DELIBERATIVE & PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY
Participatory budgeting begins when elected officials dedicate resources to the process and define broad goals and constraints. In PB, participants are elevated to context experts, project developers and decision-makers rather than spectators or advisors. PB makes public decisions about public money more equitable and transparent while serving as an investment in civic education and community and leadership building.
THE PB PROCESS
Participatory budgeting begins with elected officials dedicating resources to the process and defines broad goals and constraints. From there, the PB process can vary widely depending on the specific community 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 funded and implemented.
Participatory Budgeting can be designed around specific goals and outcomes such as civic or voter education, community building, repairing broken trust, increasing transparency or informing broader spending priorities. Participatory equity and social inclusion were clear priorities articulated by participants at the April 2018 Community Forum "Bringing Participatory Budgeting to the Portland-region."
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 authorities, and private foundations. PB has even been envisioned for reallocating resources for criminal justice reform. However, research indicates the most impactful PB allocates fully discretionary funds that can provide the widest latitude for the community to develop and select projects.