Participatory budgeting goes online – a step THRU fiscal crises

With budget-belts tightening at all levels of governance, I have suggested that public engagement is vital to pick up on community and governance functions that official government agencies no longer have enough money to handle well. This goes beyond volunteerism to self-help, mutual aid, self-organization, community resilience, and revitalized democracy. Government can be a catalyst for this if it is willing to change its worldview from solving, managing, and service delivery to catalyzing and convening public engagement.

Participatory budgeting — which was first launched in Brazil and has spread to many cities, especially in Latin America — is now being tried online . This innovation is currently designed for individual use (with the results aggregated to advise policymakers). I believe the more collectively interactive form of engagement found in face-to-face deliberations (as is done in Brazilian cities) is more collectively intelligent than the new online approach, but the latter is still a breakthrough.

The more citizens struggle with the daunting trade-offs of 21st century government budgeting, the more likely they will be to (a) support higher taxes (especially on those who can best afford to pay higher taxes); (b) cease to fight cuts to nonessential services; (c) suggest creative ways for government to work with what it has (e.g., less taxes on income and more taxes on waste and destruction); and (d) develop more empowered and effective ways for citizens to be involved in the collective life of their community.

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