PB Explained

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members decide how to spend part of a public budget. It gives people real power over real money.

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Community Design

A representative committee designs and set rules for the process.

Brainstorm

ideas for projects

Project Development

Proposal ideas are formed into feasible projects

Vote

The community votes on projects that they want funded

Fund Winners

The government/institution funds the winning projects

Deliberative and Participatory Democracy

Participatory budgeting (PB) is deliberative democratic process wherein ordinary people allocate a portion of a public budget through a binding decision or vote. In PB, participants are experts, project developers and decision-makers rather than mere spectators or advisors. PB makes public decisions about public money more equitable and transparent while serving as an investment in civic education and leadership building. 

The PB Process

Participatory budgeting begins with elected officials dedicating resources to the process and defining broad goals and constraints. From there, the PB process can vary widely depending on the specific community and the overall goals of a particular process but the essential structure is the same. Usually, the municipality convenes a PB steering committee representing a diverse cross-section of the community. The Steering Committee works with staff to refine objectives and constraints, determine process rules and timelines, and develop an outreach plan. This information is assembled in a process "rule book" to ensure that everyone has the same access to information to impact the process. 

 

The formal process begins by inviting the community to brainstorm project ideas. Budget delegates and City staff distill ideas, refine project ideas, and develop them into feasible projects that come back to the community for deliberation and final, binding vote. The projects with the most votes are implemented. A key difference in PB is the public's participation is not advisory –  the vote itself decides which projects will be implemented with available funds.

Adapting PB

Successful PB is designed around specific defined goals and outcomes such social inclusion, civic or voter education, community building, increasing trust and transparency or informing broader spending priorities.  Participants at the April 2018 Community Forum "Bringing Participatory Budgeting to the Portland-region" emphasized participatory equity and social and racial inclusion as clear priorities for PB in Oregon.

PB processes have been used to allocate capital improvements for schools, parks, and transportation or for art, economic development & social services in the context of cities, schools, public housing, and private foundations. PB has even been envisioned for reallocating resources for criminal justice reform. However, research indicates whatever the specific goals, the most impactful PB delegates greater discretion to participants in designing the process and proposing and selecting projects.