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Participatory Budgeting in the city of Recife, Brazil - the world’s most participative public agency?


The example of Brazil has inspired participatory budgeting exercises around the world since the 1980s.  Indeed, the PB movement has spread to over 140 cities across the country, with particularly famous examples in Sao Paolo, Belo Horizonte and Porto Alegre (although the latter was much diluted after the change in political control in 2004).

Now it seems a new generation of PB approaches has arisen and, once again, Brazil is in the lead. The Prefeitura (City Council) of Recife, a city of over 1m residents in the state of Pernambuco, in the northeast of Brazil, has recently won the Reinhard Mohn Prize, organized by the Bertelsmann Foundation in Germany, as the world’s most participative public agency. In this case study, we give a flavor of why it has impressed both international experts and also citizens – not only its own citizens but also the 11400 German citizens who, as part of the process to determine the winner of the Reinhard Mohn Prize, voted it their number one example of public partipation in the world that could be imported and applied in Germany. (This was a follow-up to the 1993 Bertelsmann prize for the most efficient local authority in the world, shared by Christchurch (NZ) and Phoenix, Arizona). 

While the roots of participatory budgeting in Recife go back to the struggles against the Brazilian dictatorship in the 1960s and 1970s, it first began to be practised in the late 1980s and 1990s, as in other parts of Brazil. However,  the current system of Orcamento Participativo (OP), which literally means ‘participatory budgeting’, dates back to 2001, with the advent of a new political administration in Recife, based on a coalition of three left-oriented parties, led by mayor João Paulo de Lima e Silva. This coalition believed at the beginning of the electoral campaign that it faced an uphill battle to gain power, so it adopted a clear commitment to PB in its joint manifesto and then campaigned vigorously to make this commitment convincing, under a Director of Particpatory Budgeting (Secretario do Orcamento Participativo) João da Costa. Its subsequent victory in the election was believed by the coalition to be due, in significant part, to the popularity of its commitment to PB. It therefore set up a structure to implement PB quickly. The PB process has operated every year since then. Since 2009, João da Costa Bezerra Filho has been mayor of the City Council.

So what is special about Recife? Tony Bovaird visited the city in May 2011 to find out what has made its participative approach so successful.

About this case study
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Tony Bovaird

Professor of Public Management and Policy

Institute of Local Government Studies (INLOGOV) and Third Sector Research Centre (TSRC)


Tony Bovaird wrote this case study for Governance International on 17 July 2012.

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