Since the late 1980's, a number of Brazilian municipal governments have used Participatory Budgeting as a mechanism for including citizens in the budget-setting process. However, it wasn't until 2001 that the Municipality of Ipatinga began using the Internet as a means to extend, enhance, and diversify the process whereby citizens voted on priorities and budgetary allotments for local projects. Through the Internet component, accessible through the Municipality's website, citizens register their priorities and track public project delivery. The results of this innovation, described in this case study, show annual increases of 44 to 125 percent in the numbers of citizens giving input on budgeting priorities. The impact also appears to reach well beyond the traditional numbers: younger participants appear to be drawn into the process, while citizens with low levels of education are also using the Internet as a tool for inclusion of demands. In sum, Ipatinga's Interactive Participatory Budgeting is an additional channel in the relationship between state and society: the virtual space provides democratization for participation and social control, whether for the actors who traditionally take part of municipal decisions or for new participants. However, it is during the regional and municipal assemblies that votes, debate and negotiation define where public resources will be applied: online participation allows interaction in certain parts of the process; the final decision occurs face to face.
This paper is an outgrowth of the Ash Institute's Innovations in Technology and Governance (ITG) Project, which seeks to identify the conditions under which innovations in technology and governance can be most effectively and appropriately harnessed to drive improvements in the ways societies govern themselves. A central research question for the ITG Project is how networks that enable wider and more horizontal communication flows, and at more scales, challenge or alter traditional governance. The ITG Project also aims to better understand the causal relationships between polity, technology, and economy. The ITG Workshop took place on October 30 - 31, 2003 at Harvard University.