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Bottom-up participatory budgeting

Nov 04,2017 - Last updated at Nov 05,2017

Slogans such as “everyone is a partner in development” were highly upheld prior to governorate and municipal elections, in August 2017. However, it was noticeable that citizens were sceptical about the meaning such messages convey.

Citizens today are neither sure nor informed about the way of getting involved and influencing the decision-making process, at least at municipal level.

Jordanians today look forward to getting involved in shaping the future of their communities, but need to be explained to what it means to participate in civic life.

Therefore, the question that ought to be answered today is how can citizens participate in taking decisions that directly affect their lives?

I believe, it is of utmost urgency that governorate and municipal councils innovatively seek, explore and adopt participatory approaches to decision making that will seek to consult citizens and require their collective efforts and thinking.

Efforts need to be channelled in this direction so that citizens and civil society organisations may understand, witness and live the true intent and value of the decentralisation process, and public participation at municipal level is encouraged, for, without such participation, there will always be the risk of allowing development policies to be hijacked by a centralised approach to decision making, and thus remain distant from people, and the decentralisation and municipal law enacted in 2015 to remain inactive.

One of many well-established participatory decision-making tools is participatory budgeting: a democratic deliberation and decision-making process aimed at enabling local communities to identify their priorities and needs and decide to spend municipal budgets accordingly.

This approach, which has gained worldwide attention over the past three decades, takes the form of public meetings to which people get invited and engage in discussions with other fellow citizens and decision makers and vote on projects they wish to see completed, such as rehabilitation of streets, adequate water networks, construction of new public gardens, local libraries, sports facilities and hospitals, etc.

Participatory budgeting started out in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989. After years of experimentation, it has gained traction over the years and has successfully enabled citizen participation in achieving remarkable sustainable development in Porto Alegre. The Brazilian model paved the way for numerous municipalities worldwide to adopt participatory budgeting over the years as a way of working for local councils in the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia.

Eventually, the process has gained extensive support from the World Bank.

The nature of this democratic process is not limited to a certain class of citizens, nor does it require any unique citizen expertise. Rather, it encourages people of different income groups and from diverse backgrounds to participate in shaping the future of their communities.

The good news is that some positive and courageous steps already took root a couple of years ago in Jordan. In 2012, the local NGO “Partners-Jordan”, whose focus is civic collaboration; initiated a project in partnership with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs aimed at training some municipal council employees and civil society organisations members to conduct “participatory budgeting” as a process.

I believe, and as international experience shows, that a participatory approach to setting municipal budgets will instil transparency in local governments, raise awareness of citizens’ common aspirations, foster a culture of dialogue and citizen attachment to community.

This, of course, will build trust between government and citizens, and will ultimately serve the greater good of achieving social cohesion and peace.

In my opinion, the most important aspect of adopting a participatory approach to decision making at municipal level is that it enables a vital demographic sector in the Kingdom, the Jordanian youth, to participate in shaping their future.

If adopted by local councils in collaboration with civil society organisations, bottom-up or grassroots participatory processes, whether implemented in municipal budgeting, community strategic planning or any other matter related to community development will transform municipalities into more than merely services providers or hotlines for complaints: into think tanks for decision makers, citizens and civil society organisations to work hand in hand in a disciplined, participatory manner towards tackling community challenges.

This is indeed the way of deliberative democracy and a path towards achieving sustainable development. Hard work lies ahead.



The writer, [email protected], is founder of the International Association of Facilitators Jordan Chapter,, an initiative to promote a culture of participation towards driving positive change in organisations and communities in Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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