Participatory Budgeting in Wuppertal; Germany




This case was produced by Michelle Ruesch, Zebralog: [email protected] | Julia Kohake, Stadt Wuppertal: [email protected]

The “Bürgerbudget Wuppertal” (Participatory Budget Wuppertal) is a pilot project within the EU-funded Horizon 2020 project EMPATIA (“Enabling Multichannel Participation through ICT Adaptations”)[1]. The key goal of the pilot is to provide new means of participating in and learning about municipal budget decisions, with a focus on the integration of formats both on-site and online. In close cooperation with the recently established Wuppertal department for participation under the responsibility of the mayor and the treasurer, the pilot project aims at innovating the classical consultative German model of participatory budgeting. The online platform developed in the EMPATIA EU project was adapted and used to act as a kind of show window for the financial department of the municipality, channeling all aspects of information and participation regarding the municipal budget into one platform. As such, is a platform for both transparency and participation.

Wuppertal is a city of about 350.000 inhabitants, located in the state of North Rhine Westphalia, Germany. It has previous experience with several consultative Participatory Budgeting (PB) processes. However, just as in many other municipalities in Germany, the consultative model of PB had failed to provide a satisfying means for participation in budget decisions. One major problem that has been identified regarding the consultative model is the fact that only a minority of proposals by citizens can actually be implemented. This situation has often led to dissatisfaction amongst citizens, municipal staff and political representatives. More precisely, in the consultative PB process model, there is no predefined budget but citizens can submit proposals regarding the whole municipal budget, including both suggestions for cost cutting, such as the stop of funding a particular cultural site like a theatre, and ‘big ideas’ like the building of a new site or the restructuring of particular municipal processes. In the case of Wuppertal and many other German municipalities, the scope for change due to such proposals is very limited; many proposals cannot be accepted because they contradict previous city council resolutions, or certain political commitments like the promise not to cut the budget for cultural activities.

Against this background, the Wuppertal pilot set out in late summer 2016 to design and implement a model of PB with a clear scope of participation, including a defined financial scope of 150.000 €, a sum that may sound small compared to PBs in other countries but that is already in itself a success knowing that there is very little experience in Germany with actual citizen budgets that citizen can decide over. Moreover, the comprehensive new model of PB in Germany should also be used for sparking interest in municipal budget decisions beyond the 150.000 Euro, enabling citizens to understand how a budget works, how municipal staff and political representatives work, and how to deal with the challenge of limited resources. Another innovative element implemented in the PB process was the so-called “common good check”, where citizens assessed the TOP 100 ideas to their compliance with common good standards and what would benefit the citizens of the city of Wuppertal the most.

Basic Facts

  1. Stage in Fiscal Policy Cycle: Formulation

The participatory budgeting is closely linked to the municipal budget planning. The department of participation was assigned with the execution of the civic participation by the council order from 20.02.2017. The budget will include projects that citizens favored within the course of the civic participation process that will end before the council decision of the municipal budget at the end of 2017. The process therefore mainly enables participation in the formulation of budget relevant measures.

2. Lead institution: Executive

As mentioned above, the process has been initiatied by the Wuppertal city council [legislature]. The lead institutions regarding the PB implementation are the Wuppertal department for participation and the department for finance [both executive]. The mayor and treasurer of these departments are both closely involved in the process. Moreover, several civil society organisations took part in the PB process design [non-state].

3. Levels of Government involved: Local

The project is implemented on the local, municipal level.


To “reinvent” PB in Wuppertal, two process design workshops have been conducted with citizens and municipal staff, including the treasurer and the (now former) deputy mayor of participation. A core part of these workshops was to identify the objectives of PB in Wuppertal:

  • Citizens shall be able to better understand how a budget works and how municipal staff and political representatives work. (transparency)
  • The complex topic of budget planning, the dilemma of limited resources and therefore the necessity to make difficult decisions shall be made transparent to the public (democratic learning).
  • Thereby, the legitimacy of “harmful” decisions (e.g. cost cuts) shall be increased, and trust in these decision strengthened.

Moreover, a number of success factors – i.e. factors that are important to reach the identified goals of PB – were collected as part of the workshops:

  • Participation by many citizens and many different kinds of citizens (inclusiveness)
  • Positive interaction between citizens and municipal staff
  • Giving feedback on proposals, and only asking for proposals where there is a chance of implementation (e.g. no participation when there is no scope or willingness for it) (responsiveness)

In the workshops, it became apparent that the main goal of PB in Wuppertal concerns information provision, political education and legitimacy of budget decisions (and not so much distribution justice and involving the disadvantaged, as it is the case in processes similar to the original Porto Alegre model).

In order to measure the success, an extensive impact assessment strategy was developed in the framework of the EMPATIA project. The evaluation includes a focus group at the end of 2017, the demographic analysis (age, gender, education, postal code) of all participants, and two questionnaires to be completed by the participants and focusing on the effects of the participation on trust and satisfaction with political decisions. The results of this evaluation will be available at the end of 2017.

Authorizing Environment

With the establishment of the department of participation, the municipal council expressed a clear commitment to strengthening the civic participation. Different formats of civic engagement have been deployed for years. Furthermore, guidelines for civic participation are being developed in cooperation with citizens. This binding set of rules regulates how civic engagement processes can be initiated, which quality criteria must be adhered to, as well as who holds which responsibilities.

Moreover, the City of Wuppertal aims at designing communal actions even more open and transparent. Therefore it is an internal administrative goal to strenghten open data and the open data-portal. In addition to that, a variety of projects are conducted with local open government and open data activists, especially as a part of the participatory budgeting.

Enabling Environment: One can see a relation of the local efforts to promote open government and more civic participation with the German FOIA (freedom of information law). A more relevant factor, though, is the engagement of citizens that wish to be more informed about and included in the communal activities.

Who and How

The Wuppertal PB can be divided into two main pillars: 1. Information / Transparency and 2. Participation.

1. Information / Transparency provides an elaborate space for information about the municipal budget online. The focus is on providing easy to understand information in an attractive format like a quiz, FAQs and short videos developed in cooperation with a local youth media group (younect). For those who want to get more involved, there are some longer articles about the budget situation, and the possibility to download the current budget plan. It is also planned to integrate an open data visualization of the new budget (for the budget of 2018 – 2019). Moreover, there is a possibility to contact the finance department with questions regarding the budget. Once the questions are answered, the question and answer are published on the website. In addition to the information online, it is planned to provide information about the budget and the financial situation also at the citizen assembly in September 2017.


The information pillar of the project corresponds well with the GIFT Principles of Fiscal Transparency. In a first step, the focus of the pilot has been notably on the provision of “financial and non-financial information on past, present, and forecast fiscal activities, performance, fiscal risks, and public assets and liabilities” (Principle 3) in a form that is understandable for many citizens, not only the well-educated.

  1. Participation

As described above, a budget of 150.000 Euros was dedicated for citizen ideas. Here as well, the focus was on designing a process that is attractive for a diverse range of citizens and not only for those with a genuine interest in budget related topics.

In a first phase, between May 3 – 24, citizens could submit their project ideas online and via telephone, and rate them online until May 31. The criteria for the ideas were that they should (1) not cost more than 50.000 Euro, (2) be suitable for implementation within the next two years (i.e. within the fiscal cycle of Wuppertal), (3) be in the scope of municipal action, and (4) serve the common good. The first three criteria have been checked by the municipality already during the active phase 1, and only those ideas that fulfilled the criteria moved on to the next phase.

In the second phase, the TOP 100 project ideas (identified through the online ranking in phase 1) were subject of an elaborate “common good check” in a citizen assembly on June 7. In this assembly, the participants assessed and ranked the project ideas with a focus on the question in how far each idea contributes to the common good in Wuppertal. The assembly showed that with the right method, citizens are well capable of not only judging ideas based on their own interests but based on what is in the best interest for the city and its citizens. [2] The result was a list of TOP 30 project ideas that were passed on to a detailed check by the municipality with the aim of estimating the costs more precisely and explaining how this estimate has been generated, or what the reasons are in case an idea is not suitable for implementation after all. At the time of submitting this form for the GIFT award, the TOP 30 were still subject of the detailed check. The results will be published online in the beginning of September, making transparent all decisions taken.


In the third phase, the final project ideas will be opened for a city-wide voting. On September 14, all project ideas that passed the detailed check will be presented in a gallery walk at the voting event. Moreover, there will be information and accountability about the process of the detailed check, with the possibility to ask questions. Participants who attend the event will be able to talk to those citizens who submitted the project ideas, and vote on paper at the event. Alternatively, they can vote for their personal TOP 5 ideas online until October 5. As in Germany asking for ID card numbers in such participatory processes is not common and seen very critically, the verification process will occur via SMS, a method that is still rather new in the context of participation in Germany.
At the end of phase 3, the winner ideas will be announced, incorporated in the budget plan, passed through the city council as part of the budget resolution, and implemented. The city council has committed itself to accept the winner proposals, therefore the decision taken by the citizens during the voting is binding and the passing through the city council is only a formal procedure. A monitoring of the implementation (which ideas have been implemented) is possible with the EMPATIA platform. The support by the EMPATIA project will end in December 2017, but the platform can be used further by the city of Wuppertal.


Up to now, the number and diversity of participants has been rated as very successful. The municipality has launched a Facebook campaign[3] in order to target young people. Posters and flyers were distributed, and a small street campaign with a stall on a central square in Wuppertal in the first phase was used to address people directly. The project was also presented at schools, and the use of videos has also proofed very successful to spark an interest in the project. In phase 1, 266 project ideas and 157 comments were submitted, and 2300 “likes” were given to project ideas. About 1,400 people registered on the platform. The citizen assembly on June 7 was visited by about 170 citizens from diverse backgrounds. Moreover, a small group of eight citizens is part of the steering committee of the process which was notably engaged in the design of the process. These citizens responded to an open call by the municipality (published i.a. in local newspapers).

The participation process incorporates the GIFT principles very well:

  • Accessibility is ensured in that the information is publicly available on with a clear focus on easy to understand formats like a quiz and videos.
  • Openness and depth are provided i.a. by the FAQ information on the platform about the process, as well as the constant feedback and accountability on how the municipality dealt with the ideas (e.g. results of the criteria check).
  • Inclusiveness is one of the key aims of the project, with a focus on the younger generation.
  • Respect for self-expression was given by offering various ways of participation (online, telephone, paper, assembly).

Timeliness and complementarity were very important issues in the planning of the whole process, which was integrated closely with the fiscal cycle.

Results and Impact

The results and impact can only be assessed in a preliminary state as the process is still ongoing and the voting and monitoring phase have not taken place yet. However, it can be said already now that the process is designed to ensure that participation does make a difference. Citizens are given a clear scope (the budget). The municipality gives a feedback to all ideas (as part of the first criteria check), and an elaborate feedback with regard to the results of the detailed review.

Lessons Learned

At this moment the project is still ongoing. Therefore, it is not yet possible to outline the final lessons learned from the Wuppertal PB. However, some relevant evidences from the current state of the field can already be identified:

  • Ensuring sufficient time for internal processes and feedback by the municipality: It has become apparent that a key success factor is time (also see GIFT Principles). Internal feedback loops within the municipality need to be taken into account when defining the time schedule; there also needs to be room for reacting to unexpected issues.
  • Working with citizen proposals requires intense cooperation between citizens and municipality: The first phase of checking the criteria of the submitted ideas turned out to be more work intense and complicated than expected. Especially regarding the costs it was difficult to make realistic estimations because often the projects were described too vague for municipal standards. It is therefore crucial for future projects to include a phase of collaboration between citizens and municipality to refine the projects together.
  • Providing different channels of participation: Offering multiple channel of participation has proofed to be a crucial success factor. Although online-channels seem to be the major medium, the possibilities to participate via telephone and on-site were valued by citizens.
  • Providing training to municipal staff: As soon as different municipal departments are involved in the process, it should be ensured that all staff working with citizen proposals receive a good briefing on what to do, including how to communicate with citizens and how to give feedback in a way that is understandable for citizens.
  • Citizens as common good ‘checkers’: The format of putting citizens in the position to evaluate citizen proposals with respect to their contribution to the common good has proofed very successful. With a well thought through method, citizens are very well able to change their perspective and to look beyond their own personal interests.

Defining and addressing different target groups: In participation projects, the target group is often defined as “all citizens”. While this of course holds true for most municipal projects, it is helpful to define specific groups and develop respective mobilization formats. In Wuppertal, the decision was taken to address participants with the familiar “du”, something that may seem unusual for a municipal language but attracts young people much more that the formal “Sie”. Also, intensive use was made of Facebook which proofed to be a very successful mobilization format for young people.

Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy

Accessibility” has been one of the highest priorities of the Wuppertal PB. As it has been described above, one main pillar of the Wuppertal PB is the provision of information. On comprehensive information concerning all different stages of the municipal budget is provided. The special focus was to provide information easy to access and as understandable as possible. For example, it was the aim to reach especially the young generations via YouTube videos informing about the duties of the municipality.

The second principle “openness” has also played a major role during the whole participatory budget in Wuppertal. The aims and purpose of the PB in general are clearly communicated. At the different stages of the PB the reasons and motivation of the process are explained. E.g. the process and the timeline of the participatory budget in Wuppertal is explained and presented in detail, and it is explained what happened during the first criteria check through the municipality.

Another important goal of the Wuppertal PB has been to include and engage a wide range of different citizens and addresses the principle “inclusiveness”. Therefore multiple mechanisms have been used to inform, engage and attract all kind of citizens at different stages of the PB. In general a mix of online and on-site events were conducted. These reached from online-liking and voting tools to the submission of ideas via telephone or an on-site citizen assembly. To promote the homepage and therefore increase the accessibility to information and engage citizens for the public participation various promotion actions have been conducted: A series of reports on the local radio station, newspaper articles, two days of on-site rally campaigns in the city, extensive social media promotion on Facebook and on the municipal homepage, dissemination of flyers and two different video documentations of the citizen assembly. Through the comprehensive dissemination and promotion of the public participation, more than usual young people (children, pupils and students) took e.g. part at the citizen assembly, which was held in a school.

Respect for self-expression” plays a role in the Wuppertal PB in that individuals and communities are given the possibility to articulate their interests in their own ways: via telephone, on-site, online. Moreover, the submitted ideas have been open for discussion and users could comment online on the projects and discuss them at the citizen assembly.

Regarding “timeliness”, it can be stressed that the PB process is strongly interlinked with the budget cycle. The results of the participatory budget will be available after the 5th of October and therefore it will be sufficient time to include the winner ideas in the budget, which will be passed at the end of 2017.

Regarding the sixth principle “depth”, the municipality has intensively worked with the inputs of the citizens. Already during the first phase of the process, 266 ideas were checked by the municipality concerning the already mentioned three criteria: costs, duration of implementation and scope of municipal action. After the common good check through the citizens the TOP 32 ideas again were checked in detail through the municipality. Finally, in the voting event the municipality will answer questions in person regarding the success or failure of the different projects.

Proportionality” of the mechanisms of engagement were assured, as it already has been mentioned above through different options of participation: online, via telephone and as well on-site events.

An important aim of the Wuppertal PB has been to develop a sustainable process (corresponding to principle 8, “sustainability”). The platform is open source and the municipality can continue to use it. Furthermore, the process is designed in such a way that it can easily be repeated. Additionally there is a citizen steering committee that monitors and evaluates the whole process, with a specific focus on how to ensure that the process strengthens trust between citizens and municipality.

The whole PB process in Wuppertal complements and increases the effectiveness of existing governance systems (principle 9, “complementarity”). Through the provided comprehensive information citizens understand better how the budget works and decisions of the municipality are legitimated in a profound way.

Lastly, different mechanisms have been developed to ensure “reciprocity” during the whole process. All users of the platform obligate themselves to follow the rules of dialog when participating on When the municipality commented on ideas, this has been clearly marked. Also, at all on-site events members of the municipality were present, clearly identifiable and could be directly approached regarding questions, complaints or suggestions.

Country Context

a. Type of government: democratic, federal parliamentary republic
b. Civic space (size of civil society, regulatory framework): active civil society
c. Open Budget Survey scores: Transparency: 71/100, Public Participation: 23/100
d. Score on TI Corruption Perceptions Index: 81 (Germany, in 2016)