Kristina Banks and Ingrid Haftel from the Participatory Budgeting Project share reflections on the intersections between sociocracy and participatory budgeting (PB)--and how they are experiencing the transformative power of this shared governance systemically, organizationally, and individually.
Digitization. It’s the threat that modern democracies, and especially cities, must solve – at least according to current dialogues on digital regulation. Many of the social and political problems our cities face today have been exacerbated by technology. Social media and other digital tools have increased the spread of misinformation and overall weakened public trust in our civic, social and political institutions. Recent developments in virtual reality and artificial intelligence raise new concerns for issues around surveillance, bias, automation and exploitation, especially with increasing public scrutiny on technology giants like Meta and Google.
Cities around the world today are beset with problems of unequal development and spatial inequality. While the details of American suburban sprawl and urban decline might be unique to this country, the broader struggle over deeply unequal, segregated cities and regions is, unfortunately, one experienced around the world. Whether in the spreading rustbelts across shrinking industrial cities or in the mega cities and informal communities of the Global South, inequality is played out at the level of neighborhood and street — and it is visible everywhere. At the root of these struggles over physical spaces and the right to the city are questions of governance that are local yet also global: How should governments, residents, business interests, nonprofit organizations, and others work together in ways that produce more meaningful, just, and prosperous connections between people and places?
The assemblies started to happen in the times when there was a general feeling (in Europe) that everything was possible. After the economic crisis, municipalist movements came to life and older ideas of different political and economic systems (socialism, communism) became a possibility again. People suddenly realized that representative democracy really doesn’t work and that alternative ways of decision making closer to communities are needed. This new optimistic wave of democracy was extremely strong in Maribor, which meant that a lot of people wanted to be part of the change. This resulted in a really high level of participation at citizens’ assemblies at the beginning. However, it must be said that even then mostly older generations, who still remember how self-management (at the workplace and at the municipal/city districts level) worked in Yugoslavia participated.
Porto Alegre’s famous PB experiment put the city’s budget in the hands of its citizens (and included a sophisticated process to ensure broad participation), but more usually, PB has been implemented to make decisions within just a single agency or a local district. And unless robust outreach is built into the process, PB can become the domain of neighborhood busybodies already adept at advocating for themselves through local politics. That could be why it’s not better known! But PB does have benefits regardless. It’s one way to include people unable to vote in a decision-making process, such as undocumented immigrants and teens. And research shows PB increases voter engagement during formal elections. The process also lifts the veil on public finances, even if just to show how unequal they are.
Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan is pledging $100 million from the city’s general fund to invest in communities of color. But where is that money going to go? And who is going to advise the mayor’s office on how it should be spent? Sean Goode, the executive director of Choose 180, a local organization that provides alternatives to incarceration for young people, was asked to be part of the task force that will look into how this money should be spent. He has since declined the invitation.
I’ve spent the last two and half years learning and implementing participatory budgeting in New York City, first from within the New York City Council and now as a staff member of Participatory Budgeting Project. As members of Black Youth Project 100, I and my colleague Maria Hadden have presented on participatory budgeting as a policy for Black self-determination and liberation on various occasions and to varying audiences. Can you imagine my excitement when, on August 1st, The Movement for Black Lives released a robust policy agenda titled A Vision for Black Lives: Policy Demands for Black Power, Freedom and Justice — and included a bold solution for more community control through participatory budgeting? Contained in the policy agenda are some things we want to see get done.
Autumn is here — and with it, a renewed conversation about how educators, parents, and communities improve their students’ education. Often in this discussion, solutions come down from on high through public officials or people within the educational system. This fall, visionary school leaders will be challenging that top-down norm by showing that empowering students and families to directly decide what their schools need, through participatory budgeting (PB), can drastically improve the quality of their schooling. What is PB? Instead of government and school officials making every budgetary decision, PB gives real people real power over budget decisions in their schools and communities.
Citizens in Portugal vote on how public funding is spent on national and regional projects, in the world’s first participatory budgeting scheme of its kind. The project is led by the Administrative Modernisation Agency to build trust among citizens and bring them into government. It was awarded the Best Citizen Engagement award at the recent Innovation Labs World hosted by GovInsider. The Portugal Participatory Budget (PPB) allows citizens to present investment proposals and then choose, through transparent and open voting, which projects should be funded and implemented. The budgeting process has two main phases: citizens first present budget proposals via the PPB’s online portal or in person at participative meetings held across Portugal.
Porto Alegre in Brazil is the world's first city where residents participate in budgeting decisions, having done so since 1989. But participatory democracy traces far further back. The indigenous Iroquois Confederacy co-participated in that nation's economic decisions. Now, three decades since Porto Alegre brought this wisdom to non-indigenous politics, the practice has become widespread with over 3,000 municipalities worldwide using participatory budgeting to make financial choices for their communities.
By Maria Hadden for New America - In 2007, I thought the City of Chicago and I had a pretty good relationship. In 2008, I woke up from the little bit of the “American Dream” I thought I could achieve. As a black, queer woman growing up in low income family, it was less of a dream and more of a daydream, to be certain, but still a version of the middle class life promised to all “hard-working” Americans. But in the fall of 2007, I met my goal and purchased my first home. At the time it not only seemed to be a good idea because I wanted a place to settle down for a bit (rents were high and I had finally achieved some financial stability), but it was also, according to the dream, the thing I was supposed to do. Then the housing market crashed. Our developer fled the country, leaving all the residents in our 39 unit building to fend for ourselves. We had no one but each other to rely on for advice, support, and to take care of housing needs. So I began to organize in my community, starting with my neighbors. I learned the procedures and processes needed to keep our building afloat, and despite unfinished units, a leaking roof and an unpaid pile of bills, we made it work.
By Kristine Wong for Truth Out - It's tax season in the US. With the deadline looming to pay Uncle Sam less than a month away, many are wondering -- or grumbling -- about how their tax dollars are allocated in the first place. But now participatory budgeting, a concept in which citizens get to vote democratically on how a particular pot of public funds will be spent, has been gaining traction across the US over the last few years, and promising to give citizens a voice in these matters. The Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), a nonprofit organization founded in 2009 that aims to "deepen democracy, build stronger communities and make public budgets more equitable and effective," is one of the most visible groups working with cities
By Cat Johnson for Shareable - Participatory budgeting is becoming increasingly popular, with more than 1,500 programs worldwide. The concept is simple: People submit ideas for what government should spend a portion of its money on and then vote on the best ideas. Until now, however, the process has been limited to cities and regions. Recently, Portugal became the first county to instate a nationwide participatory budgeting (PB) process with Orçamento Participativo Portugal. While the amount allotted for the project is relatively small in its first year...
By Eric Dirnbach for Public Seminar. Participatory Budgeting was first used for the municipal budget in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989, and since then the PB movement has grown to over 3,000 cities around the world. Portugal recently announcedthat it will use it for the national budget. PB is being used in more than 40 communities in the U.S. New York City is in the midst of its 6th cycle of PB and the program has grown to 31 out of 51 City Council districts. Each district has been allocated at least $1 million for proposed projects. The requirements are that each project cost at least $35,000, last 5 years, be located on city property, and be brick-and-mortar type infrastructure projects such as fixing up a playground or library. I voted in the final PB project selection last year. My district had been presented with 21 options, and chose five projects from among them: a senior center renovation, planting street trees, school science lab improvements, school technology upgrades, and a library renovation. When my City Council Member Mark Levine announced the beginning of this current PB round, I decided to follow the entire process.
By Paulina Phelps for Yes Magazine. The amount of money spent on hiring sworn law enforcement officers to patrol public schools shot up nearly 40 percent between 1997 and 2009, despite the fact that crime in school has steadily declined for decades. A coalition of civil rights groups, including the NAACP, argues that this policy funnels kids of color into the school-to-prison pipeline. But that debate doesn’t always make it into the process of setting the budget, which is where important decisions, like how much money goes to counselors in schools and how much goes to police, ultimately get made. Budgets are usually determined by elected officials and their advisers, while ordinary residents may only get a chance to comment at a public hearing.