“We saw the implementation of a PB process as a real, direct way to pilot these commitments to public engagement.”
Last year, the number of communities in the U.S. and Canada using participatory budgeting (PB) swelled from 46 to 61, with 24 communities launching a brand-new PB process.
Much of the growth in PB in 2015-16 occurred in small cities and towns. Nine of the 24 new PB processes (38 percent) occurred in communities with populations under 50,000. In contrast, only 10 out of all 46 processes (22 percent) in the 2014–15 cycle took place in communities of that size.
Dieppe, New Brunswick, with a population of around 23,000 people, was one of these small towns launching a new PB process in 2015–16. While Dieppe has always had a relatively high rate of public participation in governance, like most communities, it tended to see the same people participating again and again.
In 2014, many candidates for local office ran on a platform calling for better public engagement. In response, a team of citizens led by Luc Richard, the town’s director of organizational performance, and Christine C. Paulin, a professor at the Université de Moncton, worked together with elected officials to implement PB. Christine, who also took on the evaluation of PB in Dieppe, told us “We saw the implementation of a PB process as a real, direct way to pilot these [candidate] commitments to public engagement.”
The effort to improve public participation through PB seems to have worked: three-quarters of PB voters who filled out surveys said that they had not worked with others on a community issue in the past 12 months. Dieppe also saw significant participation from young people. Christine said, “It seemed to us that PB helped young people realize that they could really make a difference in their community; it opened doors.”
In our recent report on PB, Christine offered some tips for other small towns interested in developing new civic engagement strategies or who are interested in experimenting with PB as part of those strategies:
- Use the prospect of a new engagement policy or law as a way to instigate a conversation about what more productive public engagement would look like and how to achieve it.
- City agencies should be engaged in the PB project development phase to help residents understand which project ideas are technically and financially feasible and which are not.
- When recruiting people to participate in PB or other engagement opportunities, supplement face-to-face appeals with broad media coverage, including ads and interviews on TV, radio and in newspapers—which may be less expensive in small towns than in big cities —as well as through social media.
- Involve citizens in legitimate governance roles to help sustain and improve PB.
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.”