Gdansk Participatory Budgeting

Gdansk (Poland)


The Gdansk participatory budgeting initiative, inaugurated in 2011, exemplifies a transformative approach to civic participation in urban development. This program allocates a specific portion of the city’s annual budget, approximately 1% or around $1.5 million (6 million PLN), for projects directly chosen by its residents. The process involves several stages, including proposal submissionProposal submission involves formally presenting a plan, idea, or project to an organisation, committee, or funding body for consideration, approval, or support. The submission is then reviewed according to specific criteria or guidelines set by the receiving entity, which decides whether to proceed with the proposal based on its merits and alignment with the entity’s goals or priorities as well as in terms of feasibility. , feasibility evaluationIn participatory budgeting, feasibility evaluation assesses proposed projects for practicality and viability, considering cost, legal compliance, and community alignment. Experts ensure only achievable and sustainable projects reach public voting, maintaining the process’s integrity and effectiveness. by city officials, public discussionPublic discussion refers to the open exchange of ideas, opinions, and information among community members or the general public, often facilitated through forums, meetings, or online platforms. This process encourages participatory dialogue on various topics, promoting transparency and community involvement in decision-making or issue exploration., and ultimately, a city-wide voteA vote is a formal indication of a choice between two or more candidates or courses of action, expressed typically through a ballot. to determine the winning projects. Categories range from infrastructure, such as park and road enhancements, to community projects like educational workshops and cultural events. This initiative not only grants Gdansk’s citizens a direct say in the city’s development but also educates them on budgetary constraints and urban planning challenges. Over the years, participatory budgeting in Gdansk has led to the realisation of numerous projects, reflecting diverse community needs and fostering a collaborativeCollaborative refers to a process or activity involving joint effort among a group of people or organisations to achieve a common goal. It emphasises cooperation, teamwork, and shared decision-making, often leading to more inclusive and comprehensive outcomes by leveraging diverse perspectives and skills. relationship between the municipality and its residents. By embedding democratic values into the fabric of local governance, Gdansk’s participatory budgeting model has become a benchmark for cities worldwide seeking to enhance public engagement and transparency in municipal budgeting.

Sopot distinguished itself as the pioneering city in Poland to implement participatory budgetingParticipatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to allocate part of a public budget. It allows citizens to identify, discuss, and prioritise public spending projects, and then vote on which projects should receive funding. This process aims to make budgeting more transparent, inclusive, and reflective of community needs, fostering greater public involvement and accountability in fiscal decision-making., a democratic process allowing citizens to have a direct say in the allocation of municipal funds. This innovative approach in Sopot inspired activists in the neighbouring city of Gdansk to advocate for a similar initiative in their locality, illustrating a bottom-up pressure for adopting participatory budgeting.

Simultaneously, the success of this model in Sopot garnered attention from political leaders, particularly those affiliated with the same party as the Mayor of Sopot. The concept of participatory budgeting became fashionable and politically appealing, leading to a top-down push to replicate the initiative in other cities. This blend of grassroots demand and political endorsement culminated in launching the first edition of participatory budgeting in Gdansk. This highlights the intricate balance between citizen-led efforts and political influence in shaping local governance practices, underscored by the example of the adoption of participatory budgeting.

There are both good and bad practices in the field of participation in the city of Gdansk, underlying both successes and areas for improvement. Initially, the city witnessed a push for participatory budgeting and was the second city in Poland to adopt such an approach.

As time progressed, the city’s proficiency in participatory processes has improved, with notable success in co-developingCo-design is a collaborative approach where stakeholders work together to create solutions, products, or services, ensuring that outcomes meet diverse needs and perspectives. ideas with citizens. However, there remains a critical area for development: the implementation of co-designed and co-developed ideas. The legal enactment of proposals, the prolonged execution of minor projects, the disagreements over process outcomes, and managing vocal activists all pose challenges to developing participatory processes and make them a more integral part of policy-making in Gdansk.

There is a need for a strategic shift in the city administration’s approach to fully integrate and mainstream the experience and processes of participatory budgeting across all departments. Despite these hurdles, participatory budgeting has become a significant aspect of the city’s governance, touching upon various departments beyond those directly involved in the process. This widespread engagement is viewed as beneficial, providing a framework for discussion and serving as a model for other participatory tools within the city. There is an ongoing journey of enhancing civic participation and the commitment to refining the implementation of community-driven initiatives in Gdansk.

The financial resources for participatory budgeting are specifically earmarked and managed within the city’s overall financial planning. This allocation comes directly from the city’s budget, with explicit provision by the City Hall, enabling a structured and autonomous funding approach for these initiatives.

There are detailed recruitment and engagement strategies for participatory budgeting within their city. The recruitment process is largely self-driven, with efforts focused on public campaigns to attract participants. While acknowledging the effectiveness of current methods, there’s room to build on the potential to more actively target vulnerable groups using tools beyond standard city-wide campaigns. The approach relies on general invitations to the public to submit ideas to the participatory budgeting process, supplemented by activities like small festivals in various districts. However, these efforts do not specifically concentrate on engaging particular demographic groups.

Highlighting the visibility of their campaigns, the innovative uses of city buses as mobile billboards for promoting participatory budgeting. During the application and voting phases, buses are adorned with large stickers providing information about the initiative, enhancing public awareness. This tactic exemplifies the creative approaches taken to inform and involve the city’s residents in the participatory budgeting process, showcasing the city’s investment in making civic participation accessible and widespread.

Because the participatory budgeting process is entirely digital which may pose challenges for those less familiar with digital platforms, the participation of many citizens is made easier, but some vulnerable groups might find it more difficult to participate. Recognising this digital divide, the city is making efforts to better accommodate individuals with limited digital skills and accessibility.

Additionally, there’s a need to engage new residents, specifically the Ukrainian refugee community within the city. The predominance of information in Polish is seen as a barrier to their full participation. To address this, the city is working on translating materials into Ukrainian to encourage their involvement, highlighting the city’s openness to all residents without restrictions on participation. The only requirement is proof of residency within the city, for which there are various acceptable forms, such as employment, property ownership, tax payments, or association with local schools. This flexibility in proving residency underlines the city’s inclusive approach, aiming to ensure that a broad spectrum of the community can contribute to and benefit from the participatory budgeting process.

There is a differentiation in approach based on the nature of the projects. For infrastructural initiatives, the involvement of citizens may be limited during the preparatory phase, followed by a formal procurement process to select companies for execution, such as street paving. In contrast, for social or “soft” projects, the department responsible might issue a call for proposals, inviting NGOs to undertake the project’s implementation. For smaller projects, direct agreements with the project proposer might suffice, provided public procurement regulations are met.

The speaker emphasises the effort to include citizens who submit projects in every stage of preparation and implementation, although as mentioned earlier, the extent of this involvement can vary depending on the project type and the applicable public procurement procedures.

A nationwide law mandates the adoption of participatory budgeting in larger cities, specifying the minimum percentage of the city budget to be allocated for this purpose. This legal obligation ensures the systematic implementation of participatory budgeting across the country. The speaker also mentions innovative practices in cities like Dombrova Gornicha, where proposers of projects engage in deliberative meetings to decide on project implementation, showcasing the diversity in participatory budgeting approaches across Poland.

There are challenges facing the city’s participatory budgeting process, namely, the stagnation and declining engagement from the community. A renewed focus on the deliberative aspects of the process is needed to foster greater participation and innovation within the constraints of national legislation, which the city finds to be particularly stringent. Additionally, there’s an emphasis on improving the implementation phase to make it more efficient, straightforward, and expedient. The goal is to demonstrate to citizens that their contributions and ideas are being effectively realised.

There are also difficulties around executing projects, with some initiatives from the previous year remaining uncompleted due to various issues such as prolonged procurement processes, inaccurate cost estimations, or overly bureaucratic internal procedures. These challenges hinder the city’s ability to deliver expected results promptly, underscoring the need for process improvements to enhance the efficacy and visibility of participatory budgeting outcomes.

There are a degree of complexities involved in making participatory budgeting accessible and user-friendly for various groups within the city. The ongoing decision-making process regarding the integration of digital toolsDigital tools refer to software, platforms, and applications that utilise technology to facilitate tasks, processes, or communication. They can range from productivity software, such as word processors and spreadsheets, to collaborative platforms, social media, and specialised applications designed for specific industries or activities. Digital tools enhance efficiency, connectivity, and accessibility, allowing users to perform tasks more effectively and to collaborate and share information easily in the digital space. with the city’s existing assistance card system should be highlighted. The focus is on finding a digital solution that can effectively interface with the Citizens’ Assistance Card, although implementing such a system presents challenges. Specifically, while the backend of the chosen platform is open source, customising the frontend to meet the city’s unique requirements necessitates additional development work. This involves creating user interface elements that will operate seamlessly with the backend infrastructure provided by the DACD or potentially another platform.

Additionally, some of the digital tools under consideration include geographic functionalities, indicating an interest in incorporating mapping features to enhance the participatory budgeting process. This could suggest an emphasis on spatially relevant proposals or the facilitation of location-based participation, further illustrating the city’s efforts to innovate and improve the inclusivity and effectiveness of its participatory budgeting program.

The importance of context in the implementation of participatory budgeting tools across different cities should be emphasised. They argue that it is not feasible to directly transplant a tool that has been successful in one city to another due to varying legal, social, and political environments. Instead, the focus should be on drawing inspiration and learning from other cities’ experiences while tailoring the implementation to local conditions.

Moreover, the significance of the process in fostering a conducive atmosphere for meaningful deliberation and decision-making among participants should be thoroughly considered. They point out the necessity of having professional moderators to facilitate discussions in small groups, underscoring the role of skilled facilitation in ensuring effective participation. This approach reflects an understanding that the success of participatory budgeting hinges not only on the tools used but also on the quality of interaction and engagement among stakeholders within the specific context of each city.

The Gdansk Participatory Budgeting initiative, launched in 2011, stands as a tested model of civic engagement in urban development, allocating about 1% of the city’s annual budget (approximately $1.5 million or 6 million PLN) to projects chosen directly by its residents. This democratic process involves proposal submission, feasibility checks, public discussions, and a city-wide vote to select winning projects, covering diverse categories from infrastructure improvements to community and cultural projects. Initiated following the example set by the neighbouring city of Sopot, the push for participatory budgeting in Gdansk was driven by a combination of grassroots activism and political will, illustrating the power of bottom-up pressure and top-down endorsement in adopting new governance models. Over the years, this initiative has led to the realisation of numerous projects, reflecting the community’s diverse needs and forging a stronger relationship between the municipality and its residents. By embedding democratic values into local governance, Gdansk’s approach to participatory budgeting has become a benchmark for cities globally, aiming to enhance public engagement and transparency in municipal budgeting. Despite challenges in fully implementing co-designed ideas and the need for strategic integration across all city departments, participatory budgeting has significantly impacted Gdansk’s governance, highlighting the potential for participatory processes to become more integral to local policymaking and urban development.

Based on an interview conducted with Michal Zorena (, Head of Department for Social Development at the Municipality of Gdansk on 20 September 2023.


This participatory practice has been analysed as a case study also within the EUARENAS project. Further information can be found here.