Participatory budgeting was first developed in Brazil in 1989. It has since spread to over 3,000 cities all around the world. It has been successfully used in many different types of budgets, including budgets for countries, states, housing authorities, schools, and universities. PB enables residents to direct public money for their priorities. It is used most often to decide how to spend one-time capital funds.
The PB process varies from community to community. However, these six steps apply to every PB process:
1. Design the Process: A steering committee, which is representative of the community, will get together to decided how the process will be run, including deciding who will get to vote – many communities allow youth age 16 and up to vote as a way of educating them on civic engagement.
2. Brainstorm Ideas: Community members share their ideas for projects that their area needs.
3. Develop Proposals: Volunteers take the ideas that came from the brainstorm step and work with city staff to price them out, develop them into proposals, and to narrow the list of finalists down to a manageable number.
4. Cast a Vote: Residents vote on which projects they want to see funded in their community.
5. Fund Winning Projects: The city implements the winning projects. Together, the city and community members track implementation.
While PB is very time and labor intensive, the benefits are numerous. They include a deeper connection with democracy, transparency, and accountability between the city and its communities, public education, fairer spending, and community building.
Denver has utilized vigorous public input on capital funding priorities in the past, including most recently to develop our list of potential projects for General Obligation bonds. But we have never before used participatory budgeting to select final projects. In Spring of 2017, Councilwoman Kniech and members of the City Council have begun the process of exploring the possibility of piloting a PB process in Denver.