Cambridge Chronicle: Cambridge residents to decide fate of $600K as part of Participatory Budget

Sara Feijo
June 15, 2015

After a successful pilot, Cambridge kicked off its second Participatory Budgeting (PB) process this month.

This time around, however, the city is setting aside $600,000 from the fiscal 2017 budget for project ideas that will improve the community.

Launched last fall, Cambridge’s first-ever PB initiative allowed residents to decide how to spend $500,000 of the city’s 2016 budget.

According to Jeana Franconi, the city’s budget director, the timeline of the second PB cycle has changed so the process is easier for budget delegates, city staff and other community members. The process will run from June to December.

The PB pilot initiative, she said, ran parallel with the preparation of the annual budget, which proved to be a challenge. Budget staff worked on outreach and at voting sites while trying to put together the city’s fiscal 2016 budget.

“They did a tremendous job, but it was incredibly challenging,” Franconi said.

The harsh winter was another challenge that has been addressed with the new timeline, she said.

“The winter made it extremely difficult for budget delegates to work on their proposals. It hindered their ability to perform site visits and hold regular committee meetings,” Franconi said. “The winter also made it difficult for departmental staff performing snow operations to respond to volunteer questions and price proposals.”

The PB objective is to involve residents in the budgeting and city-building process, and help ensure that the city’s capital plan reflects the priorities of residents, according to Franconi.

Goals for this year’s process include incorporating feedback received throughout the pilot to improve the process, increasing outreach efforts to immigrant communities and underrepresented residents, and increasing participation in all phases of the process, including idea collection, budget delegate volunteers working on proposals, and a higher voter turnout, she said.

“There are so many ways to get involved,” Franconi said. “The Steering Committee guides the process and creates the rules, budget delegates turn the ideas into proposals for the ballot, canvassers help get the word out throughout the community, and voting sites require volunteers as well.”

The pilot initiative winning projects were announced in April and included 100 new trees and tree wells in low-canopy neighborhoods, 20 new laptops for the Community Learning Center, bilingual books for children learning English, a public toilet in Central Square, eight bike repair stations, and free public Wi-Fi in six outdoor locations.

Cambridge is seeking volunteers to serve on the Steering Committee to help oversee the second cycle and work with city staff to ensure that the process is transparent, fair and inclusive, according to a recent press release. Steering Committee members’ duties include:

  • Overseeing the PB process by reviewing the rulebook, deciding who can participate in the process and how, helping to plan idea collection and voting events, and determining voting goals/targets.
  • Attending at least five of the seven monthly committee meetings.
  • Volunteering for at least two idea collection events in August.
  • Volunteering for at least two voting events in December.
  • Promoting PB through their networks, social media and at community events.
  • Helping to recruit volunteers to serve as budget delegates.

Deadline to apply for the Steering Committee is Friday, June 19, at 5 p.m. For more information, visit

Contact Chronicle reporter Sara Feijo at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @s_fjo.