Is language a nightmare in your participatory budgeting implementation?


This is a reality I know it exists, but I haven’t had many experiences with.

In Portugal even big cities don’t have a huge foreign speaking community. In over 30 clients we have in the country, not one spoke of this as a problem.

But in my visits or meetings with specialists from countries like the USA or UK, this issue usually comes up. Not only they have higher rate of foreigners, but also they tend to focus on minorities in participatory budgeting.

In theory this can also be a problem in countries with many languages such as Belgium, South Africa or China.

The easy way out is to say NO. Participatory budgeting will be in just one language.

But then we are creating exclusion barriers.

Making minorities more engaged will have social and economic benefits. So you must reach them in their native language. They are an important part of your society.

you must reach them in their native language

Sometimes the problem is with the platforms. As they only support this or that language, and not ours. For example, although many Portuguese know English I wouldn’t deploy an English platform as it would be a step towards failure.

Technology nowadays help people communicate better. We have translators on our smartphones and automatic translation of TV. Social networks ease translation of posts.

So why participatory budgeting doesn’t makes use of this technology?

In technology terms we have two paths: automatic or manual translation.

Google translator (or any other engine) provide a nice and easy way to provide effortless translation. Will there be errors? YES! Can you live with them? Depends… in the past they had a way for you to control certain translations for your specific website. Nowadays they don’t, so it’s harder to trust.

Most people I’ve talked to refer this as a major adoption problem.

Participatory budgeting projects focus on local issues and the probability of having local terminology translated in the wrong way is high.

At Participare we opted to allow the organizer to specify which languages wants to make available. He can then update the platform with official translations for every text, project detail, etc..

That way, when a citizen accesses the participatory budgeting platform he will see all the information in the language of its preference.

Proposal submission, if allowed, also have easy submission in different languages. Or you as organizer can translate it afterward.

Is this a correct approach? I think it is.

And you? Do you have this problems? What do you think of our strategy?

Writen by César Silva @ ChangeTomorrow

You can reach me at

This blog is a place of experience and thoughts sharing around democracy, participatory initiatives and citizen engagement.

This blog reflects the thoughts of ChangeTomorrow team, its guest bloggers or interviewers.

ChangeTomorrow is a provider of Participatory Budgeting solution called Participare and a spinoff of portuguese market leader WireMaze.

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