Participatory budgeting goes digital in Paris

Participatory Budgeting in Paris : an analysis

I’m a passionate believer that we can use technology to make our communities and cities better places to live. While working on Tudigo and living in Paris, I was fascinated as the city of Paris adopted Participatory Budgeting. This concept is right up my alley and I became extremely interested in it, specifically how digital tools play a role in making such an ambitious goal achievable and manageable. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Mr. Julien Antelin, a chief of staff for the Paris city hall who directs the office of deputy Pauline Véron (Local Democracy, Citizen Participation, ngos, Youth and Employment). In this presentation i’ll summarize the genesis and evolution of the initiative, outline the structural process, and give an analysis of the key factors that led to the project’s success.

  1. Genesis and Evolution of Participatory Budgeting in Paris

Participatory Budgeting really got going in Paris thanks to our mayor Anne Hidalgo. As she was campaigning before the 2014 elections, one of her campaign promises was that she would initiate a Paris-wide participatory budget program. Paris is a city of over 2 million inhabitants and is divided into 20 districts, each with their own district mayor and city hall. One of the districts had started a PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING program within its own district, but it was still getting off the ground and didn’t have the resources to really take off. Anne Hidalgo wanted to implement PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING for all of Paris and even promised to commit 5% of the city’s entire budget to PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING between 2014-2020. The annual budget for the city is 8 billion euros a year, so this promise was quite significant.

After taking office in April of 2014, she assembled a team to implement Participatory Budgeting. The strength of Hidalgo’s conviction for renewed democracy superseded petty party politics. There was not at all a battle between the left and the right. The mayor’s mandate was so clear that everyone was excited to make the project a reality and they all worked together. Together, they made the decision that they wanted to move incredibly quickly. They wanted concrete proof of PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING within the year. To make this happen, they realized that they didn’t have time to conduct a sophisticated study or bring in academic experts or establish precise benchmarks. The program wouldn’t be perfect from the get-go, but they would learn as they go. Mr. Antelin explained that everyone was on board. The team set out with the question: “What can the Paris PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING experience be?” They neither had the time nor the desire to copy the PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING structure of any other city, though they were inspired by Lisbon’s use of a digital platform. Given Paris’ wealth of resources, they were able to develop their own digital platform, relying on a strong IT department. More about that later.

Given the time constraint of wanting concrete proof of PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING within one year, the pilot program consisted of 20 million euros, a relatively small amount for Paris, that would be consecrated for Paris-wide projects. Soliciting ideas from Parisians directly would have taken too much time, so the team decided to select 15 or so projects for investment in Paris’ public spaces. The PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING team then took to the streets to spread the word about this new initiative. They didn’t delegate this process out; Hidalgo and her team were all passionate about the program and worked hard to encourage Parisians to engage in this new expression democracy. PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING was given a warm embrace by Parisians in September 2014 when the first Paris-wide participatory vote occurred. The team ordered the projects by popularity according to the vote and funded each one until the PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING allocation was met. After the first year’s smashing success, Véron, Antelin, and their team began the process of expanding and evolving the PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING program for the next year.

In 2015, PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING was extended to every district, as well as a general Paris one. Hidalgo dedicated 75 million euros for its second year. Each year, the central Paris city hall gives allocations for each district to invest in public spaces, and it is up to the mayor of each district to guide the use of that money. To encourage mayors to devote a strong portion of their overall budget to PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING, Hidalgo matched every euro set aside for PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING in 2015. In 2016, it was 2-for-1, and 100 million euros were devoted to PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING. This method allowed individual mayors the flexibility to implement PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING according to the need of the district. There were also controls built in to assure the safety and security of the citizens. For example, everyday citizens like you and me probably have no idea that such-and-such road is sinking and needs major engineer and repair work done. After the 2014 pilot, project ideas were solicited from Parisian citizens and the current campaign, vote, and follow-up proceeds as follows.

  1. General Process Structure of Participatory Budgeting in Paris

The Paris PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING process is encompassed in four broad phases: ideation, analysis and selection, campaign and vote, and project realization and follow-up.

  • Ideation

Paris counts on the creativity and passion of its more than 2 million citizens to identify meaningful ways to use public funds to create a better city. To collect all these ideas, city officials made use of the online platform that was created. Of course, they realized that some citizens either don’t have access to the internet or aren’t comfortable using technology, so they provided assistance to these people. District city halls and other public buildings offered workshops and one-on-one help to upload their ideas. There is now an online resource center that teaches people what PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING is and how the online system works.

Starting in 2016, Paris is organizing idea workshops where citizens of a neighborhood can synergistically put their ideas together. The goal is to get the residents of a neighborhood together and foster an environment in which collective ideas can emerge.

Mr. Antelin told me that in 2015, the first year that citizens could propose ideas, the team would have been happy to receive 800 project proposals. They were just blown away when over 5,000 projects were submitted! They certainly weren’t expecting such an enormous response, and he admits that life was pretty crazy during this time. With so many ideas, Paris had its work cut out for them to analyze each project.

  • Project Analysis

In the analysis phase, a team of some 300 city employees got to work analyzing each project to determine if it met the qualifications for PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING projects: Is it within the scope of public-space investment? Does it serve the general welfare? Is it technically feasible? In 2015, given that it was the first experience Parisians had with PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING, around 45% of project ideas simply didn’t fit the bill. Of the remaining 2,500 or so projects, the team then had to analyze which ones were technically feasible. For this analysis, the team used its team of engineers to conduct mini-studies on the feasibility of different projects. In 2015, some 1,000 weren’t technically realistic, leaving around 1,500 eligible projects. These projects were then attributed to their respective district mayor’s office where a commission sifted through the potential projects and narrowed them down to a number manageable for a public vote. This commission is made up of elected officials, members of neighborhood councils, and members of the administration. The idea is that every technically feasible project be submitted to the public, but the commission chooses to validate or reject every project. This is where transparency comes into play.

Throughout this entire process, transparency is paramount. One of the reasons PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING exists in the first place is citizen frustration that elected officials have different priorities than the people. For each rejected a project, a notification was provided to the project owner. These weren’t notifications simply saying, “Sorry, your project was rejected.” Instead they offered a concrete reason: “Your project does not meet the qualifications for a PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING project generally” or “Your project was not technically feasible because x” or “The district mayor’s office did not retain your project…” These reasons are sent to the project owner and made public on the PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING online platform. In 2015, 77 general Paris projects were submitted to a vote as well as 547 district-specific ones.

In 2016, Parisians learned quickly what projects were meant for PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING and which weren’t. Around 3,200 project ideas were submitted, but they were much more acceptable with more than 90% of projects making it past the first filter (compared to 50% the previous year). Plus, the PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING team added a feature that could suggested similar projects. If someone had already submitted a similar project, another person entering their idea could instead choose to associate themselves with the other person’s idea. During this time, Paris implemented collaboration workshops. For selected projects, the city hosted meetings where they invited project owners and help them further develop or merge their ideas. With a list of projects selected, the campaign and voting phase began.

Campaign and Vote

For accepted projects, the city provided significant resources to help project owners campaign and spread the word and rally support for their idea. They received an online toolkit with templates and guides to make flyers, create social media posts, and even shoot videos. They held in person workshops but also created online workshops that project owners could watch at their convenience. During the campaign period, the city hosted events in crowded outdoor areas where project owners could present their ideas and people walking by could get more information.

When it came time to vote, all Parisians were able to participate, regardless of age or nationality. They only requirement is that they live in Paris – this allows them to vote both in the Paris PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING and the PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING for one district PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING (the one where they live or the one where they work). They can vote for up to 10 projects in each PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING. Parisians can vote either at physical locations or online. In each district, ballot boxes are placed in several public buildings throughout the 10-day voting period, but half of them are mobile and held in public places like markets, schools, popular squares, etc.  Voters can also select their favorite projects online. Mr. Antelin explained that both physical and online capabilities are essential. He is a resident of the district that adopted PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING before the rest of Paris, but he never participated in it, because it wasn’t very accessible to him. He even said he would have had to take a day off of work to participate in the ideation meetings or votes. With the online system, any Parisian can submit ideas, campaign, and vote for projects wherever and whenever they have an internet connection. At the same time, physical locations are essential because they allow those uncomfortable with technology to vote, but they also serve as reminders to engage in the process. Someone rushing to work might see a ballot box during their commute, and even though they don’t vote in person right then, they’ll remember to vote at work or when they get home. These two platforms are truly harmonious and work together to make the process accessible to everyone.

Before voting, they only have to provide their email, physical address, zip code, and date of birth. Voter verification is based all on honor. Voters don’t need to provide a utility bill to prove their residency. When asked about cheating, Mr. Antelin said, “We ask for the people of Paris to trust their city government, so we’re going to afford them our trust as well.” On top of that, he pointed out that as the number voters increase, the effect of any cheating will be marginal.

Participation in the PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING process is sustaining incredible growth. In 2015, 67,000 voters participated, up 60% from 2014. Over 500,000 visitors accessed the platform at some point. 62% of voters voted electronically while 38% did so on paper. Because of the nature of the voting process, not much concrete demographic information is available. According to Mr. Antelin, no particular group was significantly over or under represented. However, young voters were very well represented, with 30% of the voters being 30 years old or younger, much more of a turnout than in normal elections. In 2015, 8 of the 77 Paris PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING projects won the vote, and 180 of the 547 district PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING projects were carried.

  • Project Realization and Follow-Up

After the vote, it’s important that citizens keep the government accountable for the realization of their projects. The online platform allows Parisians to track approved projects. The city is currently working on a system that allows service workers to directly update the status of their respective projects without having to work through the central PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING office.

  • Analysis of Key Success Factors for Participatory Budgeting in Paris

The immense success of Paris’ PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING program is remarkable, especially given the large-scale on which it was carried out. Such an amazing result certainly wasn’t easy to obtain, and the city acknowledges several key challenges it had to overcome and the factors that led to its success.

The fiery determination of the mayor helped everyone adopt instead a philosophy of do and think. In order for the project to get off the ground, the mayor and top leaders must bring their authority and conviction to help rally their appointed team.

As I mentioned before, the first challenge to overcome was the mentality of Thiiiiiiink and do (maybe). It won’t be perfect right out of the gate, but action, mistakes, and correction is better than indecision paralysis. Ambitious and bold implementation is essential for a successful PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING campaign.

Digital tools also played an indispensable role in making PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING work for a city as large as Paris. Without easy-to-use tools, it would have been impossible to collect as many ideas and allow everyone to vote. Paris’ strong IT department provided the resources needed to construct an online platform from scratch. When designing the platform, simplicity was the guiding principle. No one should ever be able to say that the online platform is too complicated to use. It must be intuitive, clean, and visual. Mr. Antelin doesn’t feel particularly limited by the online tools currently at their disposition, but he did say that the IT team is working to make the process more visual and help citizens see clearly and realistically what projects are being proposed. When asked if digital tools can be effective in small towns, he said, “Of course!” The benefits of digital tools are clear, and a town doesn’t need a team of computer programmers to develop its own platform. Digital tools are being developed that can be easily adapted to individual cities at low-cost, and the administrative burden reduced by electronic idea submission, organization, and voting can make it an essential investment. The campaign kit provided digitally also empowers project owners to project their voice and feel confident in talking about their proposed ideas.

Digital tools and platforms for Participatory Budgeting in cities, districts and towns

I truly believe in the power to digital tools to enhance civic life in many ways. At Tudigo, we have developed comprehensive digital platforms that allow cities, organizations, communities, and those that work to help them to encourage citizens to participate in the administration and evolution of their neighborhoods and cities. Specifically, we have tools to help with ideation, Participatory Budgeting, local crowdfunding, and 3D urban planning. I’ll briefly introduce each one.

For ideation, our platform fosters a synergistic environment where citizens and local stakeholders can collaborate together to identify ideas, projects, and services that will improve their city. For example, cities who want to throw urban, artchitectural, or social challenges can use the platform to facilitate citizen participation and the vote process.

We also have developed a complete white label participatory budget solution. Like Paris, New York, or Lisbon, you can easily use digital tools to create a streamlined PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING experience. Our online platform enables cities to spend less energy worrying about logistics, and more time engaging its citizens. Citizens can submit their ideas and vote for projects, as well as collaborate with other citizens with common interests. Cities can easily match people with similar ideas, increase participation in local politics, and better understand the wants and needs of their citizens.

Bulb in Town is a crowdfunding platform designed with a focus on small businesses and local communities. We have developed a general online platform and worked with regional offices in France to create area-specific platforms that connect local entrepreneurs with local investors. With over 400 projects financed and a success rate of over 75%, Bulb in Town has empowered entrepreneurs to create dozens of jobs and revitalize their communities.

Finally, an especially exciting platform we have developed makes 3D urban planning a reality. This unique solution creates a dialogue between citizens, urban planners, and architects to guide the evolution of their neighborhoods through the use of 3D imaging. Concretely, a citizen can visualize neighborhoods, roads, or plazas to renew; choose different elements to add to the area (shops, trees, grass areas, even carousels); generate a 3D view of the personalized plaza where he or she can virtually walk around; share the plaza with friends so they can vote for his or her vision. At the same time, urban planners can engage with local stakeholders and better identify the most desired services in order to create a neighborhood in the image of its residents.


To wrap things up, it’s clear that the success of Paris’ participatory budget implementation and structure serves as a model for cities everywhere, large and small. Towns don’t need to copy Paris’ structure exactly, but it is essential to have strong mayor support and an ambitious and bold implementation attitude. With these in place, the powerful digital tools like the ones we offer at Tudigo can foster not only a streamlined participatory budget experience, but also a vibrant civic culture that can improve our cities and our way of life.


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