Research and Evaluation of Participatory Budgeting in the U.S. and Canada

Public Agenda is helping coordinate local evaluation efforts and sharing research on participatory budgeting.

Communities across the country are experimenting with participatory budgeting (PB), a democratic process in which residents decide together how to spend part of a public budget. Learning more about how these community efforts are implemented and with what results will help improve and expand successful forms of participatory budgeting across the U.S. and Canada.

Public Agenda is supporting local evaluation efforts and sharing research on participatory budgeting. Specifically, we are:

  • Building a community of practice among PB evaluators and researchers.
  • Working with evaluators and researchers to make data and research findings comparable across communities that use participatory budgeting.
  • Developing key metrics and research tools to help evaluate participatory budgeting.
  • Publishing a "Year in Participatory Budgeting Research" review based on data, findings, experiences and challenges from sites in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Conducting original, independent research on elected officials’ views of and experiences with participatory budgeting.
  • Convening the North American Participatory Budgeting Research Board.

Our goals are to use evaluation and research to inform and elevate ongoing national and local conversations about PB and its future in the U.S. and Canada, to help communities learn and improve PB implementation over time, and to further our understanding of PB’s potential long-term impacts on civic engagement, community health and government decision making. We hope our efforts help strengthen and expand promising public engagement practices and inform the field of participatory democracy field more broadly.

Below, you will find evaluation tools and resources we developed in close collaboration with PB evaluators and researchers in the U.S. and Canada. We also included the local evaluation reports from communities around the U.S. and Canada using PB in budget decisions.

To be the first to hear about new PB resources and news, join our email list. We also invite you to email us to join our listserv and participate in discussion about evaluation and research of participatory budgeting in the U.S. and Canada.

New to PB and looking to introduce it to your community? You should check out The Particpatory Budgeting Project (PBP). Once your PB effort is under way, come back to this page for tools to evaluate how you're doing.

Public Spending, By the People: Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2014–15

PB is a young practice in the U.S. and Canada. Until now, there's been no way for people to get a general understanding of how communities across the U.S. implement PB, who participates, and what sorts of projects get funded. This report, using data from 46 different PB processes, offers the first-ever comprehensive analysis of PB in the U.S. and Canada.

From 2014 to 2015, more than 70,000 residents across the United States and Canada directly decided how their cities and districts should spend nearly $50 million in public funds through a process known as participatory budgeting (PB). PB is among the fastest growing forms of public engagement in local governance, having expanded to 46 communities in the U.S. and Canada in just 6 years.

We found that, overall, communities using PB have invested substantially in the process and have seen diverse participation. But cities and districts vary widely in how they implemented their processes, who participated and what projects voters decided to fund. Officials vary in how much money they allocate to PB and some communities lag far behind in their representation of lower-income and less educated residents.

Find out more: read the findings in brief online, download a PDF of the executive summary or full report, or scroll through charts and graphics.

15 Key Metrics for Evaluating Participatory Budgeting: A Toolkit for Evaluators and Implementers

Evaluation is a critical component of any PB effort. Systematic and formal evaluation can help people who introduce, implement, participate in or otherwise have a stake in PB understand how participatory budgeting is growing, what its reach is, and how it's impacting the community and beyond.

We developed the 15 Key Metrics for Evaluating Participatory Budgeting toolkit for people interested in evaluating PB efforts in their communities. It is meant to encourage and support some common research goals across PB sites and meaningfully inform local and national discussions about PB in the U.S. and Canada. It is the first iteration of such a toolkit and especially focused on providing practical and realistic guidance for the evaluation of new and relatively new PB processes.

Anyone involved in public engagement or participation efforts other than participatory budgeting may also be interested in reviewing the toolkit for research and evaluation ideas.

The toolkit requires registration before you can download.

The toolkit includes the following sections:

15 Key Metrics for Evaluating Participatory Budgeting: 15 indicators (“metrics”) that capture important elements of each community-based PB process and the PB movement in North America overall. Click here for a brief description of these metrics.

Key PB Metrics Research Instruments: A set of research instruments (all customizable) to support local evaluation and facilitate the collection of data that address the key PB metrics, including customized excel sheets for each instrument to facilitate data entry and analysis. We also included French and Spanish translations of participant surveys. These instruments are available in the full toolkit, or you can download them each individually after registering.

  • Idea Collection Participant Survey
  • Voter Survey Template
  • Questionnaire for Evaluators and Implementers

Introduction to the Instruments and Evaluation Timeline: An introduction to the above instruments, which also includes a timeline for how evaluation can fit into PB roll-out.

Once you have registered to download the toolkit, you will be able to access each section individually.

To develop the 15 PB metrics, the North American Research Board, Public Agenda (PA) and the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) drew on previous evaluations of PB in the U.S. and around the world, the academic literature on PB as a democratic innovation and the experience of local evaluators in the U.S. and Canada. To create the research instruments, Public Agenda and PBP adapted surveys originally developed and used by local evaluators in various PB sites across the U.S. and Canada.

Webinar: Using Key PB Metrics and Toolkit Materials: This one-hour webinar explains how to use the PB Toolkit for Evaluators and Implementers, along with its accompanying materials. We hosted this webinar in October 2015 with local evaluators and implementers of participatory budgeting. Participants also discussed what they see as the principal challenges of the evaluation process and what they most need in order to facilitate their work.

PB Evaluation Tip Sheet: Comparing Demographic Data Collected Through Surveys in U.S. PB sites to Local U.S. Census Demographics

This document provides tips for comparing local U.S. census data with demographic data from P.B. sites.

Local Evaluation Reports

These reports summarize results and recommendations from evaluations of various PB processes in communities around the U.S

This project is supported by grants from the Democracy Fund, The Rita Allen Foundation and the Kettering Foundation.

The Democracy Fund is a national private foundation that invests in organizations working to ensure that our political system is responsive to the public and able to meet the greatest challenges facing our nation. Learn more about the Democracy Fund here.

The Rita Allen Foundation invests in transformative ideas in their earliest stages to leverage their growth and promote breakthrough solutions to significant problems.

The Kettering Foundation is an independent, nonpartisan research organization rooted in the American tradition of cooperative research. Everything Kettering researches relates to one central question: what does it take for democracy to work as it should?

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