Participatory Budgeting in the Dominican Republic: Implications for Agency, Democracy and Development

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This study examines participatory budgeting (PB) as an important kind of citizen participation in the Dominican Republic (DR) and the implications of this recent practice for agency, democracy, and development. PB is a process that intends to drive change with specific outcomes: through deliberative decision-making, ordinary citizens select well-being- and agency-enhancing projects that ideally lead to more local and authentic development. Together with the attainment of these tangible outcomes, valuable subjective states may also come about: people feel more in charge of their own lives, community groups become more collaborative and cooperative, and more and better democracy is fostered. Taking a step forward from previous studies that only focus on PB from an urban planning or public finance perspective, the overall objective of this study is to provide a deeper understanding and assessment of how PB works in the localities under analysis, its association with different measures of agency, the characteristics that drive its success or failure, and its general impact on the lives of individuals and communities. Drawing on normative and policy-based literatures and specifically following an agency-oriented capability approach, this study uses a mixed-methods approach to analyze interview, survey, and direct observations of PB public assemblies, and archival data with respect to the 2013 budget cycle in four DR municipalities. A regression analysis finds that participation in and awareness of PB are both significantly correlated with individuals reporting higher levels of individual and collective agency when compared to non-participants and unaware individuals. These measures of agency are contextualized to the municipal budget-planning cycle. A process tracing analysis concludes that PB is likely, under certain conditions, to increase democratic participation and deliberation. However, due to certain democratic deficits, PB in two DR municipalities does not always increase agency, group cooperative functioning, and good development. Thus, PB must be analyzed on a case-by-case basis because differences in the characteristics of each PB assembly may lead to different outcomes. It is finally argued that rather than condemning democracy because of the failures of the current PB system, we should advance PB's democracy further by improving it in various ways.