Portugal has announced the world’s first nationwide participatory budget

Graça Fonseca at apolitical:”Portugal has announced the world’s first participatory budget on a national scale. The project will let people submit ideas for what the government should spend its money on, and then vote on which ideas are adopted.

Although participatory budgeting has become increasingly popular around the world in the past few years, it has so far been confined to cities and regions, and no country that we know of has attempted it nationwide. To reach as many people as possible, Portugal is also examining another innovation: letting people cast their votes via ATM machines.

‘It’s about quality of life, it’s about the quality of public space, it’s about the quality of life for your children, it’s about your life, OK?’ Graça Fonseca, the minister responsible, told Apolitical. ‘And you have a huge deficit of trust between people and the institutions of democracy. That’s the point we’re starting from and, if you look around, Portugal is not an exception in that among Western societies. We need to build that trust and, in my opinion, it’s urgent. If you don’t do anything, in ten, twenty years you’ll have serious problems.’

Although the official window for proposals begins in January, some have already been submitted to the project’s website. One suggests equipping kindergartens with technology to teach children about robotics. Using the open-source platform Arduino, the plan is to let children play with the tech and so foster scientific understanding from the earliest age.

Proposals can be made in the areas of science, culture, agriculture and lifelong learning, and there will be more than forty events in the new year for people to present and discuss their ideas.

The organisers hope that it will go some way to restoring closer contact between government and its citizens. Previous projects have shown that people who don’t vote in general elections often do cast their ballot on the specific proposals that participatory budgeting entails. Moreover, those who make the proposals often become passionate about them, campaigning for votes, flyering, making YouTube videos, going door-to-door and so fuelling a public discussion that involves ever more people in the process.

On the other side, it can bring public servants nearer to their fellow citizens by sharpening their understanding of what people want and what their priorities are. It can also raise the quality of public services by directing them more precisely to where they’re needed as well as by tapping the collective intelligence and imagination of thousands of participants….

Although it will not be used this year, because the project is still very much in the trial phase, the use of ATMs is potentially revolutionary. As Fonseca puts it, ‘In every remote part of the country, you might have nothing else, but you have an ATM.’ Moreover, an ATM could display proposals and allow people to vote directly, not least because it already contains a secure way of verifying their identity. At the moment, for comparison, people can vote by text or online, sending in the number from their ID card, which is checked against a database….(More)”.