6 February 2019

New publication

Participatory local democracy can help achieve key Sustainable Development Goals

A new publication by Copernicus Institute PhD researcher Martin Calisto Friant shows that participatory local democracy can help achieve key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and contribute to a greater level of social and environmental justice.

"Democracy faces a challenge to reinvent itself"

In order to face the growing social and ecological challenges of sustainability in the Anthropocene, many governance mechanisms and options have been proposed.

Some demand greater democracy such as the Jillets Jaunes in France, the anti-austerity movement in Greece, the Occupy movement, 15-M Indignados in Spain and Arab and Kurd revolutionaries in the Middle East. Others feel disillusioned with representative democracy and have taken refuge in authoritarian populists, hoping that they will improve the status-quo.

In these conditions, democracy faces a challenge to reinvent itself and demonstrate that it can work effectively and efficiently towards solving the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century, explains Calisto-Friant.

Porto Alegre, Brazil. Photo: Ander Vaz

Participatory budgeting Porto Alegre, Brazil

Calisto Friant explored how democracy can overcome these challenges by looking at a democratic innovation called participatory budgeting in the city of Porto Alegre, Brazil.

His study examines whether this transformative form of participatory local democracy can help achieve key Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and lead towards a greater level of social and environmental justice.

Participatory budgeting can lead to strong sustainability outcomes

Results demonstrate that participatory budgeting can lead to strong sustainability outcomes. Between 1990 and 2000 Porto Alegre witnessed impressive results. HDI grew from 0.660 to 0.805 and green space per capita from 12.5 to 14.3. Access to a sewage connection and the percentage of treated wastewater also drastically improved.

Porto Alegre a model of sustainable urbanism in Brazil

This occurred while while the population grew by 7.69%, showing that the city was able to positively enhance urban environmental conditions while providing for the needs of newcomers. "These results show Porto Alegre as a model of sustainable urbanism in Brazil, providing evidence that participatory democracy can help towards achieving various SDG targets," explains Calisto Friant.

These results show Porto Alegre as a model of sustainable urbanism in Brazil, providing evidence that participatory democracy can help towards achieving various SDG targets.
PhD researcher
Key recommendations to ensure participatory budgets lead to positive results:
  • Ensure the commitment of local governments to hand out 100% of the investment budget and to provide key resources such as sufficient staff specialized in participatory facilitation
  • Support and actively coordinate with a strong and autonomous civil society
  • Carefully adapt the process to local circumstances and ensure that it can be democratically improved every year while also securing formal legal institutionalization
  • Actively educate citizens and widely communicate about the participatory budgeting process
  • Include all relevant social actors and themes through district, actor and sector based assemblies
  • Work towards expanding the process towards long term municipal plans, strategies and legislations
Martin Calisto Friant

About Martin Calisto Friant

Martin Calisto Friant is PhD candidate on the discourse, theory and practice of the Circular Economy at the Copernicus Institute of Sustainable Development, Utrecht University. He was a practitioner in the field of sustainable development for five years before starting his PhD.

Read further

Calisto Friant, Martin. (2019). Deliberating for sustainability: lessons from the Porto Alegre experiment with participatory budgeting. International Journal of Urban Sustainable Development. https://doi.org/10.1080/19463138.2019.1570219