In April 2017, Buenos Aires joined a growing network of cities which are reviving interest in participatory budgeting by making it tech-enabled. It unveiled Buenos Aires Elige or ‘BA Elige’ (Buenos Aires Choose) to give residents an opportunity to propose and select projects for the 2018 city budget through a five-part process. There are limits, of course—suggestions can’t require the modification of any current law, and must not incur additional operating costs once implemented. For the third edition of the program, the city received more than 28,000 proposals and included a mechanism for residents to create proposals together at co-creation meetings. proposals.
We can proudly say that we are the most participative city in Latin America, and hopefully this year there will be more neighbors who will do so, who will propose projects, and then vote.
Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, Chief of Government of Buenos Aires
Budgeting decisions have a profound impact on communities, but they are typically made through arcane technical and political processes that are difficult for residents to follow. Participatory budgeting can close the gap between residents and budgets, but it still requires a level of commitment and engagement that is unrealistic for most residents.
How'd They Do It?
Inspired by Decide Madrid through the Open Government Partnership’s Local Program, Buenos Aires launched BA Elige using the open-source Consul citizen-participation software. The website mediates an open process of submitting and voting on proposals for how the Buenos Aires government should spend a portion of its budget. In the first edition, 500 million Argentine pesos (about 11 million USD) were available for local projects in the city’s 15 communes. In 2018, an additional 100 million pesos were added to the participatory budget to fund citywide proposals.
The City uses the following budgeting process:
- Proposals. (March/April): Residents make initial proposals:
- Anyone can make project proposals, regardless of their age, nationality or residence—even visitors can recommend ways for Buenos Aires to improve.
- Proposals can be made in 11 categories: Innovation, Culture, Education, Places and Parks, Mobility and Transit, Pets, Recycling, Sports and Quality of Life, Urban Art, Fairs and Markets, and Safety.
- Proposals cannot require the modification of any current law, must not incur additional operating costs once implemented, and must maintain a standard of morality and public decency.
- In 2019, the City added a mechanism for residents (who are referred to as vecinos, or ‘neighbors’) to create proposals together, collaborating and building on others’ ideas. The objective was to improve the ideation process and enhance participation. In February and March, in all the communes of the city, residents were invited to be part of proposal co-creation meetings with ‘ideation tables.’
- Campaigning (May): Users try to gain popular support for their own or others’ ideas.
- The BA Elige website has buttons to share each proposal on Facebook or Twitter, and a page of best tips and practices recommends using friends and family to spread the idea through word-of-mouth. The site also provides a template promotional flyer. In 2018, WhatsApp was added as a new channel for submitting proposals.
- Users can cast a ‘vote’ for as many proposals as they want, citywide and in one commune of their choosing.
- Analysis (June/July): The city government analyzes potential costs and implementation issues for the top-ranked proposals, and accepts or rejects them based on feasibility, price, and other previously mentioned factors.
- Voting (August): Users select from the remaining proposals in another round of voting. In addition to adhering to previous rules, a proposal must now get at least 200 votes to be adopted into the city budget for the next year. Residents of Buenos Aires who are at least 16 years old can vote for proposals, casting one vote for each project they support. Participants can either cast their ballot via the internet, or submit a paper ballot at select city centers. The government of Buenos Aires considers the final results of the BA Elige process to be binding, subject to budget constraints.
- Adoption (September): The top-ranking proposals, both citywide and in each of the 15 individual city communes, are formalized for implementation and included in the next fiscal-year budget. Top-ranked proposals are funded one by one until the budget is exhausted. Citizens can follow each project’s progress through the city’s open-procurement portal and through a public works dashboard.
How Is It Going?
The first two editions of the program achieved the following participation:
- New Proposals: 26,473*
- Votes: 140,995
- Winning Proposals: 239
- Most popular proposals:
- Avellaneda Park aerobic circuit, proposed by an avid runner and neighborhood organizer
- Use of solar energy in squares and parks, proposed by an 80-year-old resident to leave a legacy of caring for natural resources
- Electronic signaling at bus stops (commune 13)
- Cycling track in Sarmiento Park
- Electronic signaling in bus stops (commune 14)
- Electronic signaling at bus stops (commune 2)
- Electronic signaling in bus stops (commune 6)
- Rewards Points Program - Zero Waste
- New park and green space in Caballito, next to the Club Ferrocarril Oeste
- Traffic light in Pedro Goyena and Thompson
* By comparison, online participatory-budgeting platforms in Madrid, Paris and Lisbon pulled in a combined total of about 14,000 ideas.
- New Proposals: 26,004
- Votes: 144,060
- Winning Proposals: 443
- Most popular proposals:
- Awareness in school of environment and animal care
- Organic waste in schools
- Greenhouses/ terraces or hydroponics in schools
- Free sports classes
- Awareness of the waste of water
- Restoring athletics track Avellaneda Park
- Organics fairs
- Orchards in schools
- Notice of fines
- Security cameras
In the first edition, roughly a third of the proposals were transit-related, including suggestions on bike sharing, bus routes, ‘next-bus’ data displays, parking-meter payment methods, and traffic patterns. Some requests were popular throughout Buenos Aires, such as security cameras on streets with less lighting at night, while other highly-ranked proposals were specific to the needs of individual communes. The City held a public ceremony to honor some of the residents submitting top-ranked ideas. The administration also highlighted selected projects that seek to improve the city’s sustainability or inclusion, including solar panels on schools; traffic lights for the blind; and devices for the hearing impaired in theaters and other cultural spaces.