Porto Alegre: Participatory Budgeting and the Challenge of Sustaining Transformative Change

This case study in the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” examines transformative urban change in Porto Alegre, Brazil, through the lens of participatory budgeting. The research focuses on whether and how transformative change has taken place in the city between 1990 and the present.

Porto Alegre pioneered participatory budgeting beginning in the 1990s and the model has since spread throughout Brazil and the world, with more than 2,700 governments implementing some version of it today. However, political support for participatory budgeting in its birthplace has declined through the years, culminating in its suspension in Porto Alegre in 2017.

The paper analyzes the reasons for the suspension and argues that the success of participatory budgeting as a tool of transformative urban change in contingent on four conditions: 1) well-structured participatory arrangements to ensure participation from a wide range of actors across society; 2) adequate financial resources; 3) political commitment and flexibility to adjust to changing political realities; and 3) government commitment to implement the proposals the process generates.

Case studies in the World Resources Report, “Towards a More Equal City,” examine transformative urban change defined as that which affects multiple sectors and institutional practices, continues across more than one political administration, and is sustained for more than 10 years, resulting in more equitable access to core services. The goal of “Towards a More Equal City” is to inform urban change agents – government officials, policymakers, civil society organizations, citizens, and the private sector – about how transformative change happens, the various forms it takes, and how they can support transformation towards more equal cities.

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