How Cities Can Start Participatory Budgeting

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Participatory budgeting is a process that allows community members to decide how to spend part of a public budget. Guest author Ginny Browne explains how the city of Seattle incorporated the process and provides a toolkit for local leaders to follow suit.

This is a guest post by Ginny Browne.

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a better way to manage public funds. It is a democratic process that gives ordinary people real decision-making power over real money.

Participatory budgeting in action.

When former Seattle Councilmember Nick Licata first heard about PB, he was interested in what it would take to bring the practice to Seattle. In October 2014, Councilmember Licata reached out to the Participatory Budgeting Project.

Over the course of nine months, we worked with Councilmember Licata and his team to help them understand what it takes to launch PB, providing a series of public info sessions co-sponsored by community groups, meetings with city departments, a city council briefing, and many strategy meetings with the above groups.

In July 2015, Mayor Ed Murray and Councilmember Licata announced the city of Seattle would launch the second youth-led PB process in the U.S., calling it Youth Voice, Youth Choice. In its first year, the process engaged more than 3,000 young people in determining how to spend $700,000 of the city’s budget. The youth decided to fund seven projects related to services for youth and people experiencing homelessness.

Seattle’s Youth Voice, Youth Choice participatory budgeting group.

The nine months of intensive planning and engagement of local stakeholders set this PB process up for tremendous success. As PB continues to spread to cities, counties, districts, schools, public housing developments, and other types of public agencies, many community leaders are asking the same questions Councilmember Licata asked as he considered launching PB in Seattle.

Download the new PB Scoping Toolkit: A Guide for Officials & Staff Interested in Starting PB.

In response to the growing interest in launching PB, we created this toolkit for city officials and their staff. The toolkit answers questions about how PB processes typically work, what impacts PB creates, the kinds of budgets that can be used for PB, the types of resources and staffing needed for PB, and how to get started.

We hope the guidance, questions to consider, and sample PB materials in our new toolkit will support public officials like Councilmember Licata and other community leaders in launching PB and empowering real people with decision-making power over real money.

Featured image of Seattle from Getty Images.

About the author: Ginny Browne is the west coast project manager for the Participatory Budgeting Project. She has a background in community development and community organizing and a masters degree in Urban and Regional Planning from UCLA.