Entering the State: Civil Society Activism and Participatory Governance in Brazil

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Participatory governance programs, which institutionalize government–civil society interactions through the promotion of public deliberation and decision making, are being adopted by local governments to harness a wide range of outcomes believed to be positively associated with citizens' and civil society organizations' active involvement in public life. This article draws from an original survey administered to 833 individuals elected to leadership positions in Brazil's municipal-level participatory budgeting program. Analysis of these data using a series of outcome variables and a set of individual- and municipal-level variables demonstrates that civil society organization (CSO) leaders now engage in direct negotiations with other CSOs, form alliances with other CSOs and carry these practices into other institutional venues, which helps to undercut traditional clientelistic practices while also empowering citizens and enhancing the quality of democracy. Further, citizens living in communities that directly benefit from public works won through participatory budgeting are empowered by credible state commitment. Citizens not directly affiliated with a CSO continue to rely on their direct connections to government officials, thus demonstrating that individuals' type of involvement in civil society has a significant impact on how participatory governance arrangements can affect basic state–society relationships.