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The World Bank and the Globalization of Participatory Budgeting

This article addresses the long-standing controversy over the World Bank’s role in the promotion of participatory budgeting (PB). Some on the left have celebrated the Bank’s funding and advocacy for PB as signifying the legitimacy or mainstream success of the process, while others see the Bank’s endorsement of PB as a sign that participatory budgeting is becoming watered down and losing its transformative potential, if it ever had such potential. This debate has mostly been an ideological one, and little research has been done to provide evidence to either side. The article is the first to address what the Bank is doing to promote PB and why. It makes six main points. First, the originators of participatory budgeting, the Workers’ Party in Brazil, is not promoting it as strongly as it used to. Second, the World Bank has become the most active promoter of PB (perhaps alongside the United Nations Development Program). Third, within the Bank, some promote PB as part of its fairly standard pro-market agenda, while others share many of the same goals as PB’s originators. Fourth, though the Bank has become very important for the diffusion of PB, overall PB remains marginal within the Bank. Fifth, the Bank has little influence over the eventual outcomes of PB in different countries because it has little or no control over many of the factors that affect PB in practice. And sixth, because PB’s effects have strong potential to be positive, the Bank’s role in promoting PB should be encouraged.

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