Teenagers and young adults in Boston decide how to spend one million dollars of the city's budget every year. Elsewhere, in Phoenix, high school students have a voice in how their school’s discretionary budget is spent. Sound crazy? In fact, the concept of participatory budgeting (PB) is gaining popularity around the globe.
The idea started in Brazil's Porto Alegre in 1989, part of an experiment to increase community involvement in public resource management. In 2009, Chicago held the first participatory budgeting vote in the United States. Today, participatory budgeting has spread to more than 1,500 cities worldwide.
Having citizens propose and vote on how to spend public money not only increases transparency and accountability, it's also a powerful way to grow skills and interest in civic engagement, particularly among young people. This collection features solutions journalism stories about participatory budgeting initiatives in the United States with youth decision-making at their core.
Click here for more stories in the Solutions Story Tracker on public finance.
- Define key terms, including: “participatory budgeting;” “discretionary spending;” and “mandatory spending.” Explain how participatory budgeting differs from the way that funds are traditionally allocated.
- After reading the articles, explain what participatory budgeting (PB) entails and what factors contribute to successful initiatives? How can participatory budgeting impact feelings of political efficacy among young individuals?
- In the Next City piece about Chicago’s participatory budgeting (PB) campaign, Maria Hadden, a project manager affiliated with the Participatory Budget Project argues that PB is “more accessible than other civic engagement.” Do you support this conclusion? Assess this claim by considering some other forms of civic engagement—including canvassing and volunteering for political campaigns, protesting, and voting—and discuss how PB compares.
- Does your school or community have a participatory budgeting program? If not, what steps can you take to advocate for the creation of a participatory budgeting program in your community? You may wish to also consider what role participatory budgeting can play at the university level.
- Bringing additional stakeholders into community decision-making strategies involves eliminating barriers. Using SJN’s Success Factors, select and research another way that eliminating barriers promotes democratic engagement. Create a collection of 4-6 stories to share and discuss.
- Journalism is a collaborative practice: reporters are writing for their community, but they also depend on community members as sources for information. Indeed, the very purpose of journalism, according to the American Press Institute, is to provide citizens with the information they need to make the best possible decisions about their lives, their communities, their societies, and their governments. With that in mind, SJN wants to help connect news readers and journalists. Beside the name of the journalist on any of our story pages or the results page of the Solutions Story Tracker, you’ll find a Twitter icon that will link you directly to the journalists profile. Tweet at them with questions or compliments about their piece - you might be surprised by how much writers want to engage with their audiences! Don’t forget to tag us too (@soljourno) and use the hashtag #journalistintheclassroom if you are reading as part of an academic assignment.
- Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process that gives members of a community a voice in spending the public discretionary budget. Discretionary funds are those that are subject to some form of an appropriation process, typically decided by a legislative body. In contrast, mandatory spending refers to funds that are earmarked for entitlement programs such as Medicare, which must be spent as directed. Encourage students to discuss how increased transparency in budgeting may benefit members of various communities—where do we see positive results in PB?
- As explained in the Washington Post article attached to this collection, participatory budgeting policies vary, but usually consist of enrolling multiple stakeholders in the community, including undeserved communities or the communities directly affected by decisions; developing and analyzing ideas in community assemblies; voting on the proposed ideas; implementing initiatives and monitoring their efficacy. Collective action also helps—many of the successful PB programs operate with the assistance of a nonprofit organization, like the Participatory Budgeting Project. Furthermore, by allowing young people to participate in these processes, PB allows them to learn more about how political decisions are made and how funds are allocated. Direct civic engagement, in turn, increases feelings of political efficacy and trust in the political process.
- One of the features of participatory budgeting that makes it among the most accessible forms of civic engagement is that it includes young residents. In some cases individuals as young as 16 years old can vote on budget matters. In school-based initiatives the participants may be even younger. This sets up a foundation for civic engagement in other areas.
- Encourage students to visit the website of the Participatory Budgeting Project to learn how to advocate for the introduction of PB in your school or community!
- Answers will vary—for more on creating collections, click here. For more on Success Factors, click here.