Participatory Budgeting Continues to Grow Throughout the U.S. and Canada

Communities that allocated more money to PB saw greater participation, according to a new report from Public Agenda

Date of Release: Monday, December 12th, 2016

New York City — Participatory budgeting, a public engagement process in which residents directly decide how to spend taxpayer money, continues to grow and diversify throughout the United States and Canada, according to a new report from Public Agenda.

Sixty-one communities used participatory budgeting (PB) in 2015-16, including 24 that were new to the process. This represents a growth of 33 percent in the number of PB processes from 2014-15. Much of this growth occurred in small towns. Ten of the 24 newly launched processes (42 percent) were undertaken in communities with populations under 50,000 people.

PB also saw a significant growth in the number of people participating and the amount of public money spent through the process. A total of 101,026 people voted in PB processes in 2015-16, a 38 percent increase from the 73,381 people who voted in 2014-15. These voters decided on how to spend $60.8 million in public money, a 30 percent increase from the $46.7 million allocated through PB in 2014-15.

The report, “A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015-16,” is Public Agenda’s second analysis of PB in the U.S. and Canada, synthesizing data from 61 communities. The report is a follow up to the first ever comprehensive analysis of all 2014-15 U.S. and Canadian PB processes, published by Public Agenda in May 2016. The Kettering Foundation served as a collaborator in the research, which was funded by the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation.

“PB holds great promise for communities looking to improve the relationship between elected officials and residents. In earlier research, local officials told us that PB helped them engage their constituents more in political life,” said Will Friedman, president of Public Agenda. “With this analysis of how diverse communities use and modify PB, we can better understand how this innovation measures up to its promise to improve local democracy.”

Some communities implemented PB in ways that were associated with greater voter participation, including setting aside more money for the process and offering more voting sites. When officials set aside more money for PB, communities saw more residents voting, according to the report. This relationship remained significant even when controlling for the number of residents in the jurisdiction, the number of days the vote lasted and the total number of voting sites. The average amount of money officials allocated to their PB processes decreased slightly from $1,015,756 per process in 2014-15 to $996,914 in 2015-16, though communities varied widely in the amount they allocated

“We can only hypothesize about the relationship between the amount of money allocated and the number of people voting in PB,” said David Schleifer, director of research at Public Agenda. “It may be that setting aside more money leads more people to come out and vote on how to spend it. It may be that officials who are more willing to set aside larger amounts of money have constituents who are already more engaged in local politics. Or it may be that officials who set aside more money are also able to invest more in outreach and can therefore convince more residents to participate.”

In communities that offered more voting sites, more residents voted in PB, a correlation also detected in 2014-15. Communities that had PB in both 2014-15 and 2015-16 also showed a positive relationship between number of sites and number of ballots cast. The more these communities increased the number of voting sites from 2014-15 to 2015-16, the more voters turned out. This relationship remained significant when controlling for both total population and for differences in voting days and money allocated between the first and second years.

The report concludes with a series of case studies documenting PB processes in Long Beach, San Francisco and Vallejo, California; Dieppe, New Brunswick; Greensboro, North Carolina; and New York, New York. These case studies, written by PB implementers and evaluators, illustrate several dynamics that characterized 2015-16 PB processes, including the increase in small towns doing PB, grassroots advocacy to get PB started, the use of remote online voting and increasing voter turnout and diversity. These evaluators and implementers provide practical tips for people who looking to start or improve PB in their communities.

This report is the most recent resource from Public Agenda regarding PB. Other publications include:

Visit http://www.publicagendaarchives.org/pages/projects-participatory-budgeting to download these resources and for more information.


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 is a bipartisan foundation that invests in organizations working to ensure that our political system is able to withstand new challenges and deliver on its promise to the American people. Learn more by visiting www.democracyfund.org. Follow us on Twitter @DemocracyFund or find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/DemocracyFundUS.

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.

Brian Scios, Public Agenda
Phone: 212-686-6610, ext. 127
[email protected]