ON THE AGENDA | JANUARY 17TH, 2017 | ALLISON RIZZOLO

Turnout and Diversity in Participatory Budgeting: Long Beach, California

“Our focus on diversity in participation throughout the process is helping to build community in District 9.”

Attracting large numbers of people to vote is important to all participatory budgeting (PB) processes. In doing so, it’s also important to attract residents who represent the demographics of a community.

However, voting is not the only participatory part of PB. When a diverse spectrum of residents participates in other parts of the (PB) process – when they show up for brainstorming sessions, when they volunteer to be budget delegates and develop project proposals – funded projects are more likely to meet the broad needs of the community, rather than the interests of a select few.

District 9 in Long Beach, California, introduced PB in 2014–15. In their first year, the district achieved a relatively high turnout compared with other communities in the U.S. and Canada. But organizers wanted to see greater participation throughout the PB process, not just in voting. They also wanted to boost participation from communities that were underrepresented in 2014-15, including Latino and low-income community members.

Organizers adjusted their outreach strategies, inviting members and leaders from these communities to serve on their district’s PB committee. New committee members helped identify locations for advertising about PB, including churches, grocery stores, restaurants and other community businesses.

Gary Hytrek, professor of geography at California State University Long Beach, has been the evaluator of the Long Beach PB process since its inception with graduate student Andres Temblador. He told us “these new outreach strategies worked to broaden overall participation.”

While voter turnout for Latino and low-income residents remained consistent from 2014-15 to 2015-16, participation across other stages of the PB process was higher. For example, there were more Latino budget delegates and low-income delegates and assembly participants in 2015-16.

In our recent report on PB, Gary reflects on the outcomes of a diverse PB process with broad participation:

We feel that this broader participation…is leading to a more diverse group of community members learning leadership skills, building connections with other participants and gaining trust in government. We’ve seen PB connecting community members with one another within District 9 and helping community members in the district build connections with residents of other parts of Long Beach. These types of outcomes are difficult to measure and take time to develop, but we feel confident that our focus on diversity in participation throughout the process is helping to build community in District 9.

Based on his team’s experience, Gary offers suggestions for other communities seeking to increase diversity and broaden participation in PB processes:

  • PB organizers should prioritize getting leaders from a diverse set of communities to join their processes’ steering committees. Leaders who work with traditionally marginalized communities, who are often underrepresented in political activities, can have insights into where and how to reach people—as well as into how to mobilize them.
  • PB processes must partner with organizations and businesses in the community. Community-based organizations and neighborhood associations are key collaborators in outreach and implementation. Processes can also benefit from reaching out to and partnering with local businesses for outreach, especially small businesses such as local restaurants.
  • Outreach should be guided by research. PB evaluation that includes collecting demographic information on who participates in PB throughout the process and how they heard about the process is critical to helping inform and improve outreach strategies.

Read more stories about PB across the U.S. and Canada in our recent report, “A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015 – 16.”


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