Is participatory budgeting representative?

No, PB in Germany is not representative. Nor does it claim to be. In fact, PB offers interested citizens an opportunity to get involved in political processes in a way that goes beyond merely exercising their franchise.

It is supposed to complement other democratic instruments such as elections or referenda, not replace them. Unlike elections or referenda, PB is not about choosing between a small number of predefined options. It is about developing and discussing ideas. Therefore, what counts above all else is the quality and openness of the dialogue. The number of people who get involved is secondary.

Through its open structure, PB enables a broad range of people to participate. Nevertheless – as with voter turnout – in most cases it is better-educated, middle-aged men who predominate. Systematic public awareness-raising work can aim to make processes as inclusive as possible. However, just as with elections the decision to get involved rests with the citizen him- or herself.

In Germany, the participants do not ultimately decide which proposals are actually implemented. In a representative democracy, this decision remains with the democratically elected body, which at the municipal level is the local council. The elected politicians consider the proposals, and take decisions accordingly in the interests of all citizens.

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