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.
A representative committee designs and set rules for the process.
ideas for projects
Proposal ideas are formed into feasible projects
The community votes on projects that they want funded
The government/institution funds the winning projects
What is Participatory Budgeting?
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, transparent and accountable while serving as an investment that builds community, civic education, and leadership for everyone.
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. Voting is followed by implementation of the winning projects, the project implementation phase. Ideally, the process then then begins again with a new Steering Committee. However best practice involves some sort of evaluation phase that then refines and improves process implementation before the process restarts.
PB Impacts & Benefits
The most recent global surveys indicate over 11,000 municipalities have launched PB with over 30,000 PB cycles on all continents excepting Antartica. PB is probably most researched mechanism of participatory democracy with hundreds of studies examining what works and what doesn't to achieve different goals and outcomes. See this Research Brief "Impacts of PB: What We Know" for a small sample of this research. PB has been shown to increase civic learning and skills, build community and solidarity, foster trust and more trustworthy government, expand the number and diversity of people voting and participating in government decision-making, and result in more equitable investments and more effective service delivery. Research finds successful PB has both wide community participation and strong leadership from public offiicals, is designed around specific defined goals and outcomes (e.g. social inclusion, civic or voter education, community building, increasing trust & transparency or informing broader spending priorities); and allocates more funds per-capita. The is also evidence that the more discretionary the funds allocated through PB or the wider range of projects participants can propose and select, also increases the number and diversity of people that participate.
Adapting PB for Oregon
Successful PB is designed around specific defined goals and outcomes such as 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. See the Community Forum Report for details.