Participatory budgeting (PB) is a deliberative democratic process where community members allocate a portion of the municipal budget through a binding decision and vote. It is not advisory; it shares real power over real money. Over 10,000 municipalities across the world have implemented over 30,000 PB cycles. The vast majority involve six basic steps:
1. Elected officials allocate funds, define broad parameters.
2. Staff and community members co-design transparent, accessible and equitable
3. People brainstorm ideas in community assemblies and form committees.
4. Committee members coordinate with government staff to refine ideas into
projects vetted for legality, feasibility, equity and impact.
5. Projects go back to the community for a binding ballot vote.
6. Project winners are implemented. The process starts over.
While living in New York City, I volunteered as a delegate for PB in District 39. The experience was rewarding and affirming. We had co-facilitators, several experienced delegates and a handful of new members. We met regularly to collaboratively research and develop community-generated ideas into feasible projects. We created budgets and prepared our projects for an internal vote. Once chosen, the final projects from various committees across our district were prepared for the ballot. PB participants shared their passion and preferences at a community event showcasing the projects. Centering equity, access and youth were a critical component of our process. Engagement, participation and democracy in action is the best way for our leaders and the community to learn why every voice matters.
After relocating back to Portland, I sought PB Oregon. When people see change in their communities, generated through action, supported by government officials and ballot projects championed and created by their own neighbors, friends and family, this builds power to solve problems and determine their future. PB can address key needs and challenges we face in Portland:
? Community distrust, particularly in decisions related to policing and civic
? Call for transparency and accountability in the use of public resources.
? People's trust in the process ensures accountability.
? No outcome will always result in agreement.
? Our history of white supremacy denies Black, Brown and Indigenous
communities access to exercise their power to have equal voice. Often immigrant
and refugee communities and youth are limited or prohibited from electoral
? PB invites these underrepresented communities to share real power in the
decisions that impact our entire community.
In 2018 over 100 Portlanders gathered in East Portland for a Community Forum on
bringing PB to our region. This yielded several thoughtful and strategic
? Centering underrepresented communities and youth in PB design and
? Portland can learn from cities like NYC, Phoenix and Seattle to apply best
? Maximize racial equity in participation and outcomes.
PB presents an opportunity to reconstitute civic engagement, expand and innovate participatory democracy, and reclaim the best of our history while confronting and redressing past injustices. We are a community of engaged individuals who value a level playing field to address inequities in resources and allow people to exercise real power. PB in Portland won't be perfect. We will need to learn from our mistakes as we go. But to do that, we need to get started.
Chanda Evans (she/her)
Evans is a former PB delegate in NYC. Evans now lives in Portland and volunteers for PB Oregon.
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