E-participatory budgeting: E-democracy from theory to success?

Abstract

This paper concerns the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) as a strategy for reinforcing democratic processes - broadly defined as "electronic democracy" practices - and focuses on the use of ICTs in participatory democracy initiatives. By considering the experience of the e-Participatory Budgeting in the city of Belo Horizonte (Brazil), the aim is to understand some of the possible prospects and limitations offered by ICTs in participatory processes at the local level. Considering the fact that the e-Participatory Budgeting took place in a city with 1.7 million electors and attained a level of participation of nearly 10%, the e-Participatory Budgeting of Belo Horizonte is, by any standards, one of the most significant initiatives in the world in the domain of e-democracy to have been implemented so far. Among other findings, this paper argues that even though the use of ICTs was essential to the success of the initiative, other factors were also crucial in accomplishing such a level of participation, notably: i) the scope of the public works at stake; ii) the salience of the initiative and iii) citizens' perception of their actual impact in the decision-making process. It is expected that the outcomes of this incipient research will contribute to the literature on electronic and participatory democracy, as well as providing a policy evaluation of the use of ICTs at the local level in a large-scale participatory initiative.

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