Seoul's participatory budgeting system(PB)
Seoul Metropolitan Government

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Before the introduction of the participatory budgeting (PB) system, the budget of Seoul City had been allocated and spent, in most cases, in accordance with the government-led process outlined by the Seoul City Ordinance on Financial Operation. Every July, the Ministry of the Interior distributed the budgeting guidelines to the local governments, which then delivered it to all departments, so that they could make budget allocation decisions for next year based on the guidelines and submit their budgets to Seoul Metropolitan Council 50 days before the beginning of the next fiscal year. The biggest problem with this budgeting process is that it does not sufficiently reflect the opinions of citizens as taxpayers, who are affected most directly by the financial plan. This top-down approach to budgeting based on the decisions made by city officials and a small number of experts had been accepted as standard procedure and those who were able to express, as well as how they expressed, their opinions about the budget had been determined exclusively by the governments. Since the launch of the local government system in Korea in 1995, the government has introduced a wide range of direct democratic projects, such as the “Citizens’ Suit,” “Recall Election,” and “Citizens Initiative,” in a bid to allow the local government system to take root and citizens to exercise their right to participate in the decision-making process. Unfortunately, however, the government made little effort to lay the foundation for the direct democratic process in the area of finance in public administration. Even in the late 1990s, when the basic framework for citizen autonomy was established with the enactment of the Local Autonomy Act and Local Finance Act, the PB system was excluded from any discussion in the field of public administration. It was only in 2003 that the Presidential Committee on Government Innovation and Decentralization finally included the adoption of the PB system in its “Roadmap for Decentralization.” Civic society, on the other hand, showed interest in making the PB system law as early as 2001. In 2013, the Budget Monitoring Network, a government budget watchdog, officially proposed the introduction of the PB system to local governments, which motivated civil society organizations in all regions to call for the enactment of a PB ordinance in each region. The top-down approach to the budgeting proces prior to the introduction of the PB system excluded taxpayers, the main agent of financial democracy, from the area of finance, an important axis of public administration. Without citizen engagement, the traditional budgeting process was fraught with misallocations of public financial resources and failed to reflect local residents’ needs for funding in their everyday lives.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Seoul City adopted the PB system, which allows citizens to propose how and where to spend a portion of the citywide budget and then has the Participatory Budget Council deliberate on the proposals, as a solution to the lack of citizen participation and failure to reflect their opinions in the budgeting process. The PB system was introduced after Park Won-soon took office as the mayor of Seoul, as it was one of his campaign promises. In 2012, Seoul City, Seoul Metropolitan Council, and the Seoul City Participatory Budgeting Network, which consists of 28 civic organizations, held workshops and discussions and collected opinions, after which Seoul Metropolitan Council passed the Ordinance on the Operation of Participatory Budgeting in Seoul City in May 2012, signaling the launch of PB in Seoul.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
It is noteworthy that the majority of PB projects are projects designed to resolve inconveniences that local citizens face in their everyday lives. The number of PB projects chosen for 2016 accounts for 77.5 percent, or 623 projects, and the average budget allocated to each project is less than KRW 100 million. These PB projects are designed to fund local community-led events or education programs and programs for the underprivileged, filling in the cracks of the welfare program. It is noteworthy that citizens have tended to select and prioritize the projects that the government had previously neglected, as they are the ones who are directly affected by them in day-to-day life. Over the last five years, 10,967 projects, requiring funding of KRW 3.2617 trillion in total, have been proposed by local citizens, with 1,993 projects having been chosen from among them and KRW 240.6 billion in funding having been spent for their implementation. By ensuring citizens’ participation in the budgeting process, the PB system in Seoul aims to allocate financial resources in transparent, democratic, and efficient ways and identify and prioritize public spending projects that are closely related to citizens’ daily lives, thereby enhancing citizens’ trust in the city administration. Toward this end, Seoul manages the PB projects by dividing them into citywide projects and community-driven projects, taking into account the nature of Seoul as a massive city with a population of over 10 million, on the one hand, and the need for local residents to enjoy a higher quality of life, on the other. The citywide projects are those that are closely related to the major projects that Seoul City is pursuing in order to solve urban problems in diverse areas, including welfare, women’s affairs, culture, tourism, transportation, housing, safety, environment, parks, employment, and the economy. Seoul City reserves some KRW 35 billion for these projects. The community-driven projects are designed to resolve the inconveniences that local citizens face on a day-to-day basis. Seoul City allocates KRW 50 million to each of the 25 local districts for community development. Seoul City’s partnership with the 25 local districts was critical to the successful establishment and smooth operation of the PB system. In 2012, 17 districts enacted local PB ordinances, followed by the remaining eight districts a year later, contributing to the vitalization of the PB system.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
Seoul City’s PB system is characterized by citizens’ participation in every step of the budgeting process, from project proposal to deliberation and decision-making, setting Seoul City’s PB system apart from others. The PB ordinance stipulates the formation of the Participatory Budgeting Committee, which consists of 250 ordinary citizens chosen in consideration of their gender, age, and area of residence. The committee deliberates on the projects developed by citizens and prioritizes them. The final decisions are made by both citizens and the committee. Especially noteworthy is that the PB process utilizes the “mVoting” mobile application, which aims to increase citizens’ direct participation in the budgeting process. Citizen mVoting was introduced in 2015, and over 110,000 people, accounting for over one percent of the total population of Seoul, have voted using the mobile voting system. First and foremost, the success of Seoul City’s PB system can be attributed to its citizen-driven decision-making process and operation of related citizen participation programs. Second, the capability of the participating citizens has contributed to its success as well. To foster such capability, Seoul City runs the Budget School to provide budgeting training for the members of the Participatory Budgeting Committee. Third, civil servants in relevant departments participate in the subcommittee meetings and help citizens make good decisions by offering their opinions on the feasibility, efficiency, and propriety of funding. Last but not least, Seoul City releases updates related to the PB system on its website ( on a regular basis and encourages citizen participation using the mVoting mobile application.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
Seoul City has been operating the PB system for six years, ever since the enactment of the PB ordinance in 2012. Also, each of the city’s 25 local districts has a local PB committee, which serves as a liaison between Seoul City and local residents. Seoul City’s PB system is managed by the Planning and Coordination Office, which is responsible for drawing up and revising Seoul City’s work plans and functions as a general control center in relation to budgeting and legislation. The civil servants in charge of financial management in the Planning and Coordination Office provide administrative support for the PB process by deciding the budget to be allocated to PB projects, collecting project ideas developed by citizens, and preparing for subcommittee meetings. The Participatory Budgeting Committee, which consists of 250 experts, representatives of civic organizations, and civil servants, is the highest decision-making body related to Seoul City’s PB system. It could be said that the main beneficiaries of Seoul City’s PB system number at around 233,547 Seoul citizens, or roughly 2.3 percent of the population of Seoul, including members of the Participatory Budgeting Committee and citizens who proposed PB projects. After adding the number of people who have participated in electronic voting in the final stage of deciding the winning PB projects, the number of beneficiaries becomes far larger. From a broader perspective, however, the actual beneficiaries of the PB system are all 10 million citizens of Seoul. By opening the closed-door process of fiscal decision-making to the public, Seoul’s PB system is a mechanism that makes participatory budgeting part of the fabric of grassroots democracy.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The ultimate purpose of Seoul City’s PB system is to promote citizen engagement in the budgeting process. To that end, Seoul City holds discussions on how to improve the system early every year with the Participatory Budgeting Committee, civic organizations, and financial experts. For this year’s PB management, Seoul City formed a financial democracy taskforce and held over 20 discussions to draw up plans for PB projects. Any resident of Seoul is welcome to propose PB projects via the Internet, by mail, or in person over a period of 40 days from March to April every year. The following is a summary of the process through which PB projects are prioritized: 1. Review of project feasibility by each relevant office in terms of legal, economic, and various other factors 2. Presentation by citizens who proposed projects and on-site inspections by citizens 3. Written reports on project feasibility, efficacy, and budget by civil servants in related areas 4. Evaluation of project feasibility, efficacy, and benefits through discussions and deliberative polls 5. Selection of top 30 percent of projects in each category at joint public-private meetings and prioritization of the projects in accordance with the evaluation by all Participatory Budgeting Committee members and a majority vote. 6. Final decisions made on project priorities based on the approval of the Participatory Budgeting Committee members (40 percent), mVoting (50 percent), and Budget School members (10 percent). 7. Follow-up monitoring of the PB projects by the Participatory Budgeting Committee to identify any budget waste and ensure the smooth implementation of the projects. To promote the PB system, Seoul City formed a team of seven civil servants from the Planning and Coordination Office working in areas related to financial management, and tasked them with the operation and administration of the system. There is also a budget team in each of the 25 local districts, the members of which include one or two civil servants in charge of the PB system who serve as liaisons to promote cooperation between Seoul City and the local district. In addition, Seoul City operates the Participatory Budgeting Committee, consisting of 250 citizens, and there is a local participatory budgeting committee in each of the 25 local districts. Seoul City sets aside KRW 50 billion every year for the PB projects, which accounts for as much as 31.7 percent of the KRW 157.1 billion in available public funding, excluding uncontrollable expenditures and mandatory spending, in the citywide budget of KRW 27.5038 trillion (in 2016). Over the last five years, citizens have proposed 10,967 projects, requiring funding of KRW 3.2617 trillion (average of KRW 652.3 billion f 2,193 projects annually), and a total of KRW 240.6 billion has been spent so far for 1,993 PB projects. It has been Park Won-soon, the mayor of Seoul, who has played the most decisive role in securing financial resources. The PB system was Mayor Park’s major by-election promise in terms of city finance in 2011. He began pursuing the PB system after he took office.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
At the end of 2011, newly elected Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon pushed the enactment of an ordinance for the PB system. As the capital of Korea adopted its PB system rather late compared to other cities and provinces in Korea, the Seoul City Participatory Budgeting Network, consisting of 28 civic organizations, persistently demanded that legislation for a PB system be passed. In response, Seoul City formed an organic cooperative system with civic organizations and Seoul Metropolitan Council and engaged in discussions regarding the adoption of PB and, before the final enactment of the ordinance, held public hearings on its formulation.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The greatest achievements of the PB system in Seoul City are that it has encouraged citizens to participate in the most closed-door process of fiscal decision-making, enhanced transparency in the management of public funds, helped identify the problems closely intertwined with citizens’ everyday lives, and thus improved financial democracy and secured taxpayers’ control over the budgeting process. Moreover, numerous projects have been proposed for underprivileged people and those who have fallen through the cracks of the traditional budgeting process. Also, the wide array of local projects developed by citizens to address the problems in their everyday lives has enhanced the self-sustainability of the local districts, which has in turn contributed to the sustainability of Seoul City’s PB system. The following is a list of the projects that have been proposed and prioritized by citizens. 1. Creation of Eunpyeong-gu Sharing Center (KRW 1.2 billion) - The world’s first sharing center created through a participatory project proposed by a citizen in 2013. It won the grand prize at the 2015 Creative Seoul Awards in the Innovation category. 2. Jung-gu Safe Village for Women (KRW 230 million) - This project was based on an idea proposed by students majoring in police administration at Dongguk University as a way of promote the safety of women when walking alone at night. It was chosen in 2015 and won the grand prize at the 1st Korean Crime Prevention Awards held by the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency and the daily newspapier Joongang Ilbo. 3. Seongbuk-gu Multicultural Library (KRW 340 million) - Seoul City’s first multicultural library, opened in Seongbuk-gu, serves as an education center for the over 9,000 multicultural residents living in the Seongbuk-gu area. Through books, it aims to help local residents better understand diverse cultures and improve their communication skills. 4. Forest Book Bus in Ssangmun Park on Choansan Mountain, Dobong-gu (KRW 100 million) - A children’s library run by local volunteer workers. A Dobong-gu-based bus company donated a large bus, which Dobong-gu remodeled to create the library. 5. Gwangjin-gu Toy Library (KRW 286 million) - A toy library with over 600 toys that visitors can rent for up to two weeks. This project was chosen in 2015.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
When Seoul City introduced the PB system, Seoul Metropolitan Council raised questions regarding the infringement of its exclusive right to vote on the budget. It therefore took a negative stance on the adoption of the PB system and the PB project budget was cut by 5.7% during the budget deliberations in 2012, the first year of the PB system. In order to resolve the tension between Seoul Metropolitan Council and the Participatory Budgeting Committee, Seoul City has held hearings and discussions with Seoul Metropolitan Council every year since before drawing up the operational plans in order to build consensus with the council. As a result, the participatory project budget cut that was made by the council during the budget deliberations has been reduced considerably. Another obstacle was the concern over the possibility of unfair budget allocations based on the subjective preferences of local districts or communities. Also, some local districts that were in relatively poor financial condition tended to think of the KRW 50 billion in funding allocated for PB projects as special financial resources intended for the projects they had long pursued. In an effort to resolve this misconception, Seoul City selected 90 percent of the 250 members of the Participatory Budgeting Committee from among citizens who had applied to serve on the committee and the remaining 10 percent from among those who had been recommended by Seoul City and Seoul Metropolitan Council. Also, Seoul City has made the entire PB project prioritization process accessible to the public on its website and selected nine subcommittees, including the Health and Welfare Subcommittee, to deliberate on and revise it.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
Seoul City’s PB system focuses on how to better incorporate citizens’ opinions into the entire budgeting process, from ordinance enactment and the formulation of operational plans to the holding of committee meetings and operation of the Budget School. The committee members were chosen in consideration of their age, gender, and area of residence. Especially, members of social minority groups, such as women, seniors, people with physical disabilities, members of multicultural families, and youths, were given priority in order to secure their participation. To ensure fairness in the prioritization of citizen-driven projects, Seoul City makes the entire process accessible to the public and allows any citizen to join, through both online and offline channels, so as to encourage citizen engagement as much as possible. This is what makes Seoul City’s PB system so unique. Seoul’s PB system has played a decisive role in improving fiscal transparency through the transparent and fair formation and operation of the Participatory Budgeting Committee and deliberation on and prioritization of PB projects. It has also promoted citizen involvement by providing citizens with budgeting training. Thanks to Seoul City’s participatory budgeting scheme, many small but practical projects that had not previously received any attention in the traditional budgeting process now have a chance to be carried out. The types of projects chosen most frequently every year include those directly related to citizens’ safety, such as the installation of surveillance camera systems, street lamps, and security lights, and those that provide a higher quality of life for seniors and multicultural families and promote women’s safety. As these projects tend to be proposed mostly in remote regions populated by low-income families, rather than more affluent areas with better infrastructure, Seoul City’s PB system is expected to have a positive impact on the equitable distribution of public financial resources and community integration. In addition, the Communal Participatory Budgeting Committee is led by male and female co-chairs and comprised of both men and women, who were selected in consideration of their gender and age in order to ensure gender equality. [Gender Ratio in the Communal Participatory Budgeting Committee (2012~2016)] ----------------------------------------------------- Classification 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 ----------------------------------------------------- Total 232 228 234 212 216 Men 112 124 121 102 124 Women 120 104 113 110 92 ----------------------------------------------------- Seoul City created the PB website ( in 2013 in order to make all projects proposed by citizens, the review process, and all details of the meetings accessible to the public, thereby ensuring the fair and transparent operation of the system. Seoul City encourages local residents to join the Communal Participatory Budgeting Committee and suggest PB projects on the website, by email or regular mail, or in person. Seoul created the Seoul City Financial Portal ( to make the city government’s fiscal information accessible to the public and launched the mVoting mobile voting application to facilitate citizens’ participation in PB. The impact of PB in Seoul can be measured by calculating the number of people who have been involved in the PB process. A total of 233,537 citizens, including members of the Participatory Budgeting Committee, have suggested or participated in the citywide or community-led PB projects. Also, over 100,000 people exercise their right to vote for the projects they prefer using the mVoting application every year. Seoul City’s PB system is currently being benchmarked by 15 provinces and cities across the nation, including Gyeonggi-do, Busan, Daegu, Gwangju, Chuncheongbuk-do, and Gangwon-do.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Seoul City makes details on every step of each PB project, from proposal acceptance to the review and final decision, open to the public via the website, which has had a positive impact on public administration. Citizens have easy access to up-to-date information on the projects that have been proposed by citizens, are able to participate in the activities of the Community Participatory Budgeting Committee in relation to citizen-driven projects, and can question the legitimacy of the projects being undertaken by the city in real time. Furthermore, the PB website includes a budget waste report center, allowing citizens to report any budget waste and monitor budget officials. Under the PB system, civil servants provide administrative support for the promotion of citizen participation, but they play only a limited role in budgeting, which means that civil servants are prevented from abusing their authority or engaging in any public corruption through the PB system. The PB system thus contributes to transparent information sharing, budget transparency, and the reinforcement of civil servants’ duties as supporters and promoters of citizen participation. Seoul’s PB system, which celebrates its sixth anniversary this year, offers taxpayers an opportunity to experience direct democracy and exercise their right to make decisions. Citizens’ project ideas that aim to improve the quality of citizens’ everyday lives are reviewed and approved by other citizens, eventually creating a virtuous cycle and promoting more active citizen engagement. Also, the city publically releases up-to-date information on the entire PB process on its website on a regular basis so that anyone who is interested can participate in PB, which contributes to increasing public trust and transparency in city government.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
The members of the Participatory Budgeting Committee have been chosen in consideration of their gender and age. Also, Seoul City has been making a special effort to maintain gender equality on the committee by having it led and operated by male and female co-chairs since 2013, in a bid to prevent any problems related to gender inequality that could arise if the committee were male-dominated. Seoul has been supporting diverse projects that aim to create jobs for women and seniors and support youths and people with physical disabilities, contributing to increasing the quality of life for social minority groups. The city government has spent KRW 39.4 billion from a total budget for the poorest and most vulnerable for the last five years, which took 16.4% of the total municipal budget of KRW 240 billion. [PB Projects Supporting Social Minority Groups (2013~2017)] (Unit: KRW million) Classification/Citywide Budget/Budget Allocated to PB Projects(%)/Women/Multicultural Citizens/Seniors/People with Physical Disabilities/Homeless/Youths Total 240,569 39,410 (16.4%) 3,447 1,929 13,486 5,520 1,578 13,450 2013 47,107 9,435 (20.0%) 888 300 804 2,157 260 5,026 2014 44,811 8,991 (20.0%) 420 470 2,156 1,613 700 3,632 2015 50,037 6,668 (13.3%) 700 214 2,875 838 450 1,591 2016 48,656 6,414 (13.1%) 517 15 3,557 48 32 2,245 2017 49,958 7,902(15.8%) 922 930 4,094 864 136 956

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Seoul Metropolitan Government
Institution Type:   Local Government  
Contact Person:   YANG RYE JUN
Title:   Financial relations  
Telephone/ Fax:   82-2-2133-6863
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   110, Sejing-daero, Jung-gu
Postal Code:   04524
City:   Seoul

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