Elected officials across the country report that participatory budgeting helped them be more responsive to community needs, improved their political prospects and engaged their constituents more in political life, according to our newest report.

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a process in which residents vote on how public money should be spent. In 2014-15 alone, over 70,000 people voted on how to spend $43 million through PB. Forty-seven city council districts or cities across the United States used PB in 2015-16.

The report, “Why Let the People Decide? Elected Officials on Participatory Budgeting,” is based on confidential interviews with 43 local elected officials from across the country regarding their views of and experiences with PB. The Kettering Foundation served as a collaborator in the research, which was funded by the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation. The full report includes suggestions for elected officials, PB advocates, and foundations and other funders seeking to improve and expand PB.

Twenty-eight of the officials interviewed had adopted PB, and 15 had not. Among the interviewees who had adopted PB, 37 percent had faced another election since doing PB. All won reelection.

According to some local elected officials, PB had improved relations between residents and government. Elected officials also said PB boosted participation among segments of the population that did not typically get involved with government.

The biggest challenge officials say they faced was not having enough time, staff and resources to undertake PB effectively. Many officials who opted not to try PB also cited a lack of resources as their main motivation.

However, officials do not see the challenges they faced as reasons to abandon the process. Rather, most officials expressed a commitment to improving their local PB processes each year to deepen constituents’ involvement in and understanding of local government.

Read on for a summary of the findings, or download the executive summary or full report as a PDF.

Methodology in Brief

Interviewees for this research were recruited from among all U.S. officials who were implementing PB processes in their districts or cities during the 2014-15 and/or the 2015-16 cycle of PB, as well as from neighboring council districts and nearby comparable cities without PB. All interviewees were invited to participate in two rounds of interviews. The first round was conducted between March and June 2015 and the second between October 2015 and March 2016. Fifty-three percent of our interviewees participated in both rounds of interviews. All interviews were confidential and ranged in length from 15 to 50 minutes. Public Agenda’s research team conducted the interviews and the data analysis. More details on the methodology and sample characteristics can be found on page 56 of the full report.