Participative democracy in Porto Alegro

In the Brazillian city of Porto Alegro, every single citizen is allowed to contribute to deciding the city’s budget. There’s articles on it here and here.

The decision process includes two huge annual assemblies and myriads of smaller special interest meetings – which sounds a little like Open Space. One of the lessons learned is, that everybody can contribute, including the poor and the less educated. They are given time and space to learn the process, by those who are more experienced.

The results have been amazing. Since they started doing it in 1989, the number of houses with running water has gone from 75% to 99%. Housing assistance has gone from 1.700 families to 29.000 families, the number of public schools has increased from 29 to 86 and literacy is now at 98% (better than some parts of eg. the US). And of course, the benefit of having a population who feels part of the decision proces is hard to quantify, but impossible to ignore. And best of all: The process has spread to more than 100 cities in South America.

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