Yves Cabannes, José Manuel Mayor


El presente trabajo pretende dar respuesta a las preguntas ¿por qué las personas no participan más en los procesos de presupuestos participativos?, y ¿cómo incrementar dicha participación? Para aportar respuestas, una investigación-acción de corte exploratorio, combinando varias herramientas, fueron aplicadas en dos regiones españolas, una de Portugal y una región francesa. Como conclusión, la ciudadanía no participa en mayor medida debido a una falta de información y desconocimiento generalizado de los procesos, a la incomprensión de la información que se suministra, a la falta de confianza en los procesos y en la política, y a la importancia del tiempo requerido, entre otros.


Although there are now more and more new attractive participatory instruments, such as Participatory Budgets (PBs from now on), the reality is that a majority of citizens do not participate in them. There are multiple works that delve into the motivations of citizens when it comes to participating, such as i) the time available, given that individuals who have more resources both in terms of time and political skills are more likely to exceed the costs of participation, ii) contact with other people, identification with certain communities, groups or organizations, or membership in associations of a civic, social and political nature, iii) the existence of an adequate associative network, iv ) the size of the community, v) curiosity about politics, vi) the political and institutional context, or vi) the fact of feeling invited to participate, among other factors.

However, the works that focus on social participation are scarce, and even more so those that focus on PBs processes, hence the relevance of this study that addresses this literature gap. Thus, the objective of this work is twofold:  On the one hand, to answer the question, why do people not participate more in participatory budgeting processes? and, on the other hand, how to increase aforesaid participation? The identification of the barriers and obstacles to individual and collective participation constitutes the first part of this paper while a series of proposals are then proposed to overcome them.

To provide answers, an exploratory action research, combining several tools (closed surveys, focus groups with profiles of participants and non-participants, and in-depth interviews) were applied in two Spanish cities (Molina de Segura and Conil de la Frontera, in the Region of Murcia and Cádiz respectively), one from Portugal (Valongo) and a French region (Gers Department). They are regions with no more than 100,000 inhabitants, where participation practices may be different from those of the capitals, which are also usually the most studied.

The results obtained from this analysis show how citizens do not participate to a greater extent due to a lack of information and general ignorance of the processes, misunderstanding of the information provided, lack of trust in the processes and in politics itself, and the importance of available time, among others.

In order to address these barriers, a series of suggestions and recommendations are proposed, such as providing better information and, second, on some specific aspects, in particular the results, that is, on the projects that were voted on in aforesaid participatory budgeting processes, as well as the follow-up of the progress of the execution of the projects. In Highlighting the voted PB projects that have been implemented, detailing their benefits in people’s day to day life increases, increases the trust in PB process and in the local government in place.

In addition, “going towards people” is the issue of greatest convergence in the four regions, and implies i) going to the places where people are, and first of all to those where are those that do not participate, or participate little, ii) being more inserted in networks, and iii) not only to inform to mobilize, but also to better disseminate the results or progress. Another main issue refers to the need to incorporate more “individual citizens” as PB is mostly addressing collective participation. One of the open conclusions at this level refers to participation by lottery, widely debated and practiced in several cities.

As mentioned above, improving communication and dissemination are key to involve the citizens, which means simplifying the messages and the rules of participation so that they are understandable by everyone. This recommendation is not limited to simplifying messages and resorting to mass media (radio, television, comics / designed bands, newspapers, etc.) as several cities do, but also requires training and effort on the part of the professionals and municipal officials in charge of the PBs for a more horizontal, more “human” and more informal communication with people.

Generating more confidence in the participatory processes and the PBs is another main issue, to which each study proposes measures and issues recommendations, such as i) improving cycle two of the PBs (implementation), and in particular with the reduction of execution times, ii) have its own permanent technical team within the municipality, and not resort to consultants, no matter how valuable they may be, but whose presence is limited in time, or iii) increase the self-confidence of those who participate little, making clear to each participant that their opinion will make a difference. Likewise, other aspects should be considered, such as promoting actor-based PBs, mixed actors/issues and driving groups, increasing awareness, improving the government-citizen relationship, or betting on the articulation of other participatory spaces.

Finally, and as a conclusion, a series of proposals are formulated that, as a whole, constitute an agenda of debates to provide deeper answers to the question of the study: How to increase citizen participation in participatory budgeting processes? To quantitatively increase participation, which is often the marker of the success of PBs (number of proposals, number of meetings, number of voters, number of projects towards vulnerable groups, etc.), it seems essential to promote and raise the quality of the participation, with more deliberation, more quality proposals, more interaction and more coexistence in participation. Likewise, one of the surprises of the study is that very few people asked to increase resources as a precondition to participate, however, raising the level of resources put up for debate, and above all channeling them as a priority towards those “excluded” from participation. and vulnerable groups in particular will be an important incentive to broaden participation. On the other hand, increasing the commitment of local governments and citizens is an important point for participation laws, norms and (self)regulations of participation to become a reality.

Betting on the pedagogical value of specific projects, and not limiting oneself to processes, is another of the relevant issues. Many of the results obtained in the study and, therefore, of the recommendations, are focused on the first cycle of the participatory budgets and participation in general, which ends with the prioritization of projects or decision-making. However, it is suggested to better articulate the “participation” dimension with the “projects” dimension throughout cycle one (proposals and prioritization) and cycle two (implementation of citizen decisions). Lastly, promoting a more politically charged participation is a conclusion that is in line with others contained in various studies: constituting a common thread towards a political radicalization of participatory processes (and in this sense, more in tune with the initial principles of the PBs), which aim to influence public policies, and not just annual budgets. Such radicalization would certainly be a way of (re)approaching those who participate in us considering the superficial benefits from the political point of view.

Some limitations of this work were mainly of methodological nature. Due to the pandemic resulting from Covid19, most of the focus groups carried out were online, which limited the possible results obtained. Likewise, it would have been interesting to refined the research considering specific social groups such as migrants, women or the elderly. Finally, the lessons learned demonstrate how it is necessary to deepen this current action-research in order to make up for these limitations. However, the research also shows the importance of disseminate what was learnt and generate a community of practice on how to address the “non participation”.

© Revista de estudios regionales 2014 Universidades Públicas de Andalucía