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Participatory Budgeting Working in Brazil, Study Finds

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, January 27 2014

Accounting ledger (melstampz/Flickr)

A study released at the end of last year shows that Participatory Budgeting (PB) in Brazil “generate[s] meaningful change” and has a quantifiably positive impact on cities.

Conducted by Brian Wampler and Mike Touchton of Boise State University, the study assessed 120+ cities that adopted the PB program and compared them to 130 or so cities that did not, adjusting for a range of factors that could affect the results.

The title of the study makes Wampler and Touchton's conclusions crystal clear: “Improving Social Well-Being Through New Democratic Institutions.”

In an article for the Washington Post, Wampler and Touchton write:

Municipal governments that adopted Participatory Budgeting spent more on education and sanitation and saw infant mortality decrease as well. We estimate cities without PB to have infant mortality levels similar to Brazil’s mean. However, infant mortality drops by almost 20 percent for municipalities that have used PB for more than eight years — again, after accounting for other political and economic factors that might also influence infant mortality. The evidence strongly suggests that the investment in these programs is paying important dividends.

They point to similar conclusions reached by researcher Sónia Gonçalves at King's College London, UK.

Like Wampler and Touchton, Gonçalves found that PB programs led to a reduction in infant mortality rates.

An additional observation that Wampler and Touchton make is that PB programs in Brazil were more successful when enacted by the Workers' Party, which has invested and promoted direct democracy initiatives like PB.

Hopefully this evidence of the value of participatory budgeting, from the country that pioneered PB in the first place, will encourage the rest of the world to keep moving in this direction.

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