Participatory Budgeting

Case 1: Participatory Budgeting in Medellin

This case analyzed participatory budgeting in Medellin as a form of political participation, with a focus on the involvement and impact of youth. Participatory budgeting offered an institutional but localized space of deliberation that afforded youth and other marginalized groups a point of access to public influence that had lower barriers to entry than traditional political structures. (In Medellin, youth age 14 and up could participate directly in the process, even before they were eligible to vote in government elections.) For a small portion of the city’s budget, it shifted relations of power from a centralized process of resource allocation to a more localized, relatively horizontal decision-making process. Participatory budgeting appealed to some youth who were not drawn to other, more traditional forms of political participation, because it was a space in which they found that their voices might directly influence the allocation of resources that affect their daily lives. However, the process of participatory budgeting in Medellin was far from perfect; dynamics of corruption and clientelism persisted, and many citizens were critical of the ways in which citizen participation was still constrained. Yet the imperfections and tensions within the participatory budgeting process catalyzed critical public debate over the very terms of participation, what it means to participate in local governance, and what constitutes direct participation in the public sphere.