Cascais Participatory Budgeting, Portugal



This case was produced by the Municipality of Cascais, Portugal and it was one of the three recipients of the 2017 GIFT Public Participation in Fiscal Policy and Budget Making Award.

Cascais has a distance problem between citizens, policies and politicians, which translates into more than 60% electoral abstention. In 2011, Participatory Budgeting (PB) was the mechanism the municipality found to bring together citizens, politicians and technicians. PB is a process through which the population takes decisions or contributes to decision-making on the future of a part of the available public resources. It is the most relevant project that Cascais has to promote public participation, and it was  born of the need to strengthen civil society, modernize public services and combat corruption, based on accountability, active citizenship, participation, transparency, and the management of resources according to people’s real needs, rather than the self-interest of departments.

The approach used by the municipality entails a legally binding methodology, low cost, with two cycles (decision and implementation) where citizens participate in a range of instances: from the presentation of ideas, to project discussions until the inauguration. PB is accessible to all, promotes social inclusion, gender equality, and integration of all social groups and is a pioneer in developing a new model of public administration.

In 6 years, with a population of 206.000 in Cascais, the municipality has engaged more than 150.000 citizens, has implemented 88 projects (works) worth 15.820.000€ and has strengthened people’s confidence in their public authorities. This is the most voted PB of Portugal, and its methodology has been replicated in more than 10 cities and influenced practices in different continents. Citizen engagement involves the definition of priorities in terms of public spending. Therefore, it becomes a permanent protagonist in the public administration. The PB combines direct democracy with representative democracy.

PB requires the direct involvement of citizens at 4 essential stages:  identifying the problems and needs of society; annual decision-making on priorities; the implementation of the projects; the monitoring and evaluation of works. The participatory process is based on various mechanisms, including: public meetings on territorial or thematic issues; Internet pages; and phone messaging systems. The methodology rests on the notion that getting people to find common ground through discussing ideas they have for their community will motivate participation, in a way addressing the lack of trust in politicians and the lack of enthusiasm with politics. Thus, in all, there are more votes in the Cascais PB process than in the election of the City Council.

PB improves service delivery and the power of citizens to make their voices heard in local politics. There is a trust that generates mobilization. People approach the municipality because of PB and over time as an outcome, they get increasingly involved. People take responsibility for the management and maintenance of all aspects of projects. They deal with problems and find solutions together and with the municipal technicians. PB –as a new way of decision-making and a tool for active participation– develops new behaviours in community, leading it to take an active role defining priorities for the use of available resources, ensuring and enabling everybody’s right to participate in developing their territory.

Basic Facts

  1. Stages in Fiscal Policy Cycle: Formulation and Implementation.
  2. Lead institution: Executive (governmental).
  3. Levels of Government involved: Local.


Participatory Budgeting emerged in the eighties in Brazil, as a way of bringing the poor and excluded citizens into the local budget decision-making process involving them in prioritizing their problems and finding solutions. PB aims to defend those democratic needs that are not being met by government. It promotes governance by the people and, in principle, responsibility. Centralization of power away from the control of elected governments and citizens, has created tension and so generated waves of “democratic discontent” all over the world. It is a general ill feeling, which affects many different parts of the social fabric and that is reflected in many ways, for example, in large public demonstrations, the high rates of electoral abstention and lack of trust in institutions.

In the case of Cascais, the municipality made it one of its government axis to promote an active citizenship, seeking to generate proximity through participatory democracy, fostering a spirit of community and promoting volunteerism and social responsibility, and focusing on the quality of government, in an attempt also of addressing the crisis of representation in democratic procedures. PB can be seen as a local response to this problematic situation. Trust can be seen as the engine of democracy: the delegation of power through the vote. Traditional representative democracy seems to be unable to meet the new societal challenges generated in the contemporary world, and the need exists to mobilize the energy and confidence of people.

Thus, in 2011, a new team was born at municipality, and the PB was based on the Local Agenda (A 21). A Letter of Principles was prepared for PB promoting informed participation to bring citizens closer to decision-makers and contribute to administrative modernization and fostering of a dynamic civil society. These objectives structured a deliberative PB in which participants could submit proposals and decide projects within a stipulated budget. It started with 3% of municipal budget.

In 2013, the Division of Citizenship and Participation was created, which included A21, volunteering, cultural associations, neighbours associations and the PB. This division was the result of the Local Government commitment to promote democratic governance, and to increase the participation of the citizens in the management of the territory.

Comparing with other municipalities in Portugal, Cascais stands out for its representativeness, as a high voter rate, amount of investment, number of participants in public sessions, voting model, follow-up work by projects’ proponents, work executed percentage, and a PB team of exclusive dedication show.

Authorizing Environment

PB is based on two fundamental principles of the democratic rule of law – the Principle of Participation and the Principle of Cooperation of the Administration with Individuals. These principles are present in the Articles 266 to 268 of the Portuguese Republic Constitution.

Cascais’ PB is the result of the municipal executive’s political decision and it is not framed in any national or regional legislative initiative. However, Portugal is the European country with the most participatory budget (it has 118 active participatory budgets).

In 2017 Portugal stands out internationally for creating the first National Participatory Budget in the world. In its objectives we can read “The Participatory Budget Portugal – NPB is a democratic process, direct and universal, through which people decide on public investments in different areas of governance. Through the NPB people can decide how to invest 3 million euros. It should be noted that the participatory budget of Cascais is so impressive that it provides one million euros more than the national participatory budget.

Following the National PB, the government has also created a participatory budget for schools and youth in 2017. These two processes have also been embodied in innovative practices.

Who and How

The Cascais PB methodology has two cycles:

  • Decision &
  • Implementation

The Decision Cycle has 4 phases: 


PB receives proposals during 9 public sessions in different districts to promote equal access to population.

Participants are checked and registered as residents, workers or students in Cascais and the sessions are translated into Portuguese and English (and their respective sign languages).

They sit at round tables and explain theirs ideas/ projects.

Each table of 7 to 9 participants has a municipal technician that leads the workflow.

From each table, 2 ideas are selected, then presented to all participants in the room. Each participant has two votes to use in 2 different proposals, which he/she wants to validate. The proposals approved per session are proportional to the present participants. There is also the possibility of making a proposal online. The two most voted proposals are presented in the last public session.


Multiservice teams are set up to evaluate and budget the proposals approved in public sessions, according to the eligibility criteria set out in the regulation:

  1. Be sufficiently specific and delimited in the territory;
  2. Not to exceed the € 300.000,00;
  3. Not to exceed 24/36 months of execution;
  4. Be compatible with other municipal plans.


  1. VOTING (Oct/ Nov)

Once the technical analysis finishes, a final list of projects is announced and the voting begins. The municipality invests in street publicity through outdoors advertising boards, leaflets, exhibitions and through electronic release internet (website and Facebook). The campaign is increasingly being developed by proponent groups in order to publicize their projects and obtain votes.

One mobile phone number allows one vote. Votes are made by SMS and can be used to vote against or in favour of a particular project.

The announcement of the winning projects closes this cycle. Non-winning projects are saved into an ideas bank.

Implementation cycle

This second cycle is essentially composed of phases which do not differ in terms of nomenclature from the execution of other works or public investments carried out by the Municipality. The challenge and at the same time its innovative character results from the participation of the citizens in a work in which they are not traditionally involved.


This consists in the definition and generic implementation of the projects, trying to adapt the documents of preparation and their respective implementation to the iintentios of the proponents. It is in this sense that the Municipality chose to include in the methodology a meeting with the authors of the proposals before starting the technical work, in order to listen to them, to understand their perspectives regarding the execution and future operation of the investment to be carried out, reconciling all this with the technical and budgetary restrictions, as well as with the legal procedures that the Town Hall must respect.

This preliminary meeting may be open to the entire population, especially the one that is within the scope of influence of the project, if it is a larger investment and with greater impact on people’s lives. The objective is to understand the different perspectives on the intervention and to seek the points of balance and consensus.


This step involves the detailed definition of the works to be carried out or the goods and services to be contracted, and the local authority may use its teams, deliver this service abroad or delegate its execution to another entity, in particular if it is directly targeted or beneficiary of the investment foreseen. Also, at this point, there is a concern to keep tenderers informed and to involve them in the evolution of the implementation.


Here, the Town Hall can directly ensure the enforcement of projects through its services, choose to contract outside, or, alternatively, protocol its implementation with a local institution, especially if it is a direct beneficiary of the work/equipment or is responsible for its future management and maintenance.


This is the contract with the performing entity, which in no way differs from other projects and investments made by the Town Hall.


Once the project has been completed, it will be delivered to the public in a public ceremony, which will be attended by the Mayor of the Cascais Town Hall and by the proponents of the project. The work or equipment contain a signage that is the result of the Participatory Budget.

Results and Impact

The Cascais PB in its 6 editions had a strong impact in the territory.

This most measured impact was in participation: 

Total of votes (6 years)   219.307

Sum of participants in public sessions 4389

Most participated session 210

Total of proposals (9 sessions x 6 years) 975

Total of proposals in plenary (9 sessions x 6 years) 628

Total of proposals/ technical Analysis (9 sessions x 6 years) 289

Total of projects submitted to voting (6 years)   196

Total of works (after voting) 88


The implementation rate had following impacts:

The sum of investment in works during 6 years was 15,8M€.

The 88 projects have the following results:


PB 2011: 12 projects/ 12 completed

PB 2012: 15 projects/ 14 completed

PB 2013: 6 projects/ 5 completed

PB 2014: 9 projects/ 9 completed

PB 2015: 21 projects/ 17 completed*

PB 2016: 24 projects/ 16 completed*

*Projects take 2-4 years to be completed.


Numbers of Projects have impact in the following areas:

25 in Education

12 in Urban Rehabilitation and Rehabilitation

11 in Green spaces

10 in Sport

10 in Public road network

7 in Security and civil protection

6 in Culture

5 in Social Action

1 in Environmental protection and energy

1 in Innovation and knowledge

Cascais PB in undergoing an evaluation by an external consultant. Findings reveal that people get involved in the municipality because of PB and then get more involved. New organizations have been instituted due to PB. The “shared conception” of a project, the “proximity of the local authority”, the “easy and accessible dialogue” and the “establishment of a new relationship between citizens and local authorities” are some advantages described by people.

The projects implemented have improved citizen’s lives, and today everybody lives less than 1,2km from a implemented PB project.

Other impacts of this action are the skills improvement, raise awareness of procedural constraints, better understanding of public administration procedures. This also leads to a reconsideration of citizen’s leaders, responsibility towards management and maintenance of projects/ works. People are involved, not only in their problems but also in solutions.

PB 2011 PB 2012 PB 2013 PB 2014 PB 2015 PB 2016 TOTAL
 Participants 504 395 762 747 862 1119 4389
 Most participation at a session (number of participants) 91 115 174 127 183 210 900
Total of proposals

(9 sessions)

286 223 201 100 81 84 975
Total of proposals


130 147 105 81 81 84 628
Total of proposals (Technical Analysis) 48 48 47 43 46 55 + 2 (online) 289
Total of projects ( submitted for voting) 30 32 26 31 40 37 196
Total of projects

(after voting)

12 16 7 9 21 24 88
Total of votes 6.903 23.198 33.715 41.005 55.919 58.567 219.307
Available Budget 2,1M€ 2,5M€ 1,5M€ 1,5M€ 4,0M€ 4,2 M€ 15,8M€


Back in 2012 Cascais was elected and challenged to be president of the International Observatory of Participative Democracy for 2013 in Porto Alegre, Brazil (Observatório Internacional da Democracia Participativa –OIDP)  See:

In order to promote a bigger interaction between the several municipalities and improve the national practices, in 2016 Cascais lead the creation of a National Participative Network, called RAP (Rede de Autarquias Participativas) and chaired it until December 2018.

In 2017, Cascais has been distinguished with a URBACT good practice label with its Participatory Budget practice over 6 years.

See media clips:


Lessons Learned

Since 2011, the Cascais PB has been monitored by an independent organization, “Associação – In Loco” lead by the Urbact expert Nelson Dias. The consultant guarantees an annual comparative analysis of the practice and prepares published studies on it. The PB team is still learning and adapting. Each Participatory Budget is unique and should be addressed according to its objectives, budget, rules and local needs.

The annual evaluation sessions that lead to upgrades in the PB standards. These changes result from previous mistakes found each year. This evaluation method includes politicians, technicians, citizens and consultants.

The Cascais PB model has been recognized as an example of good practice and has been used by other cities on national and international levels. Many other cities have reproduced the Cascais PB model, Portuguese cities:  Alenquer, Águeda, Caminha, Funchal (Madeira Island) Lagoa, Lousã, Mafra, Torres Vedras, Penacova, Penafiel, Portimão, Ponta Delgada (S. Miguel island- Azores). Many International cities in Europe have sent representatives to study our PB practice: Brussels (Belgium), Stockholm (Sweden, Dubrovnick (Croatia), Ríčany (Czech Republic), Worldwide: Maputo, Quelimane and Nampula (Mozambique), Manágua (Nicaragua) and New York City (USA).

Lex Paulson, organizer of Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign visited our PB and said: “What impressed us most in Cascais was that they used Participatory Budgeting to build trust and participation, not just for a year, but for many years. There are many participatory budget processes that fluctuate and do not last for more than two or three years. What Cascais has done over the past five years has been to show that we can always improve and create more and more confidence by showing the impact and the results, so that the citizens are more and more committed, dedicated and motivated”.

Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy


This practice facilitates public participation in general by disseminating complete information and all other relevant data using mechanisms that are easy for all to access, understand, and to use, re-use and transform. In this website, all the process is open and available, and people can vote by sms, which is very easy. The public sessions are held in different places, to be near the most population as possible


On-going full information is provided at  and there is a permanent contact with all the citizens with an available team just to answer and give support to all the doubts.


Our PB is accessible to all, promotes social inclusion, gender equality, and integration of all social groups. Our public sessions have English and French translation for foreigners and translation to Portuguese sign language. The sessions are after work time, so it is easier for everybody can participate. Wheelchair accessibility buildings and space and help to children care during the session if necessary are always considered.

Respect for self-expression

The small tables in public sessions and its methodology allow for all kinds of people express themselves and discuss with neighbours the local situation and priorities.


The practice is committed with the principle of timeliness. It is publicized in all its stages through a communication campaign (website, facebook, outdoors advertising boards, billboards, newspapers, flyers etc.) in the different stages of implementation and decision. Citizens and all stakeholders are invited to participate and can even evaluate previous edition and help define the timeline of the following year.

The PB process promotes individualized clarification sessions before starting each edition helping all stakeholders to understand the functioning and rules of PB.


Cascais PB has an external consultant and an ongoing evaluation, as of 2011. The dedicated team supports each public engagement by providing all relevant information. Cascais has as well an open data website ( in which all PB data are available. And in everybody can follow the 88 winning projects.


The Participative Budget has allocated an annual amount defined by the executive city, to finance the projects that the citizens elect as a priority. The municipality decides on an investment related to the index of the population participation, in the minimum value of 1.5 million euros. In the last year for 58.567 votes the municipality provided 4,2M €, that represents 12% of annual investment in 2016.


For the past 6 years, PB has been taking place every year in the city of Cascais . It has not only been growing in numbers, but it also grown in its sustainability. The territory reflects an investment of 15,8 million euros, arose from 88 ideas from citizens.  The fact nobody lives more than 1.2km from a PB work underlines the impact in everyday life.


The participative process has led to the appearance of new citizenship initiatives through which municipality has improved its proximity and interaction toward citizens promoting dialogues, digitization and technological infrastructures or tools:

Youth PB – is a process through which students take decisions on an amount of 2500€/ year per school. – Site where citizens can follow PB process, includes pictures, videos, projects, technical analysis, documents and geo referenced building sites.

Fix Cascais – An app that allows reporting anomalies in public spaces: damaged sidewalk, or traffic light, etc. This takes part of a responsible citizenship policy in which everybody, resident or visitor is invited to help Cascais improve its territory.

City points – An App where citizens receive points for participating and having sustainable attitudes and can exchange these for rewards.

Online information in,, facebook.


The municipality is committed to doing everything for the emergence of a new democracy founded on the rule of participation and citizenship. They speak of a democracy with a new spirit, able to rebuild trust between governments and the governed.

Cascais is committed to implement devices of co-decision in public resources, such as the PB.

Country Context

a. Type of government

Portugal is a republic with a semi-presidential representative democracy. The Portuguese monarchy was abolished on 5 October 1910, Portugal’s constitution forbids changes to its republican way of government Chief of state and commander in chief of the armed forces is the president, he is elected by absolute majority vote through a two-round system.

The Head of government is the prime minister, he is appointed by the president.

Portugal has a multi-party system. Members of the Portuguese Assembly are elected through a closed-list proportional representation system.

b. Civic space (size of civil society, regulatory framework)

The Portuguese Republic is a country in western Europe, it comprises the continental part of Portugal on the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula and the small archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores in the Atlantic Ocean.

Portugal covers an area of 92,090 km², has a population of 10.3 million people (2015); capital and largest city is Lisbon with about 550,000 inhabitants. Cascais is next to Lisbon and has 206.000 inhabitants.

The Participation and the Cooperation Principles of Administration with Individuals are present in the Articles 266 to 268 of the Portuguese Republic Constitution – PRC.

“The Portuguese Republic is a democratic state based on the rule of law, the sovereignty of the people, plural democratic expression and political organisation, respect for and the guarantee of the effective implementation of the fundamental rights and freedoms, and the separation and interdependence of powers, with a view to achieving economic, social and cultural democracy and deepening participatory democracy” (Article 2 of PRC)

c. Open Budget Survey scores

According to Open Budget survey 2015, the Government of Portugal provides de public with substantial budget information is weak in providing the public with opportunities to engage in the budget process but by legislature and by audit is adequate. Initiatives like participatory budget can help Portugal to get better future performances.


Search Cascais in:

d. Score on TI Corruption Perceptions Index


The number of votes is only one of them. PB is deliberative and emerges as a decision-making process based on people power, so citizens have a continuous interaction in the whole process, which is the key element of our participation concept:

Communication (bms)

Public Sessions

Technical analysis


Implementation of the projects