7 Recommendations to write better Participatory Budgeting Tutorials

Johanna zum Felde of Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland

Nov 2, 2016

Data Art

In over 1,500 cities around the world citizens can decide how part of the budget is spent. These participatory budgeting processes are often accompanied with material of some form to inform and involve citizens. While these materials play a very important role, their type, content and design varies greatly, which leads to more and less valuable results. The question then is what are best practices for tutorial writing, especially for conveying complex topics such as participatory budgeting.

For the report “How to make Participatory Budgeting Tutorials - an Inventory” we have reviewed informational material distributed in participatory budgeting processes including manuals, handbooks, guidebooks, flyers and other forms such as videos in order to determine what we can learn from that for future tutorial writing. How can tutorials simultaneously fulfil the roles of giving clear information and encouraging participation? We have also conducted expert interviews to enrich our findings.

Good tutorials have the following components: well-structured, brief without neglecting detail, attractive, findable, engaging, and innovative. An often overlooked, but highly important aspect is accountability. This means that the outcomes of the process need to be communicated back to the citizens, participants need to receive feedback on how their input and the proposals they have voted for are implemented. We have summarized these seven points from the report in a hands-on list:

7 recommendations for tutorial writing:

1. Structure

The structure of the tutorial should be clear and consistent. A well structured table of contents, including hierarchies in headlines, listings and info boxes, is essential. Ideally the brochure is structured by questions citizens have on their mind and the corresponding answers to these questions.

2. Understandability

To be understandable concepts should be clearly introduced, developed and summarized. It is important that citizens are directly addressed and a thread runs through the whole text which connects single paragraphs. If specialized terms and jargon cannot be avoided, they have to be explained. One possibility is the inclusion of a glossary in the handbook itself.

3. Visualizations

The design and the visuals must be interesting and effective, the text needs to relate to the visualizations. Numbers should not be pure numbers but visualized in diagrams, graphics and comparisons. The tutorial by the German city Potsdam does this well by using a scale to illustrate the balance between revenue and expenditure.

Budget Scale in Potsdams manual

Budget Scale in Potsdams manual

4. Innovation and flair

We live in a world of social media and multimedia approaches. New forms of delivering information should be explored in order to increase engagement. This could be a video, transparency of processes and information integrated into the voting platform, a participatory writing approach or a design that catches our attention.

5. Quality of content, range of topics and appropriateness of depth

It speaks for itself that facts and numbers should be accurate. It is harder to communicate financial context, facts and numbers in such a way it is understandable to the general public. A good way to make sure to provide enough but not too much information is taken common citizen questions into account such as: why is the city in debt and use these questions as a constant to lead the reader through the information.

6. Accountability and context information

The success of participatory budgeting process depends among other things on the percentage of the budget that can be allocated through the participatory budgeting processes. Also the likelihood of the government suggestions and proposals allocations are crucially important for citizens participation in the process. To ensure accountability a manual should address questions about results of the last participatory budgeting processes. Finally, citizens must have a way of monitoring the implementation process.

7. Promoting engagement

A well written manual both explains the process and motivate people to participate. Taking into account the categories as we laid them out until here - structure, understandability, visualisation, innovation and flair, quality of the content and appropriate levels of depth, and accountability - helps to create engagement. Additionally, different engagement forms and opportunities need to be offered and, because the inclusiveness of the process is prerogative, special attention needs to be paid to language considering gender, ethics and race.


This post majorly builds on the work done for the report How to Make Participatory Budgeting Manuals: An Inventory and includes input by several authors and interviewees.