tools directory

Participatory Budgeting

What situations is this tool used in?

Participatory budgeting encompasses a range of methods designed to directly involve citizens in decision making regarding spending and investment priorities for a local budget. The budget will tend to belong to a local council or other statutory body and can range from a neighbourhood level up to a city or national level budget.

Who is this tool aimed at?

Participatory budgeting exercises could be initiated by a range of organisations, including governments, civil society organisations, or by citizens. They involve citizens and decision makers (for example councillors and local government officers) working together to determine where resources should be spent. The process can also contribute to a more engaged, educated and empowered community.

How Is the Tool Used?

First emerging from Brazil in the late 1980s, participatory budgeting now occurs all over the world, primarily at the city level, as well as for counties, states, school systems and public agencies.

Methodologies vary from place to place, but common features of the process tend to be a geographically defined area, regularly scheduled meetings or debates, a cycle of activity following the relevant budgeting cycle, and mobilisation network made up of individuals or organisations that help to train and inform local citizens about the process. The exercise might involve the development of an initial list of spending ideas, followed by the development of related proposals, a vote on the proposals, and implementation of a certain number of the most popular ideas.

Who has used the tool?

In 2014, Surrey County Council undertook a participatory budgeting exercise to share £1million of TravelSMART community funding between various communities in the county. The funding was designed to improve public transport, encourage cycling and cut carbon emissions. Applications for funding were made by community groups and other organisations, and local residents were then given the opportunity to discuss priorities, make proposals and vote on them.

Surrey County Council TravelSMART case study: 

Where to find out more

Overviews of participatory budgeting:


Participatory Budgeting Network home page:


Participatory budgeting initiative in New York:


Video of participatory budgeting in New York:


CLG study of participatory budgeting in England:


Participatory Budgeting Project (USA) home page: