Alegre, Brazil (part one)
Introduction: The Participative Budget Process
As one Porto Alegre woman said, ‘a good thing about Brazilians is that we have the
courage to try’.
From very modest beginnings, the Participative Budget process started to mobilize the
citizens of Porto Alegre and their communities throughout the city, but most especially, in
the poorest areas. Every year, it grew.
By 1994, 11 thousand people were participating, then 14 thousand in 1995, and 50,000
in 2003. With the additional participation of over a thousand societies, business,
professional associations and special interest groups, over a hundred thousand persons
out of a population of 1.3 Million were now co-creating and supervising the spending of
the city’s Annual Budget.
Moreover, by 2004, some form of the Participative Budget was being implemented in 194
cities and several states in Brazil.
There are also PB experiments. in Buenos Aires, Rio Cuarto and Rosario in Argentina,
Montevideo in Uruguay, and some of the major cities in Peru, Ecuador, Mexico, Colombia,
and El Salvador.
In severely modified forms they have even spread to Africa, Asia, Europe, the UK and
Canada. (Note by CPI: WHEN WILL LEBANON’S TURN COME?)
By 2004, the citizens who took part in the Participative Budget process were allocating 15
– 20% of the city’s annual income.
The nine-month process involves hundreds of meetings, tens of thousands of
participants, hundreds of millions of dollars and reams of papers. It was managed by a
large team of administrators, publicists and facilitators.
When I visited Porto Alegre there were about 30 full-time employees in the central office
and a similar number working at neighbourhood and regional levels. There are also a
number of independent urban consultancies that work more or less full-time to help local
people make their projects a reality.
16. Porto Alegre, in Brazil
The process starts in the early Summer, November and December, (remember we are in
the Southern hemisphere) with a searching review of the progress of the projects that were
approved in the previous year.
The citizens also put forward suggestions for how to improve the Participative Budget’s
effectiveness in the light of the previous year’s events.
When the Participative Budgets started they were quite simple. Within a few years,
however, the annual reviews had caused them to be extensively modified and expanded so
as to handle the diversity of the issues involved and the life-circumstances of the
Consequently, the Participative Budget process now has a complex matrix structure. In
January and February, the timetables and structure of the current year’s Participative
Budget processes are announced.
At street level, small groups all over the city small groups of citizens are putting together
proposals for nurseries or street lighting or new bus routes or some other small facility that
will improve the quality of their lives.
Over the next few weeks, they – and similar groups - take their proposals to one of
hundreds of community meetings at which they are prioritized and put forward for approval
at one of the City’s big Regional events that will be attended by 1000 – 2000 citizens and
The city is divided into sixteen regions. Each Region gets part of the available annual
allocation. The poorer, the more deprived the Region, the greater its allocation.
The regional events not only select projects for further consideration within the Regional
priorities, they also elect Regional Counsellors whose job it will be to oversee the whole
To ensure that the projects chosen for financing meet the needs of the citizens, they are
weighted according to whether or not they satisfy a set of carefully developed social and
The first stage is completed when certain projects have been selected for further
For the next stage, the proposers start to work with independent specialists and city
officials to produce the costing, timings, technical specifications, legal, regulatory and
human requirements for turning their basic concept into a reality.
In parallel with the processes for allocating funds to specific local projects, other
assemblies take decisions on the funding of city-wide investments under the following
headings (or “Themes”): Education Leisure and Cultural Facilities: Public Health and
Social Welfare: Public Transport and Circulation: Economic Development and Taxation:
City Organization and Urban Development.
The two processes start to come together between July and September and then, in
December, a final list of local and city-wide projects is formally approved and the funds
Initially, the process was dominated by the poorest people and the middle-classes
seemed not to be interested. With the introduction of the Thematic processes in 1994,
however, the interest of the middle classes increased markedly and they are now very
adequately represented in the process. Moreover, in a highly machismo culture, it is
notable that more than half the participants are women.