Thursday, January 8, 2009

PB and ICT: Belo Horizonte and Ipatinga

Tiago Peixoto agrees that information and communication technology (ICT) could do a lot to support participatory budgeting. But he finds that ICT in PB is mostly "restricted to the provision of information about the process to the citizens." He sees a trend to do more ICT-enabled PB.

Big example: Belo Horizonte in Brazil. A city of 2.4 million residents (1.7 million voters), Belo Horizonte has been doing PB since 1993. In 2006, they added Digital Participatory Budgeting—e-PB! Participants got to vote for one of four public works projects in each of the city's nine districts. These were no small projects, either: in one district, the choices were a new sports complex, a new library, a big street renovation, and downtown rejuvenation, each tagged at 1.2 million US dollars. (The sports complex won... dang it!) Traditional PB projects in the city were around $(US)340K.

The e-PB included a discussion forum thread for each district. Peixoto considers the total 1210 posts relatively low but notes many more people read than posted (as usual online). Over a 42-day voting period (longer than any one physical PB meeting), the system drew 503,266 votes from 172,938 voters. That's about 10% participation, compared to 1.46% participation in the comparable second round of previous PB efforts. The e-PB budget was one seventh the size of previous efforts.

Thesis thought: We see ICT brought into a situation where PB is already established. Can we use ICT to initiate PB?
Peixoto finds that people kept their votes local—a majority voted only on projects in their home districts. He finds no evidence that richer people participated more often(!). He also says remote voting worked: as many as one third of the votes cast may not have come in if the project had not been online. How's that for boosting participation?

If you're worried about Internet access, Peixoto points out in the comments that "this year's" (I'm unclear 2008 or 2009) e-PB will incorporate phone voting. That doesn't support deliberation, but it brings in the vote. And everybody has a phone.

Down the road in Ipatinga, Teixoto finds Brazilians who've been using ICT in PB since 2001:
Since 2001, the city of Ipatinga has pioneered in using the Internet as a supplementary means for citizens to indicate public works that they wish to see submitted to vote at PB (offline) meetings, where the use of the Internet is correlated with an increase in the level of attendance of women and younger citizens at these face-to-face meetings.
In 2005, Ipatinga added some phone/SMS voting and outreach. The telemarketing worked: "96.8% of citizens who picked up the phone waited until the end of the mayor’s message before hanging up." Areas that got phone calls saw participation at PB meetings go up; areas with no telemarketing saw participation go down.

Teixoto emphasizes that he doesn't want to see online PB replace offline PB. He does suggest it would be interesting to see if online PB can encourage people to participate in the more costly offline PB. Really good stuff to build on!



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