I spent the last week of November in Barcelona, Spain with a group of over 40 #ParticipatoryBudgeting (PB) experts across continents — a convening that is historic and first of its kind — in an effort to develop resources to strengthen PB globally, understand the current state of PB and limitations to impact, and build community & joint approaches (with seed funding of 500K). I was in full PB nerd mode — some know this, I manage the way PB is implemented in Brooklyn District 39 and was a huge proponent of NYC Ballot Proposal #2 (the creation of a Civic Engagement Commission, #YesYesYesNYC), which passed mandating citywide PB!

Among the cohort were PB academics, on the ground implementers, funders, researchers — folks who’re committed to open governance processes for the people hailing from Kenya, Scotland, China, South Korea, Tunisia, Mexico, Ukraine, Spain, and more (currently, PB’s reach is in 21 countries).

PB’s roots are in democratic socialism, spearheaded by the Workers’ Party in Porto Alegre, Brazil (1988). PB was an effort to decentralize and democratize power and ensure poor and working class communities had a say in the city’s budgetary decisions. As of 2017, it’s officially suspended in Brazil due to a host of challenges (governments changing / rise of right wing, limited/scarce budgets and rise of infrastructural costs, unsustainable because PB does not address structural systems of oppression and inequity, and more). I’m aware of these challenges even in the NYC context, and thus, lead with skepticism: is PB improving the wellbeing of marginalized/under-serviced, under-organized neighborhoods? Who is it empowering? Are projects addressing priority needs in schools, parks, etc? How can it improve state capacity and government responsiveness?

My takeaway: PB is just one tool, it is not the only tool for revolution and systems change. PB engagement supports the development of individual/community power and leadership, often encouraging activism in particular issue areas and social movements; motivates for broader political changes and government accountability; these folks are likely to be key players in the long haul push for grassroots democracy (which is more than just elections).

The Civic Engagement Commission is a beautiful opening and opportunity for the growth of PB in NYC (currently, 31 Council Members participate; it began with 4 in 2011 in coalition with The Participatory Budgeting Project, Community Voices Heard, and other community organizations). I’m excited for renewed PB visioning and the future of it in NYC!

*I didn’t get to see Barcelona in the midst of studying and processing PB, but I loved the wide, walkable streets and took full advantage.

#PBExchange #ParticipatoryBudgeting #opengov #Cities4Citizens

CC: Reboot, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation

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