When Labels Lose Their Meaning: The Development Consequences of Variations in Participatory Budgeting in Brazil
Lyons, Trevor Jackson Goodpaster
In the most recent wave of democratization, local reformers have drawn upon participatory democracy to inspire solutions to persistent issues of inequality and social justice. One of the better-known examples of this trend, participatory budgeting, was first introduced as a way to give citizens a direct role in decisions regarding local government spending. Though the original architects of this institution sought to create spaces for previously marginalized citizens to have a voice in local government, the term ‘participatory budgeting’ has increasingly come to mean merely an annual cycle of neighborhood assemblies that are unlinked from the actual budgetary decision-making process. To explore the consequences of this dilution of the original program design, I present a new approach towards defining participatory budgeting that distinguishes between comprehensive reform efforts, what I refer to as multidimensional participatory budgeting (MPB), and simplified programs relying mainly on communicative fora, which I label as consultative participatory budgeting (CPB). Building off of earlier research that identified participatory budgeting’s impact on local government spending, I show that substantive changes in budgeting and service delivery occur largely in the subset of cases I have identified as MPB, while public assemblies on their own are insufficient to bring about changes in spending priorities or service delivery. This work has broad implications for the many developing country governments around the world seeking to better incorporate and respond to the demands of historically marginalized segments of society.