What is it? Participatory budgeting is a process that local governments may employ to more fully engage residents in allocating public resources while also ensuring that funds are dedicated to achieve desired community outcomes. Community members are engaged to help make decisions about how government spends money. The process educates participants about local government functions and decision making. Often, the process solicits proposals or requests from government departments and community organizations for funding. Funding requests must demonstrate how the resources will be used to achieve desired community goals (such as increased safety/reduced crime). Participatory budgeting increases transparency and strengthens democratic governance. Citizens who engage in the process gain a much better understanding of how government budgeting works and are often able to more effectively voice their concerns.
How has it been used? The 49th Ward in Chicago, Il has instituted a modified participatory budgeting apparatus to help allocate funds for infrastructure improvements. Every year, each alderman in the city gets a million dollars for projects in their ward. The alderman for the 49th Ward engaged the residents in his district to decide how funds should be used. Along with community partners, he helped establish a process that began with larger neighborhood meetings to identify and discuss ideas,. Next, he held meetings with neighborhood representatives to narrow ideas and generate specific options. Process leaders next held more public meetings to present proposal specifics and finally residents voted on the spending plans at a general assembly. Funds have been used to resurface streets, build playgrounds, plant trees and even paint murals. This process has continued since its start in 2009. (Source: Alderman Joe Moore)