“Participatory budgeting” in Kharkov: a chance for the community or imitation of self-government? | Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

“Participatory budgeting” in Kharkov: a chance for the community or imitation of self-government?

Starting from the next year in Kharkov, the target program “Public budgeting (participatory budgeting) of the city for 2018-2021” will work. Due to this program the community will receive another form of realizing its rights to self-government, while the deputies of the city council will lose their monopoly on determining the costs of the local budget. At least, the supporters of the theory of participatory democracy are so optimistic about the participatory budgeting. How the initiative was implemented in other cities, why the fashion for the “participatory budgeting” reached Kharkov, and what innovations Kharkov residents should wait for – read in new material from the Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”.

Between direct and representative democracy

“Participatory budgeting”, “public participation in budget-making”, “open budget”, “civil budget”, “public budgeting” – in different sources this institution of direct community self-government is called in various ways. The key idea remains unchanged – allocating a part of the local budget funds for the implementation of projects proposed by citizens and not just by deputies. In other words, the participatory budgeting creates a civil alternative to the deputy corps of local councils in the matter of allocating funds.

Discussions about the participatory budgeting, in fact, refer to the classical opposition between direct and representative democracy. Should the participation of citizens in policy making be ubiquitous or is it more effectively to be limited to the choice of professional managers to whom the community/people delegate the appropriate responsibilities?

In the 60-70s of the XXth century, the wave of criticism of representative democracy gained popularity with the idea of reviving the institutions of direct democracy as a historically basic form. In the homeland of democracy, in ancient Greece, “living the life of the polis for the common good” was considered the duty of every citizen, whereas in contemporary representative democracies, the people’s will is actually alienated and the policy is conserved in councils at various levels.

The tendencies of absenteeism, appeared in the majority of democratic states, in this sense do not demonstrate the political passivity of citizens, but testify their discontent with such a conservation of the system, in which citizens, in fact, do not participate in the development of politics and delegate this right with some periodicity to several interest groups.

Supporters of the participatory democracy theory, while advocating a balanced mix of institutions of direct and representative democracy, traditionally emphasize the following points:

  • direct participation of citizens in political decision-making enhances the legitimacy of the latter;
  • participation in policy making contributes to the growth of patriotism in the country as well as to the development of citizens’ political literacy and social responsibility;
  • introduction of direct democracy institutions impedes the bureaucratization of the state and the usurpation of power by interest groups.

One of the classic examples of the participatory democracy model is the political system of Switzerland. According to the Swiss constitution, various forms of direct civil will (referendums, including local ones, signatures collections) directly influence the development of policy. However, not always the institution of “people’s initiatives” leads to unambiguous results: in 2009, due to the collected signatures (bypassing the parliament), a referendum was held in Switzerland on the ban on the building of minarets – 57.5% of voters supported the initiative discriminating Muslims and the decision came into force.

In general, historically the need for a transition from direct democracy to representation one was largely influenced by organizational and technical factors, but owing to the mass Internetization of societies in the XXIst century the introduction of direct democracy institutions is again becoming technically possible, despite the size of the population or the size of the country’s territory.

As a result, at the junction of the theories of participatory democracy and e-government the idea of “participatory budgeting” is quite popular today, including in Ukraine. Following the introduction of the institute of electronic petitions, Ukrainian cities are massively launching programs of “participatory budgeting” – in 2017, about 500 million hryvnias from local budgets were spent on the implementation of the projects proposed by the citizens.

In many respects, owing to “participatory budgeting” (as well as electronic petitions, online provision of administrative services, ProZorro procurement system, open data portals), Ukraine in the international rating of “e-government” in 2016 rose to the 32nd place out of 193 countries- members of the UN.

To the democracy in action: international experience

For the first time the practice of the “participatory budgeting” was implemented in 1989 in the Brazilian city Porto Alegre. At that time, the city was experiencing severe economic and social conditions, when, in addition to corruption and high rate of unemployment, one third of the population did not have access to basic communal infrastructure (clean water pipelines, hospitals, schools). Then the Workers’ Party of Porto Alegre, which went to the elections with popular ideas of the city modernization and “open government”, proposed to involve citizens in the process of determining the priorities of urban development through the mechanism of a “participatory budgeting”.

As a result of the “participatory budgeting” introduction, civil activity has increased significantly. And due to a more transparent process of political decision-making, the level of corruption has decreased. The World Bank estimates that in Porto Alegre, owing to this practice, the volume of sewage and water connections has increased by 20%, and the number of schools has quadrupled. Moreover, the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-Habitat), aimed at promoting sustainable development of cities, has announced an experiment with the “civil budge” the best international practice.

Nowadays more than 1,500 cities in the world have implemented a participatory budgeting mechanism. However, the amount of money allocated for the distribution by citizens depends on the specifics of the established procedure of a particular country. For example, in Japanese city Ichinomiya, the participatory budget or “1% Support Program” is, respectively, 1% of the total income of the city from taxes paid by residents. In cities in Poland, this figure ranges from 0.002% to 3.4% of the city budget, in Paris – 5%, in Amsterdam – 20%.

City Launching year


Amount of funds (2017)
Cologne (Germany) 2007


100 thousand euros for district
Ichinomiya (Japan)


2008 about 200 thousand dollars


2010 1.32 million dollars for district
New York 2011


40 million dollars
Gdansk (Poland)


2013 3 million euros


2014 800 thousand dollars


2014 100 million euros
West Pokot (Kenya)


2015 212 thousand dollars for district

Source: sites of city councils and Internet platforms of “participatory budgeting”

However, despite the innovative approach, which can be described as “he who pays the piper calls the tune” an analysis of international experience of implementing the participatory budgeting shows that funds are predominantly channeled to address typical urban problems that de facto are in the competence of local self-government bodies.

According to the interactive map of Chicago, the largest number of projects (254) submitted and funded by the participatory budgeting during 2010-2016, refers to improving the state of city streets and sidewalks. The procedure for allocating funds within the Chicago civil budget is also quite controversial: the decision which projects will receive funding is taken by the alderman (representative of a certain district in the municipal council), who annually receives a cash amount of $ 1.32 million.

Participatory budgeting in Ukrainian cities: real money – real power?

In 2015 four Ukrainian cities – Cherkassy, Chernigov, Lutsk and Poltava joined the world experience of the “participatory budgeting” practice with the support of Polish-Ukrainian Cooperation Foundation (PAUCI). Currently more than 50 Ukrainian cities use this mechanism of “democracy in action”.

City Launching year


Amount of funds (2017) Fixed % of city budget


2015 10 million hryvnias 0,7%


2015 9,5 million hryvnias 1%


2015 10 million hryvnias 1%


2016 2 million hryvnias 0,1%


2016 50 million hryvnias no fixed %; about 0,1%




2016 16 million hryvnias not less than 0,1%


2016 10 million hryvnias up to 0,5%


2016 12 million hryvnias 1%


2017 500 million hryvnias no fixed %; about 0,07%


Source: sites of city councils and Internet platforms of “participatory budgeting”

Comparing the international and Ukrainian experience, it should be immediately noted a much smaller percentage of the funds allocated from the city budget to finance local projects in Ukraine. Obviously, the procedure itself, which in general may be specific for each city, is also rather different.

The Western model of the “participatory budgeting”, for example, involves a preliminary stage of the series of brainstorming sessions, where the residents of the community express ideas about the city’s main needs and elect volunteer delegates who prioritize proposals and develop final versions of projects for voting. In Canada, the “participatory budgeting” does the advisory role: through an interactive system, citizens indicate which directions of expenditure in the budget should be cut and which should be increased.

As for Ukraine the introduction of the “Polish model” is declared, according to which the projects submitted by citizens are “reviewed” by representatives of local self-government bodies responsible for the peculiar direction.

In the meantime what Ukrainian cities experience and other cities in the world do have in common is the communal sphere as the leading direction among the winning projects within the “participatory budgeting”. For example, in Lviv the proposed project must necessarily be connected to infrastructure – to provide the construction, repair, reconstruction of some object. Other goals, no matter how useful and popular they may be, will not be realized at the expense of the city budget.

Repair of kindergartens, schools, construction of sports grounds and similar “initiatives” obviously guarantee high activity of representatives of utilities (and a favorable outcome of voting, thanks to the administrative resource), which, as a consequence, demotivates ordinary citizens.

Interestingly, in Chernigov, in terms of that, in 2016 an amendment was adopted to the Regulations on the Participatory Budgeting, which established one more requirement for the proposed projects – public accessibility for city residents.

However, among the dominance of projects, which are already included in the sphere of regulation of local authorities, there are also non-trivial examples-exceptions. In the Dnipro, in the framework of the participatory budgeting 3D-planetarium project was proposed, in Kyiv – LEGO robotics laboratory in the school, in Odessa – an energy-efficient clinic, and in Zhytomyr – a public Internet library on solar photomodules “Velesova book”.

How the participatory budgeting will work in Kharkiv

Although the idea of public budget is not new for Kharkiv, the issue became actively discussed only since the beginning of 2017, when the deputies of the city council from the political fraction “Nash Kray” began to promote the beneficial in electoral terms topic. In many ways, owing to their efforts as well as the supportive position of mayor Gennady Kernes, on September 20, 2017 the city council adopted the City Target Program “Public Budget (Participatory Budgeting) of the City of Kharkov for 2018-2021”.

The main peculiarity of the civil budget in Kharkiv is that projects can be submitted not only by the individual residents of the city (a common model in other cities of Ukraine), but also by NGOs. According to the Regulations on the Civil Budget, 60% of the total funds are allocated to projects submitted by individuals, and 40% to initiatives of NGOs. The total amount of funds provided for the budget for participation in 2018 is 50 million UAH.

Also, if “Hromadsky project” is the most widespread Internet platform for the participatory budgeting among Ukrainian cities, then in Kharkov will be created a separate Internet portal “Active Kharkiv citizen”, for the development of which an additional 0.6 million UAH are allocated from the city budget. The algorithm for implementing the civil budget in Kharkov, according to the Regulations, consists of the stages presented below.

  1. The preliminary stage includes an information campaign to familiarize residents with the basic principles of the civil budget, the formation of a working group, and the organization of the process of projects submitting and selection.

Regulations on the Civil Budget states that a working group should be formed through Internet voting for candidates. It should include 17 members: 6 representatives of the public sector, 4 members of the city council, one from each fraction and 6 representatives of the executive bodies of the city council, and the head of the working group.

According to the head of the Kharkiv Youth Council, Mikhail Lazarev, the voting will be launched in January 2018, when the development of the Internet portal “Active Kharkiv citizen” is completed. At the moment the head of the working group on civil budget issues is known – deputy mayor, the head of the Budget and Finance Department of the city council Tatiana Taukesheva.

  1. Acceptance and examination of submitted projects. Regulations on the Civil Budget states that the project should not duplicate the responsibilities of the executive bodies of the Kharkiv city council in the sphere of current and capital repairs of the housing stock, repair of road surfaces and sidewalks, as well as measures provided by the approved programs of the city council. The maximum amount of funding for 1 project is 1 million UAH.

The submitted project is included in the project register and is examined for completeness and correspondence to the filling form requirements. The maximum period of verification is 3 days. The project that has passed preliminary verification is subject to examination by the working group, within the framework of which a copy of the project is sent to the appropriate executive body and the Legal Department of Kharkiv city council. Examination lasts for 20 working days. The project is allowed to be presented on voting in case of the positive conclusion of the examination.

Such an examination is one of the disputable procedural moments. Since the criteria for initiatives that will eventually be presented to the public are spelled out in very general principles, the examination tool can be used as a filter for “undesirable” projects.

  1. Information campaign to familiarize city residents with the projects. Before the direct vote the author of the project should present it within the process of public discussion.
  2. Voting for projects, which lasts for 60 days, takes place on the information portal “Active Kharkiv citizen” with the usage of the BankID system. Also, it is possible to vote in the terminals of the centers providing administrative services.

It is allowed to support no more than 3 projects, giving for each the 1 vote. According to the results of voting, two ratings are completed: projects of individuals and NGOs. If two projects gain the same number of votes, the highest in the rating is a project that requires less funding.

  1. Implementation of the winning projects. Considering the opportunity for NGOs to submit their own projects, the initiators of the participatory budgeting have declared a course for the development of the Kharkiv civil sector. Nevertheless, according to the norms of Regulations on the Civil Budget NGOs, in fact, is only an author of the project, just an idea provider.

While the chief disposers of budgetary funds responsible for the implementation of the project are the heads of the executive bodies of the city council. NGO can implement a project only provided that “it meets the requirements for working with municipal budget funds and has the necessary resources to effectively implement the project”.


  1. Participatory budgeting is one of the elements of the participatory model of democracy, which assumes the demonopolization of representative authorities and local self-government role in policy development. The ideology of this model is that not only deputies with delegated functions, but also citizens themselves should be able to directly influence the adoption of key decisions, which include the distribution of the local budget expenditures.
  2. Nowadays participatory budgeting is functioning in more than 1500 cities around the world. The institute of civil budget has already become quite widespread in Ukraine – the corresponding programs have been launched in 50 cities. At the same time, the percentage of funds allocated to civil projects from the city budget remains rather low. And the procedure stated in most of the Ukrainian city programs preserves the powers of the deputies of local self-government that control this process. As for the projects only a minimal percentage of them can really be called creative and generally meaningful – often initiatives concern the communal sphere, are local in character and de facto duplicate existing directions of expenditures of city budgets.
  3. The program of the introduction of participatory budgeting in Kharkov starts in 2018 and for the first year of the project 50 million hryvnias are allocated – a fairly large amount compared to other cities in Ukraine. In terms of positive nuances, it should be noted that in the requirements for submitted projects, there is a ban on thematic duplication of initiatives with existing urban programs (in particular, in the field of repair). In terms of negative nuances – control of the mayor’s office over the distribution of civil budget. The head of the working group on civil budget issues is the deputy mayor, also the part of the working group will be the party majority under the mayor’s control and the city’s Legal department has the right to veto projects as well. The Internet platform “Active Kharkiv citizen”, which according to the Program will become a platform for voting for projects, exists since 2015 (although 600 thousand UAH is planned for its revision in the budget), and it cannot be called uncontrollable to the local authorities. In this respect, the participation budget as an instrument of direct democracy will not fulfill the function of the civil alternative to the deputy corps and the mayor’s office in the matter of allocating funds.
  4. Kharkov already has the experience of implementing other instruments of “participatory democracy” – in particular, electronic petitions on the city council’s website or “service 1562” (specializing in the communal sphere). During the period of its functioning it turned out that Kharkiv citizens practically do not generate creative, generally valid initiatives. The vast majority of petitions concerned issues of local repair and some initiatives, apparently, were “thrown in” as information cause. Considering that for the civil budget one idea will not be enough – it is also necessary to calculate the indicative outlay of the initiative – there is no need to count on serious competition of high-quality projects, which will only simplify the task of lobbying “favorable themes” for the city council.
  5. The prospects of participatory budget and other elements of participatory democracy introduction should be carefully estimated, taking into account the criticisms of this concept. One of the key requirements for the effective operation of such institutions is not only civic activity, but also competence and education. For illustration let us conduct a thought experiment: imagine that the issue of the minimum wage size to be placed in the state budget is submitted to a nationwide referendum, with two alternatives “3,724 UAH” or “37,240 UAH”. It is more likely that the majority of Ukrainians will choose the second option, which will result in hyperinflation and closing/shadowing of small/medium business. As a result, everyone will lose from “national participation”, because the expansion of the circle of participants in decision-making in conditions of populist discourse and low level of civic education is not a guarantee of the effectiveness of decisions.


  1. The main “product” of the participation budget is not projects that much, but conscious and competent citizens who actively participate in the process of developing local policies. It is extremely important not only to popularize the “Public Budget” Program, but also organize events (courses, trainings) for project management for Kharkiv citizens, so that every next year of implementing the “Public Budget” Program the quality of the proposed initiatives can increase.
  2. It is necessary to detail the priorities and requirements for projects that should not simply be duplicative to existing urban programs, but also meet a number of criteria. First and foremost, projects should be generally accessible and universally valid. Initiatives appropriate to the interests of one group of Kharkiv citizens (age, professional, territorial) should not be allowed to vote. It is also important for projects to have a strategic orientation and the effect of their implementation should not be limited to a short-term perspective.
  3. One of the most important stages of the process is monitoring the implementation of projects and evaluating their effectiveness. Mass voting should be carried out not only at the initial stages of the selection of funded projects, but also at subsequent stages to assess the concrete results of certain projects. Such “feedback” will allow to correct the priorities of the Program and show which projects really meet the interests of Kharkiv citizens, and which ones are inappropriate to finance.
  4. In terms of voting, it is extremely important to protect the results from fraud. This issue is directly related to the problem of identification of the participants in the vote, but the model chosen by the deputies seems to be one in which there are signs of discrimination based on material indicator (voting with identification on a bank card).
  5. The entire process of participatory budgeting should be depoliticized and removed from the direct control zone of the mayor’s office. In the procedural aspect, it is important to weaken the functions of the veto player of the city council’s legal department and reduce the influence of the mayor’s office in the working group on public budget issues (the head of the group should be an authoritative representative of the civil sector, not the deputy mayor).

Valentyna Kyselova, Anton Avksentiev

Center for Political Analysis “Observatory of Democracy”

Published on the website of Analitycal publication “Politeka”

The material was prepared within the framework of a project implemented with the financial support of the European Endowment for Democracy (EED) and the Government of Canada

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