The best civic engagement process in the world is participatory budgeting in Recife, according to 11,600 German citizens who voted for their favorite among a set of impressive nominees. In “participatory budgeting,” large groups of citizens deliberate and vote to allocate municipal capital budgets. Many evaluations have found juster decisions, much lower corruption, and higher levels of democratic legitimacy as outcomes.
I consulted on the Reinhard Mohn competition and also nominated Hampton, VA for the prize. Hampton came in fourth (in the world) with 1,935 votes. I liked Hampton because the city has systematically embedded deliberation and public participation in most of its systems–education, policing, budgeting, parks and recreation, and planning–for decades. Hampton now also uses participatory budgeting.
On the other hand, I understand what the German voters were thinking. Brazil is the birthplace of participatory budgeting, which is one of the most impressive democratic innovations of the last quarter century. Recife seems to be the best example–notable (among other things) for having a separate youth participatory budget. As one astute voter wrote, “In this project I was particularly impressed by the children’s citizen budget. This makes it possible for people to experience and learn about the basic principles of democracy from a very young age. Anyone growing up with that experience will naturally engage in democratic processes as an adult.”