Forum Paper | 2016

Participatory Budgeting: The Practice and the Potential

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. Since the height of participatory budgeting in Brazil in the late 1980s, the practice has expanded around the world and has been documented in about 1,500 cities. Several Canadian cities are experimenting with participatory budgeting. Two examples of participatory budgeting are explored here:

  • Toronto Community Housing’s use of participatory budgeting since 2001, which allows residents to play a role in decision-making;
  • The City of Toronto’s participatory budgeting pilot program in three areas of Toronto (Ward 33, and two Neighbourhood Improvement Areas: Oakridge in Ward 35 and Rustic in Ward 12).

This Forum paper describes participatory budgeting efforts in Toronto and elsewhere and notes:

  • the importance of equity in participatory budgeting that engages marginalized communities and brings diverse interests to the table;
  • that participatory budgeting is evolutionary and builds progressively over time;
  • the issue of scale in building a solid foundation for participatory budgeting in Canadian cities;
  • the role of city councillors in supporting the participatory budgeting process;
  • possibilities for improving the practice of participatory budgeting in Canadian cities, including opportunities for partnering with community organizations and the importance of a long-term vision.
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