I joined more than 60 community leaders and civic technologists in Washington D.C. earlier this week to map a future for Participatory Budgeting in the United States.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in coordination with Harvard University’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and the Democracy Fund, hosted the event, which built on an initial “PB” convening held in the White House in 2014.
It was just seven years ago that I launched “PB49,” the first Participatory Budgeting process in the U.S. Since then, elected officials in over 40 cities and towns across the nation have adopted the 49th Ward’s participatory budgeting model and the White House and Harvard are promoting PB as a best practice of local government. PB is providing a road map to repair the fractured relationship between government and the people.
White House Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith underscored the Obama Administration’s strong commitment to Participatory Budgeting and pledged to help promote and grow PB in the U.S. and open up participation in government at all levels. “Governments are just us,” Megan said. “They’re whoever shows up.”
Those attending the meeting shared new data on PB and tools on how to make PB successful. I served on a workshop panel for city officials and community activists interested in starting a PB process in their cities, emphasizing that PB will not work unless community residents are invited and encouraged to take ownership of he process.
City and county officials and community activists new to Participatory Budgeting committed at the convening to create grassroots coalitions in their hometowns to build popular support for PB and attend the May Participatory Budgeting Conference in Boston to learn more about the PB process. Those of us who have pioneered PB in the U.S. promised to lend them our experience and expertise to help ensure their success. And federal officials attending the convening promised to encourage their departments and other bureaus to officially embrace Participatory Budgeting in national policies and plans.
Tom Glaisyer, program director for Democracy Fund, observed that the federal government allocates $275 billion to local governments each year, which serves as a “huge opportunity” for PB to expand if the government were willing to use some of that funding as leverage to encourage local governments to adopt participatory budgeting processes.
I met some amazing people at the White House convening, including Kim Ford (photo on left), a community activist and leader in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, who is organizing her neighbors to pressure their local elected officials to adopt PB, and Minneapolis City Council Member Elizabeth Glidden (photo below), who is trying to convince her mayor and city council colleagues to employ a PB process in some of their budgetary decisions. They were both an inspiration to me.
I commend President Obama and his administration for their support of participatory budgeting efforts, which is demonstrated both in this national PB convening and in President Obama’s second and third U.S. Open Government National Action Plans.
In the meantime, my staff and I are working hard to ensure the continued success of PB in the 49th Ward. Our volunteer PB community representatives are busy putting the finishing touches on their project proposals for the 2016 Participatory Budgeting election, which will be held on Saturday, April 30th. We’ve scheduled three Community Expos in mid-March when the community representatives will formally present their proposals for your input and feedback. Mark your calendars for one of these meetings:
Saturday, March 19
Chicago Math and Science Academy
7212 N. Clark
Monday, March 21
Pottawattomie Park Fieldhouse
7340 N. Rogers
Tuesday, March 22
Sullivan High School
6631 N. Bosworth
I’m committed to continuing to work here in the 49th Ward, as well as with my friends at the Participatory Budgeting Project and the federal government, to create a more equitable, inclusive and transparent government by growing and expand Participatory Budgeting!