Participatory budgeting

At its core, participatory budgeting (PB) is a process that involves citizens in deciding how to spend public money. PB tends to have an inequalities focus, which is driven by the desire to reallocate public money locally and democratically within disadvantaged communities to priority initiatives, projects and services identified by local people.

Creating inclusive, democratic opportunities and spaces for all citizens to exercise their rights, to shape local decisions and have a well-informed say on national matters is a significant challenge.

Over the past decade the Scottish Government has set out an unprecedented level of political, legislative and investment support for community empowerment, participation and the strengthening of local democratic processes.

PB has emerged as a principal approach in achieving these goals and has gained significant traction and support across Scotland in recent years.

Our findings and approach

In the broadest terms our work has found that PB has the potential to energise and empower communities and to transform and enrich the relationships between citizens, community groups, community anchor organisations and all levels of government and public service. PB can be an effective means of deepening democratic processes and enhancing local participation. PB can illuminate community aspirations and priorities and provide clear direction as to the ways in which service delivery can be improved and potentially co-produced.

Our work highlights that, like all democratic processes PB is imperfect. However, when it works well PB can be a process of significant learning and collaborative development for those involved.

Evaluation of PB can be extremely challenging. PB is a varied, complex and context-driven process; and is and should be unique to each community within which it is implemented. To this end, great care must be taken when generalising PB learning across regions or even the nation as a whole.

Relevant publications

Aspiring Communities Fund: an evaluation of community engagement and participatory budgeting within Gorbals (2019)

Glasgow City Council commissioned us to independently evaluate the process learning from four participatory budgeting (PB) pilot areas in Glasgow in 2018-19. Download the report (PDF).

Briefing paper 53: Community-based evaluations of participatory budgeting (2018)

Hope for Democracy: Participatory Budgeting in Scotland (2018)  

Review of First Generation Participatory Budgeting in Scotland (2016)

Participatory budgeting in Scotland: design choices & delivery principles (2015)

Participatory Budgeting - learning from Govanhill Equally Well test site (2012)


Related topics:
Places and regeneration, Resilience and power