Participatory Budgeting

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a citizen engagement process through which community members decide how to allocate a portion of a public budget. Citizens make direct decisions about how government money is spent in their community by identifying and prioritizing public spending projects. Communities can choose to use the PB process to deepen citizen engagement, including for the use of eligible Department of Housing and Urban Development Housing and Community Development funds.

On December 6th 2013, the second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan was released, announcing 23 new or expanded open-government commitments that will further advance these efforts. This included a commitment to promote community-led participatory budgeting as a tool for enabling citizens to play a role in identifying, discussing, and prioritizing certain local public spending projects, and for giving citizens a voice in how taxpayer dollars are spent in their communities. The language from the commitment is as follows:

Promote Public Participation in Community Spending Decisions: Participatory budgeting allows citizens to play a key role in identifying, discussing, and prioritizing public spending projects, and gives them a voice in how taxpayer dollars are spent. Over a dozen cities around the country, such as Chicago, New York, Boston, Vallejo, and Greensboro, NC, already have had success inparticipatory budgeting processes to help determine local budgeting priorities. One way participatory budgeting can be utilized by cities is through eligible Department of Housing and Urban Development Housing and Community Development funds, which can be used to promote affordable housing, provide services to the most vulnerable citizens, and create jobs through the expansion and retention of businesses. The Administration is working in collaboration with the Strong Cities, Strong Communities initiative (SC2), the National League of Cities, non-profit organizations, philanthropies, and interested cities to: create tools and best practices that communities can use to implement projects; raise awareness among other American communities that participatory budgeting can be used to help determine local investment priorities; and help educate communities on participatory budgeting and its benefits.

Related Resources

Real Money, Real Power: Participatory Budgeting

This introductory video provides an overview of the basic steps in a participatory budgeting process, a short history of participatory budgeting around the world and in the U.S., and the personal experiences of participatory budgeting participants. The video was produced by the Participatory Budgeting Project and Meerkat Media.

Next Generation Democracy: How Innovative Leaders are Reaching More People, Bridging Community Divides, and Making Government Work

This white paper from the Participatory Budgeting Project offers an introduction to participatory budgeting tailored to city officials. It was produced as part of the Harvard Innovations in American Government Award, which Participatory Budgeting in New York City won in 2015.

Sample Ballot

This is an example of a public ballot used in the 2014 participatory budgeting vote in New York City's Council District 38. The ballot illustrates projects that have been developed by community volunteers through months of work in issue-area committees, with support from technical experts.

Public Spending, by the People: Participatory Budgeting in the U.S. and Canada 2014-15 
Public Agenda, May 10, 2016

As the first-ever comprehensive analysis of participatory budgeting in the U.S. and Canada, this report synthesizes data from 46 processes in 2014 and 2015. It highlights the ways in which process design, participant demographics, funded projects, and equity outcomes in participatory budgeting vary across cities and districts.

Participatory Budgeting's Promise for Democracy
Governing Magazine, July 19, 2016

This article reviews the Public Agenda's "Public Spending, by the People" report, emphasizing targeted outreach and collaboration with community-based organizations as particularly effective strategies for engaging historically disenfranchised communities in participatory budgeting.

Participatory Budgeting in New York City
Harvard University, Government Innovators Network, 2015

In 2015, the Harvard University Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation recognized participatory budgeting in New York City with an Innovations in American Government Award. This review underscores the successes of participatory budgeting in New York City participatory budgeting in the number of residents reached (up to 4 million) and its effective inclusion of residents typically excluded from voting in regular elections.

Policy Brief on Participatory Budgeting at the City Level

Drawing on three case studies, this policy brief lays out examples of successful citywide participatory budgeting processes and outlines a model for scaling up district-level or other sub-municipal initiatives.

Putting in Their 2 Cents
New York Times, March 30, 2012

In this in-depth article, the New York Times documents the first year of participatory budgeting in New York City from the perspective of diverse actors in the process, including council members, participants, and city staff. The article explores the engagement process, the evolution of projects from an initial brainstorm to proposals on a ballot, and the challenges that arise when citizens and government work together in a new way.

Participatory Budgeting Project

The Participatory Budgeting Project, a national non-profit organization, has many resources on PB in the United States available on their website at www.participatorybudgeting.org.