Public Spending, By The People: Participatory Budgeting In The United States And Canada In 2014 – 15

May 10, 2016

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.

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. Our report, “Public Spending, By the People” offers the first-ever comprehensive analysis of PB in the U.S. and Canada.

Here’s a summary of what we found:

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.

The data in this report came from 46 different PB processes across the U.S. and Canada. The report is a collaboration with local PB evaluators and practitioners. The work was funded by the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation, and completed through a research partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

You can read the findings in brief below, download a PDF of the executive summarydownload the full report or scroll through charts and graphics from the report. This report is also part of an ongoing Public Agenda project on participatory budgeting – you can read about the project here.

Summary of Findings

Part 1: What Happened? Facts and Figures About How PB Was Implemented

How exactly did communities implement PB? How did communities differ from one another in their adaptation of PB to local needs and resources? And how successful were different council districts and cities in getting the word out and encouraging residents to take part?

Key findings:

  • More than half of the 2014-15 PB communities were undertaking PB for the first time.
  • Officials allocated on average $1 million to a PB process (nearly always capital funds only), ranging from $61,000 to over $3 million.
  • In all PB communities, residents under 18 years old were eligible to vote. The minimum voting age was most commonly 14 or 16.
  • More than 8,000 residents brainstormed community needs in more than 240 neighborhood idea collection assemblies. In communities that held more neighborhood idea collection assemblies, total participation across assemblies was higher.
  • Over 1,000 resident volunteers turned ideas into viable proposals as budget delegates. Some communities did not offer residents opportunities to become budget delegates, and one reported as many as 75 such volunteers.
  • Nearly all communities used online and digital tools to tell residents about PB. Far fewer did targeted person-to-person outreach. Person-to-person outreach was associated with greater participation of traditionally marginalized communities.
  • 140 partnerships between community-based organizations (CBOs) and government formed to increase participation in PB. CBO outreach was associated with higher representation of traditionally marginalized communities at the vote.
  • More than 70,000 residents cast ballots across nearly 400 voting sites and more than 300 voting days. Some communities brought out fewer than 200 voters, others more than 3,000.
  • A total of 360 projects won PB funding.

Part 2: Who Participated? The Demographic Profile of Voter Survey Respondents

What do we know about the demographics of PB voters? How representative were PB voters of their local communities? How successful were communities in engaging groups that are often marginalized from the political process?

Key findings:

  • AGE: Residents under 18 years old and seniors were overrepresented among survey respondents in many communities, while residents between 18 and 44 years of age were underrepresented. Overall, 11 percent of respondents were under 18 years of age. Click to view charts.
  • RACE/ETHNICITY: In nearly all communities, black residents were overrepresented or represented proportionally to the local census among voter survey respondents. Hispanics were underrepresented among survey respondents in most PB sites. Overall, blacks made up 21 percent of respondents and Hispanics made up 21 percent of respondents.Click to view charts.
  • INCOME: In most communities, residents from lower-income households were overrepresented or represented proportionally to the local census among voter survey respondents. Overall, 27 percent of respondents reported annual household incomes of less than $25,000 and 19 percent reported annual household incomes between $25,000 and $49,000. Click to view charts.
  • EDUCATION: Residents with less formal education were underrepresented among voter survey respondents in most communities. Just 39 percent of respondents overall reported not having a college degree. Click to view charts.
  • GENDER: Women were overrepresented among voter survey respondents in nearly all PB communities. Overall, 62 percent of respondents were women. Click to view charts.

Part 3: What Got Funded? Ballots and Winning Projects

What kinds of projects made it on the ballot? What types of projects received the largest amount of PB allocations? And what kinds of projects were most and least likely to win residents’ votes?

Key findings:

  • Parks and recreation projects were the most common ballot items overall, followed by school projects. But ballots varied substantially–some included no parks and recreation or no school projects.
  • Overall, schools received the largest share (33 percent) of PB-allocated funds.
  • Public safety projects were rare on ballots but had a high chance of winning.
  • Public housing projects were rare on ballots and had a low chance of winning.

Questions for National and Local Stakeholders

We hope this publication will stimulate national and local discussion about PB and its potential to positively impact individuals, communities and governments across the U.S. and Canada. The report therefore concludes with some important questions for national and local stakeholders who are debating PB’s current state and potential impacts, are working on refining its implementation or are conducting further research and evaluations. Following are these questions in brief.

Questions about PB’s potential to spread and scale:

  • With an average of $1 million allocated in each PB community, what can be achieved?
  • How do communities support and finance the implementation of PB, and how sustainable are these strategies?
  • What community conditions facilitate or hinder successful implementation of PB?

Questions about implementation:

  • What are the various goals local communities have for PB, and how are they communicated?
  • What is the quality of deliberation–when and how do residents consider the trade-offs of various community needs and projects?
  • How do online and digital tools for outreach and engagement affect who participates and what gets funded?
  • As communities vary in voting rules and ballot design, how does that impact voting patterns?

Questions about participation:

  • Why are some communities better than others at engaging traditionally marginalized populations?
  • What are the characteristics and motivations of residents who submit project ideas and volunteer as budget delegates?
  • How do PB participation rates and participant demographics compare with those in other types of local civic and political engagement?

Questions about ballot items and winning projects:

  • What do we know about the processes by which projects make it on the ballot?
  • How do money allocations in PB differ from those that are happening without PB?

Questions about long-term impacts:

  • What exactly may be PB’s key long-term impacts on the health of U.S. and Canadian communities?
  • Are there long-term impacts on the civic skills, attitudes and behaviors of participants?
  • Does PB lead to more equitable distribution of resources?
  • How does PB affect government decision making outside of the PB process?

How Does PB Work?

In current forms of PB in the U.S. and Canada, residents of a city or a city council district have the opportunity to directly participate in government decision making by deciding how designated parts of the public budget should be spent. PB typically progresses through four consecutive phases:

Idea Collection Phase

First, residents submit project ideas through a series of public meetings and online.

Budget Delegate Phase

Second, residents volunteer to work in groups to turn ideas into actual project proposals.

Voting Phase

Third, fully developed project ideas are put on a ballot for residents–including youth and noncitizens–to vote on.

Implementation Phase

Fourth, projects that get the most votes, and fall within the cap of allocated funds, win.

Government commits to implementing winning projects.

Methodology in Brief

Findings in this report are based on data collected and shared with Public Agenda by local PB evaluation teams across the U.S. and Canada. Public Agenda has been collaborating with local evaluators since early 2015 to facilitate shared learning across communities and to collectively tell the story of PB across the U.S. and Canada.

Our data compilation was guided by a framework of 15 key metrics that Public Agenda developed based on the experiences of local evaluators and the advice of the North American PB Research Board–a group of local evaluators, public engagement practitioners and U.S.- and Canada-based academic researchers who have researched the effects of PB in other countries–along with input from the nonprofit organization the Participatory Budgeting Project.

These 15 key metrics specify data points about PB implementation, participation and winning projects that are important for a better understanding of the current state of PB, the tracking of its immediate outputs and the clarification of its potential long-term impacts. Click here to read more about the 15 key metrics for evaluating participatory budgeting

This document is the executive summary of “Public Spending, By the People,” the first-ever comprehensive analysis of participatory budgeting in the U.S. and Canada. It examines how communities are doing PB, who is participating, and what projects get funded. 2016

The number of PB processes in the U.S. and Canada has grown quickly

 

46 communities across the U.S. and Canada used PB in 2014-15

 

PB in the U.S. and Canada, by the numbers

 

Percentage of funds allocated to PB projects by officials

 

Total dollar amounts allocated to PB by officials

 

Average turnout for neighborhood idea collection assemblies

 

Outreach methods employed by communities during the idea collection phase

 

Number of budget delegates and budget delegate committees across communities

 

Average number of voting sites, days vote lasted, projects on ballot, and ballots cast

 

Average number of winning projects

 

Ballot projects by policy area

 

Percent of ballot projects in each policy area, average and ranges

 

Number of winning projects and total money allocated by policy area

 

Percent of winning projects within each policy area

 

 

PARTICIPATORY BUDGETING PROCESSES SPEND $50M ACROSS U.S. AND CANADA

First-ever comprehensive analysis reveals wide variety in how communities implement PB, with allocations ranging from $61k to $3.4 million

DATE OF RELEASE: TUESDAY, MAY 10TH, 2016

New York

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.

Cities and districts in the U.S. and Canada that used PB in 2014-2015 varied widely in how they implemented their processes, who participated and what projects voters decided to fund, according to a new report from Public Agenda. Overall, communities using PB have invested substantially in the process and have seen diverse participation. Yet 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.

“PB can empower residents and alert elected officials to community needs they may not learn about otherwise,” said Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda. “PB has the potential to strengthen civic engagement, help rebuild the public’s trust in government and better distribute public funds to meet community needs. But PB is still a young innovation in the US and Canada, we have a lot to learn about if and how it can strengthen communities and local democracy.”

The report, “Public Spending, By the People: Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2014-15,” synthesizes data collected from communities that implemented PB between 2014 and 2015, offering the first-ever comprehensive look into the state of participatory budgeting in the U.S. and Canada. The report is a collaboration between Public Agenda and local evaluators and practitioners of PB. It was funded by the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation and completed through a research partnership with the Kettering Foundation.

Key findings include:

PB varies from community to community

  • Dollars allocated: While communities allocated $1 million to PB on average, allocations ranged from $61,000 to $3.4 million. “Critics have questioned whether PB can have long-term impacts on community well-being and equity in the U.S. and Canada within current budget allocations,” said Carolin Hagelskamp, Public Agenda’s director of research. “We will need more time to assess that question. What we do know is that PB overall has brought out large numbers of residents from communities that are underrepresented in the mainstream political process. This is promising for the long-term impacts practitioners are expecting from PB.”
  • Number of participants: More than 70,000 people voted in participatory budgeting across the U.S. and Canada between 2014 and 2015. These included youth and non-citizens who are typically ineligible to participate in traditional elections. On average, 1,595 ballots were cast, although that ranged from 85 ballots in one community to over 6,000 in another.
  • Winning projects: The average cost of a winning PB project in 2014-15 was $195,506, but project costs ranged from $1,071 to $1 million. Overall, PB has especially benefited local schools, which received one-third of all allocated PB funds in 2014-15. Projects related to public housing rarely won PB funding.

Some communities are lagging in their representation of traditionally marginalized residents

  • Variation: Cities and districts vary in how closely voters in their PB processes reflect local demographics. In some cities and districts, PB seemed to encourage more participation of traditionally underrepresented populations than in others, with some PB organizers investing in person-to-person outreach and collaboration with community groups.
  • Race/ethnicity: In nearly all cities and districts using PB and surveying their voters, black residents were overrepresented or represented proportionally to the local census among voter survey respondents. However, in 68 percent of communities, Hispanic residents were underrepresented among PB voters compared to local census data.
  • Education: Residents with less formal education were also underrepresented among PB voters in most communities. Overall, 39 percent of voter survey respondents reported not having a college degree.
  • Income: Communities differed the most in their success with engaging lower-income residents, according to voter surveys. In 25 percent of communities, residents reporting annual household incomes of less than $25,000 were overrepresented among survey respondents. However, in 3 out of 10 communities, such residents were underrepresented.

“Public Agenda’s report provides an important benchmark for future evaluation of PB’s impact on democracy,” said Friedman. “Much of that impact will likely depend on officials’ willingness to continue investing in and improving the process, and on our collective patience in letting PB become a more stable part of local government and the civic infrastructure of a community. It will also depend on residents thinking broadly about the needs of their communities.”

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About Public Agenda

Public Agenda is a nonprofit organization that helps diverse leaders and citizens navigate divisive, complex issues. Through nonpartisan research and engagement, it provides people with the insights and support they need to arrive at workable solutions on critical issues, regardless of their differences. Since 1975, Public Agenda has helped foster progress on higher education affordability, achievement gaps, community college completion, use of technology and innovation, and other higher education issues. Find Public Agenda online at publicagendaarchives.org, on Facebook at facebook.com/PublicAgenda and on Twitter at @PublicAgenda.

About the Democracy Fund

The Democracy Fund 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. www.democracyfund.org.

About the Rita Allen Foundation

The Rita Allen Foundation invests in transformative ideas in their earliest stages to leverage their growth and promote breakthrough solutions to significant problems. It enables early-career biomedical scholars to do pioneering research, seeds innovative approaches to fostering informed civic engagement, and develops knowledge and networks to build the effectiveness of the philanthropic sector. Throughout its work, the Foundation embraces collaboration, creativity, learning and leadership. Find out more at www.ritaallenfoundation.org.

About the Kettering Foundation

The Kettering Foundation, established in 1927 by inventor Charles F. Kettering, is a nonprofit, operating foundation that does not make grants but engages in joint research with others. Kettering’s primary research question is, what does it take to make democracy work as it should? Kettering’s research is conducted from the perspective of citizens and focuses on what people can do collectively to address problems affecting their lives, their communities, and their nation. More information may be found on www.kettering.org.

Contact:
Brian Scios, Public Agenda
Phone: 212-686-6610, ext. 127
bscios@publicagendaarchives.org