Participatory budgeting is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. It's residents making real decisions about real money.
This 4-minute video by the Participatory Budgeting Project gives a great overview of PB and how it works:
The City hopes that Participatory Budgeting will directly involve residents in the budgeting and city-building process, foster civic engagement and community spirit, and help ensure that the City’s capital plan reflects the priorities of Cambridge residents and stakeholders.
The Outreach Committee approved the following five goals for the PB process:
1. Expand and Diversify Civic Engagement: Ensure that all community members have a voice in the development and improvement of their city, especially marginalized communities, reticent voters, and people with limited opportunities to engage in the political process.
2. Have Meaningful Social and Community Impact: Use PB as a tool to effect meaningful social change in the community. PB in Cambridge should be mission-driven and results-oriented.
3. Promote Sustainable Public Good: Make sustainable decisions that promote the long-term future and wellbeing of Cambridge residents.
4. Create Easy and Seamless Civic Engagement: Enable the community to be involved without barriers or frictions. Create a welcoming space for residents to become engaged, fostering a "contagious" civic environment.
5. Promote Civic-mindedness: Help residents imagine themselves as civic actors and educate each other about their needs and lives. Provide youth with the opportunity and experience to become life-long voters and community leaders.
The third PB cycle will run from May-December 2016 and include the following key phases:
- Planning and recruitment of a volunteer OUTREACH COMMITTEE consisting of residents and representatives from local nonprofit and community-based organizations (May 2016)
- Community members brainstorm and submit IDEAS about how to spend $700,000 of the City's budget on capital projects to improve Cambridge (June-July 2016)
- Volunteer Budget Delegates research and prioritize ideas, ultimately developing final PROPOSALS for the PB ballot (August-November 2016)
- City staff vet proposals for FEASIBILITY and COST (November 2016)
- Residents VOTE on which projects they’d like the City to fund (December 3-9, 2016)
- RESULTS are announced and winning projects are included in the City’s FY18 capital budget (December 2016)
- The pilot PB process is EVALUATED (January-March 2017)
- Winning projects are IMPLEMENTED (July 2017 onward)
The City is setting aside $700,000 in FY18 capital funds for the third PB cycle, an increase of $100,000 from the second PB process. Projects are eligible for funding if they meet the following criteria:
Are capital projects, which usually involve infrastructure improvements (as opposed to operating projects, which usually fund salaries and services)
- Infrastructure is usually physical, but not always. IT-related projects, such as developing an app or expanding free public Wi-Fi, are eligible.
- Most capital projects have some sort of associated operating cost. Projects that would require the City to hire additional staff are not eligible.
- Are one-time expenditures that cost $700,000 or less
- Benefit the public
Are implemented by the City of Cambridge on City property (streets, sidewalks, parks, libraries, schools, youth centers, senior centers, municipal buildings, etc.)
- Projects on Cambridge Housing Authority, DCR, and MBTA property are not eligible.
- PB funding cannot be used to make a grant to a nonprofit organization.
Before being submitted to the public vote, all projects must be approved by the City Manager to ensure they meet all of the legal requirements of capital projects.
Examples of capital projects include:
- Making improvements to public playgrounds or parks
- Repairing streets and sidewalks
- Installing accessibility ramps on public property
- Renovating public buildings
- Installing benches or street lights
- Creating a community garden
- Resurfacing a basketball court
The idea collection phase for the third PB cycle was open from June 1 - July 31, 2016. During that time, community members could submit ideas through our interactive online map as well as by contacting the City's Budget Office via email, phone, mail, walk-in, or filling out flyers at one of our many pop up events around town. Idea collection is open to everyone (not restricted to Cambridge residents).
There are many opportunities to get involved with the PB process, including:
- Serving on the PB Outreach Committee to engage as many community members as possible in idea collection, proposal development, and the voting processes
- Submitting ideas in June & July
- Volunteering as a Budget Delegate from August-November to research the submitted ideas and ultimately determine which project proposals make it to the PB ballot
- Volunteering to help out at voting events in December
- Providing translation services for events and outreach materials
- Helping to spread the word about PB to make sure that people in all corners of Cambridge know about this initiative and can participate
Budget Delegates are volunteers who work to research, evaluate, and prioritize the capital project ideas submitted by community members and develop them into concrete project proposals for a public vote. They do this through research, community assessments, and site visits, as well as through consultations with City staff regarding project feasibility and cost. Budget Delegates evaluate submitted ideas on four main criteria: community need, project need, impact, and feasibility.
During the first PB process, 40+ Budget Delegates worked in 4 committees to narrow down 380 submitted ideas into 20 final project proposals for the ballot. 6 of those projects won funding.
During the second PB process, 35+ Budget Delegates worked in 4 committees (including one youth Delegate committee) to narrow down 540 submitted ideas to 23 final proposals for the ballot. 7 of those projects won funding.
During the current PB process, 70 Budget Delegates will work from mid-August through late October to research and narrow down all of the ideas submitted in June and July 2016 to 20 final proposals for the ballot in December.
Cambridge residents who are at least 12 years old, regardless of citizenship status, are eligible to vote. College/university students whose dorm/apartments are in Cambridge are also eligible to vote. Voting takes place online and at numerous events around the city during vote week.
The third Participatory Budgeting vote took place from December 3-9, 2016. During this cycle, online voting was available in English and Spanish. Paper ballots were available in English, Amharic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish. Voters could choose up to 5 of the 20 projects on the PB3 ballot. They did not need to rank their choices or do any math.
You can read about the voting process and the winning projects from past PB cycles here.