ON THE AGENDA | AUGUST 11TH, 2016 | Carolin Hagelskamp, Ph.D.

In Their Own Words: Public Officials on Participatory Budgeting

These quotes - representing officials from eight cities - highlight how multi-facetted participatory budgeting can be.

The Public Agenda research team is spending the summer digging deep into 66 interviews we conducted with elected officials across the United States. We’ve been speaking with these officials since early 2015 regarding their views of and experiences with participatory budgeting (PB).

Through these interviews, we’ve gathered rich insights into on what motivates officials to take on PB and what it means to experiment with this innovative form of public engagement.

We spoke not only to officials who brought PB to their communities, but also to many who either decided that PB was not for them or who had heard about PB but not yet considered it for their jurisdictions. In short, we had frank conversations with PB advocates and skeptics!

We will publish a report on this research in the fall. In the meantime, we want to share some of the most inspiring and provoking one-liners we found in our data regarding what PB means to these public officials.

These quotes – from officials representing eight cities across the U.S. – highlight what a multi-facetted democratic process PB can be, as well as the many ways it may impact people, communities and government.

Have something to add about what PB means to you? Please let us know in the comments!

From the perspective of PB-advocating officials, participatory budgeting…

  • gets people engaged in the budget process and helps them realize how their tax dollars translate into the city's initiatives.
  • builds a sense of community.
  • is a powerful tool for engaging those who otherwise might be alienated from civic life in a way that they've never been engaged before.
  • is a welcomed opportunity to avoid the corruption in current discretionary funding allocation.
  • is an effective way of showing that you are responsive to your constituents.
  • keeps officials’ feet on the ground.
  • gives councilmembers more exposure with their communities.
  • is a chance to really learn some of the priorities of your constituency in a meaningful way.
  • is a public education tool.

But more skeptical officials say participatory budgeting…

  • doesn't allow you to do real significant improvements in the community.
  • is very labor-intensive.
  • is kind of small potatoes.
  • is a lot of effort to do feel-good stuff to give the impression that an official is being democratic.

A couple of officials warn that participatory budgeting…

  • has to be on a large scale
  • can't give people false hopes that they have more power than they really do.
  • must come from the ground up.

Interested in receiving the report when we publish it? Sign up for our email list today! And check out more information on our PB work.


Comment on this article.

Recent Blogs


Public Agenda knows what it takes to fuel progress on critical issues.
We need your support to keep things moving!

Join the Community


Take Action