The Porto Alegre Experiment

Learning Lessons for Better Democracy

Marion Gret and Yves Sintomer


Examines the lessons to be learned from Porto Alegre's experiment in participative budget-making.

We live in an age where there is more and more disillusion with periodically trooping to the polls, voting with the party herd, and supporting politicians who, once in office, act contrary to the promises they made on the hustings. The practice of representative democracy, in short, does not command much confidence. In the US, elections are dominated by big money. In developing countries, structural adjustment and neoliberal economics compel governments to ignore the demands of ordinary people for services like health and education. This is where the participative budgetmaking experiment in Porto Alegre comes in. Over the past decade, this city has institutionalized the direct involvement, locality by locality, of ordinary citizens in deciding spending priorities.

This book gives a down-to-earth description of how this democratic innovation works in practice. It explores the difficult questions. Can inhabitants taking part in public management really strengthen its efficiency? Is genuine participation possible without small groups monopolizing power? Can local organizations avoid becoming bureaucratized and cut off from their roots? Can neighbourhood mobilization go beyond parochialism and act in the general interest?The authors also raise the bigger question about what are the lessons to be learned from Porto Alegre for a renewal of democratic institutions elsewhere in the world.

Author Bio

Marion Gret completed her doctorate on participatory democracy in Argentina and Brazil at the Institute for Advanced Latin American Studies at the University of Paris III. She is currently a research associate at CERAD (Centre d'etude et de recherche autour de la democratie), University of Rennes and at CREDAL (Centre de recherche et de documentation on Latin America), IHEAL (Institut des Hautes Etudes d'Amerique Latine), Paris III.

Yves Sintomer divides his time between the University of Paris VIII and the Marc Bloch Centre in Berlin, where he is a researcher. He is the author of La democratie impossible? Politique et modernite chez Weber et Habermas (1999).

Table of Contents

  • Foreword to the English Edition
  • Introduction
  • 1. Porto Alegre, a 'Red City'
  • 2. The Participatory Budget: A Democratic Innovation
  • 3. The Challenges of Effectiveness and Participation
  • 4. The Challenges of Institutionalization and Scale
  • 5. Conclusion: Toward another Democracy


Publication Date: 20 January 2005
152 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781842774052
Library Edition: 9781842774045

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