It might be the hottest idea in democracy since the voting machine. In an effort to cut wasteful spending and generate political support, cash-strapped municipal officials are turning to a process called participatory budgeting, which allows residents to devise and vote on small-scale infrastructure projects. Pioneered in Brazil, its since been taken up by some 1,200 cities in just over two decades.
Participatory budgeting is getting a lot of press lately, thanks in part to the Participatory Budgeting Project. A couple of academics have documented the evolution of participatory budgeting, and claim that it’s been reshaped by neoliberalism. The recent proliferation of such initiatives seems shaped at least as much by austerity as by democracy, so it’s an issue I’m following closely.