Participatory Budgeting: Core Principles and Key Impacts



Journal of Public Deliberation


Participatory budgeting (PB) engages citizens in the process of identifying, deliberating, and prioritizing part of a public budget. In its ideal form, it can lead to genuine political and policy reform. As it has spread throughout the world, it has been applied by many different political actors, in varied political contexts, and with a broad range of results.

The author identifies four core principles of participatory budgeting that, if followed, can generate social change. He defines them as voice, vote, social justice and oversight:

  • Active Citizen Participation (Voice) – the open, deliberative processes of PB can draw traditionally excluded actors and ideas into the political system. Further, PB induces citizens to debate each other and government officials on how to most effectively address public priorities.
  • Increased Citizen Authority (Vote) – PB's capacity to enact change is directly linked to how much real decision-making authority is delegated to the participating citizens. The increased legitimacy granted by PB can empower governments to initiate new spending or taxing they might otherwise have not undertaken.
  • Reallocation of Resources (Social Justice) – by including previously unheard voices, PB can have a redistributive effect on public budgets.
  • Improved Transparency (Oversight) – giving genuine authority to citizens requires significant administrative reform. Bureaucrats and policy experts must learn how to directly engage with citizens and transform how they administer and implement the new policies.

PB has the capacity to address a number of problems facing democracies throughout the world: citizen apathy, poor public deliberation, weak representation, disengaged segments of society. However, the author argues that the effectiveness of PB to generate meaningful change is directly related to how closely the above principles are followed. If done well, PB can improve democratic legitimacy, deliver more just outcomes and improve the inclusiveness and quality of civil society.


Thumbnail image: Marc Wathieu/Flickr.

Brian Wampler

Boise State University

Published Date
December 30, 2012