compiled. Participants at each table were asked to review these ideas and discuss them from the perspective of their benefit for the common good. They were then asked to rank the ideas by giving them points from one to five. One point meant the lowest and five points the highest benefit for the common good. The random compilation of project ideas had been prepared beforehand so that it was ensured that every idea was evaluated exactly four times. During the group discussions and ranking, every group developed their own system: While some worked closely with the common good criteria from the Wuppertal Institute, others discussed rather freely. After every round, the evaluation results were collected from the 20 tables and all results were entered into an Excel sheet by employees of the municipality while the next round took place. Thereby, the event ended with a presentation of the results of the common good check. Since three project ideas ended up with the exact same total number of points, the result was a list of the TOP 32 project ideas. These 32 ideas went on to the detailed municipal review.

After the citizen assembly, the municipal review phase took place up to August 31. Coordinated by the Wuppertal department of participation, the TOP 32 project ideas went to different specialist technical departments within the municipality in order to review and evaluate them, focusing on an analysis of practicability and costs. For those ideas among the TOP 32 that did not pass the detailed review (mostly because a closer look at the costs revealed that their implementation would exceed the 50.000 €), ideas on ranks 33 to 48 from the common good check moved up to the municipal review. In total, 48 project ideas were reviewed in detail by the municipality. 13 ideas did not pass the review and four ideas were merged into one idea (that passed) because they were classified as very similar by the municipality. The result was a list of the TOP 32 project ideas that passed the detailed municipal review and therefore moved on to the voting phase. The results of the detailed municipal review were published on the platform, including an update of the status of each project idea and detailed explanations regarding the review result specifically for each of the 48 proposals [12].

Phase 3: Voting and implementation

The kick-off of phase 3 was the “voting party” on September 14, 2017, in the Historic Town Hall. The about 120 citizens present were invited to visit the ‘exhibition of ideas opened for voting’. For the gallery, each of the TOP 32 project ideas had been printed to a DIN A0 poster format. All idea submitters had been invited by e-mail to present their project ideas in this gallery at the voting party. To promote their ideas, some of them came dressed up in costumes, brought specific materials, flyers for their ideas, and the like. Moreover, there was a separate section in the room in which proposals that did not pass the municipal review were exhibited. Municipal staff were present to answer questions about the review. This was seen as important for reasons of accountability.

Next to the exhibition, a voting desk with two ballot boxes was installed and looked after by staff from the department of participation. Each attendee received vote materials that consisted of an explanation page, a sheet for personal information (name, e-mail, age, gender, postal code, education) and consent form with signature - for verification and evaluation purposes, and a sheet with the titles of the TOP 32 projects and the possibility to ‘tick’ a maximum of five of them (i.e. vote for them). In order to later reconnect the information on demographics with the information of the voting - something necessary for evaluation purposes - a unique identical number was given to each set of sheets. However, to allow anonymous voting, the sheets were collected in separate boxes. Subsequently, all paper ballots were entered in the EMPATIA Wuppertal platform by Zebralog and the municipality via the back office so that the platform combined all voting results in one channel.

Online voting was possible between September 14 and October 5. Just as on site with the paper vote, the online voting was conducted as a secret vote, something that is unusual for German PB online voting (where usually the ranking of ideas can be seen at all times, not only after the end of the voting phase). Users first had to verify their account by mobile phone (SMS), something else that has not been done before in any PB process in Germany, probably due to the fact that user verification is not as important in consultative processes. In case users did not have a mobile phone number, they were asked to contact Zebralog with their landline number for manual verification; Zebralog then called these people on their landline number and gave manual voting permissions to these users’ accounts via the back office on-site during town hall office hours.

As soon as users had verified their account, they were allowed to select up to five project ideas and to add them to their personal ballot. Before submitting their final ballot, they could review it and change it again, if wanted. The voting model online thus worked similar to an online shopping cart, a model well known to users. Of a total of 5.326 votes, 4.761 votes were submitted online.

Moreover, due to large request to provide more than one possibility to vote on site, the municipality offered subsequently to the voting party the possibility to vote during their opening hours between September 14 and 22, as well as in the last days of the online voting (October 4 and 5). These ballots were later submitted online by the municipality as well, just as the ballot papers collected at the voting party [13]. 

The result of the voting was published on October 16. It was decided not to publish the winning projects immediately after the end of the voting (which would have been possible from the technical side) since the municipality wanted to announce the results at their weekly press conference, and invite the project submitters from the winning projects to it (with the request to keep the result a secret until October 16). Parallel to the press conference, the status of all ideas from the voting phase was updated online, and the technical phase switched to the visualisation of the voting results. 

In total, 1,627 people participated in the vote. The winning ideas were:

  1. Building and restoring of a local playground (50.000 €, 524 votes);
  2. Urban Gardening project (50.000 €, 357 votes);
  3. Creation of a car free zone in a local street (17.000 €, 331 votes);
  4. Benches along a train railway (10.000 €, 263 votes);
  5. Financial support to a ‘pocket money exchange project’, connecting youth and elderly (15.300 €, 221 votes);
  6. Education project against racism and antisemitism (7.200 €, 218 votes).

The winning ideas will be included in the municipal budget plan for the budget period of 2018 and 2019. The implementation will start after the Council decision in 2018 [14].

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

Civil society support was high throughout the entire process. Citizens and groups were involved since the beginning of the design phase in a steering committee, and then subsequently in the common good check event and lastly in the voting party, an in-person celebration and presentation of the final 32 projects that were in the ballot of the final referendum. The surveys on citizens’ experience in the process shows high level of satisfaction [15].

The following points offer an overview of the results of the Wuppertal PB in numbers:

  • Between May 01 and November 15, 2017, the platform was visited 22.145 times by a total of 18.623 unique visitors.
  • As at November 15, 2017, there were 3.229 registered users on the platform.
  • 267 project ideas were submitted.
  • 157 comments were written and 2.300 likes given to project ideas in phase 1.
  • 1.627 people participated in the final vote, submitting a total of 5.326 votes. 4,761 of the votes were submitted online (3,498 via PC, 932 via smartphone, and 331 via tablet). 565 votes were submitted on paper.
  • About 170 citizens attended the citizen assembly, and about 120 citizens attended the voting party.
  • 115.703 page views (of them 66.844 unique page views) were registered in that period.
  • The average time spent on the website was 6 minutes and 48 seconds.

An analysis of user demographics shows that the proportion of male and female participants is relatively balanced (46% male, 52% female, 2% other). Regarding education, almost half of the participants have a university degree (46% “superior”) and one third (32%) has a high school degree that qualifies for university (Allgemeine Hochschulreife). One fifth (19%) of participants has a lower secondary school degree (Real- oder Hauptschule).

Regarding the users’ age, 35% are 30 to 49 years old, and 30% are 50 to 64. The third largest group are the 18 to 29 year olds (with 21%). 11% are over 65 years old, and 3% are younger than 18 [16].

Analysis and Lessons Learned

Since most PBs in Germany are of consultative nature, a core innovative aspect of the Wuppertal pilot was the introduction of a defined budget for citizen proposals, with a co-decisional process design that guaranteed that the final selection of ideas to be implemented will be done by the citizens themselves. This was a major issue discovered as part of the co-creational design process and the evaluation of previous PB. With a limited financial scope of the municipality, it is important to make transparent the scope of the participation. This was done by way of a concrete budget.

While 150.000 € may not seem high compared to PBs in other countries, it must be kept in mind that Wuppertal is one of the first German cities to experiment at all with the devotion of a concrete budget for citizen ideas to be decided by citizens. There is little experience in Germany with budget-oriented, co-decisional PB which justifies the amount of money dedicated by Wuppertal to this innovation. It is clear that this amount should be seen as a first step, testing a new process and method, with the potential to be extended in the future. In the focus group evaluation meeting the wish to enlarge the budget was also clearly expressed. Nonetheless, as many German municipalities are currently looking for new ways to engage citizens in the municipal budget planning, the model developed for Wuppertal could be a role model for future PB in Germany.

Some positive points deserve to be stressed in the analysis:

  1. The initial criteria check that was done by the municipality during the submission of ideas was an important method to give a direct feedback to citizens early-on in the process. Ideas that did not pass the check were excluded from further discussion and archived (transparently online). Moreover, by performing the technical review before the actual vote, it was ensured that those ideas on the TOP ranks could actually also be implemented. Another aspect that has to be stressed as positive about the municipal review is the level of detail to which each of the 48 ideas received explanations. Each explanation was written first by the specific technical department(s) and then reviewed by the department of participation and Zebralog in order to make sure that the explanations given by the municipality can be understood by citizens.
  2. The involvement of citizens in the design of the whole process was and important and innovative aspect of the PB. The ‘steering committee’ that was created after the first co-creational evaluation meeting met at several points in the process and was involved in key process decisions as well as the evaluation of the process.
  3. Regarding multichannel approaches, the connection between face-to-face meetings and online participation in PB processes is an innovation in itself for German PB. In the process design of the Wuppertal pilot, different channels of participation were used and connected with each other. 
  4. Another major innovation and positive experience was the common good check that was performed by the citizens themselves. The method was developed specifically for this pilot, and it proved as a successful way to ensure that not only ideas by citizens with a large network of friends move further in the process. It was also interesting to observe how the method facilitated a switch from a look at one’s personal interests to the larger common good of the community.
  5. The voting party: firstly, it allowed to celebrate together what had been achieved so far. Such celebrations often comes too short in German participation processes although it is essential for the success of the project to develop positive relationships also on an emotional level. Secondly, the voting party served to empower the project submitters - notably compared to PBs that are only conducted online, without any possibility to present and promote their projects at an event. Lastly, the event also served to provide a direct accountability regarding the results of the technical review by the municipality, with the possibility to enter into a direct dialogue with municipal staff about their decisions and explanations.
  6. Another positive aspect of the pilot with a pioneering character is the way in which the project was communicated publicly. One key decision in this regard was to address participants informally with the familiar “du”. Being on first name terms with the participants changed the character of the project. Although there was also some criticism about this decision by a few citizens, it can be said from the perspective of project managers that it made the project more vivid and less formal, and it was easier to make interesting for younger generations who may not feel addressed at all with the formal “Sie”. In line with this style of language, the dissemination strategies had a campaigning style, with stalls in the streets and an intense use of social media [17]. 

Nevertheless, even some criticalities emerged in the process and they deserve to be areas of improvement:

  1. The initial criteria check parallel to the submission of project ideas was extremely time consuming for the municipal staff. The consequence was that some ideas wrongly passed the check. For a future PB, it would be recommendable to collect ideas first, then have some time for the initial check, and only then do a first ranking and the common good check.
  2. A major problem during the technical review phase turned out to be that some ideas left a lot of room for interpretation which meant that the municipal reviewers had to base their review on a lot of assumptions. The problem was partially solved by contacting the project submitters via e-mail with questions, but this procedure of communication between citizens and municipality could be better organised and potentially also supported by technology in future PBs. Despite the contacting of project submitters via e-mails, some participants were dissatisfied with the assumptions taken by the municipality.
  3. The PB was more time consuming for the municipality than expected, and therefore the foreseen dialogue events with political representatives on different budget topics did not take place. Overall, while the municipal staff was deeply involved in the process, political representatives other than the Mayor and the Treasurer were mostly absent from the process. For any future PB, the envisioned spaces for dialogue with political representatives about the municipal budget in general should be improved and strengthened.
  4. The compulsory indication of one’s age, gender, educational level and postal code was seen as a major barrier for participation and one of the most frequent critiques received by participants (especially due to the German political culture). For any future PB it should be evaluated whether the benefit of the data for the evaluation justifies the potentially reduced number of participants. In this context it has to be noted of course, that there is no scientific proof about an actual reduced participation due to the data required. It should nevertheless be evaluated whether an alternative would be to ask for these data on a voluntary basis.
  5. A method that is new in the landscape of participation in Germany was the verification of users via SMS. In other PBs verification either only occurs via e-mail, via ID card (but only at events, not for online participation), and in some small municipalities via individual token sent to each citizen by post. None of these options were suitable for the purposes of Wuppertal. The pilot tested in how far the verification via mobile phone number could be an alternative to the other verification methods. It has to be said though that this method was perceived as a high barrier for participation by many citizens even though an option of manual verification (verification calls by Zebralog via landline number) was offered. Some people did not have a mobile phone number, others were hesitant to provide their number for reasons of data privacy.
  6. It was requested by several citizens and also during the focus group evaluation meeting to offer more options to vote on site (e.g. in different districts). In order for this to be done in a future PB, other means of voter verification need to be explored. On the one hand, it must be ensured that voters cannot just submit several voting ballots under several (fake) names. On the other hand, it must be ensured that users can only vote either online or on site (on paper). The experiment regarding the verification by mobile phone number showed that it is only suitable to a limited degree because not everyone has a mobile phone number and thus there always need to be alternative verification possibilities. For future PB’s the possibilities of ID verification or individual tokens should be revaluated [18].

See Also

Participatory Budgeting in Říčany, Czech Republic

Participatory Budgeting in Milan, Cycle 2017/18

Participatory Budgeting in Lisbon, Cycle 2017/2018


[1] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 24-25.

[2] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 25-26.

[3] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, p.21.

[4] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D4.2 Evaluation and Pilots Impact Assessment (final). Retrieved from, p. 86

[5] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, p.23.

[6] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D4.2 Evaluation and Pilots Impact Assessment (final). Retrieved from, pp. 85-86.

[7] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D4.2 Evaluation and Pilots Impact Assessment (final). Retrieved from, p. 99.

[8] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D4.2 Evaluation and Pilots Impact Assessment (final). Retrieved from, pp. 114-115.

[9] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 26-27.

[10] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D4.2 Evaluation and Pilots Impact Assessment (final). Retrieved from, pp. 86-88

[11] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 28-29.

[12] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 30-31.

[13] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 32-34.

[14] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 35-36.

[15] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D4.2 Evaluation and Pilots Impact Assessment (final). Retrieved from, pp. 86-88.

[16] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 52-53

[17] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 59-62.

[18] EMPATIA project (2018). Deliverable: D3.2 Pilots implementation - final. Retrieved from, pp. 62-64.

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Lead image: Wuppertal Municipality, 

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