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 budget reflects the priorities of Cambridge residents and local partners.
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 City is setting aside $2 million of the FY25 budget for the 10th PB cycle. Projects are eligible for funding if they meet the following criteria:
- Benefit the public.
- Cost $2 million or less.
- If capital project:
- One-time expenditure
- On City-owned property
- Projects on CHA, DCR, and MBTA property are not eligible.
- If operating project:
- Fixed project duration (up to 3 years)
- Consistent with existing City policies
- Implemented by the City of Cambridge
- Implemented after July 1, 2024 (the start of the next fiscal year)
Before being submitted to the public vote, all projects must be approved by City staff to ensure they meet the requisite need, impact, and feasibility criteria, and that they meet all legal requirements of capital and operating projects.
Operating Projects fund programs and services, including salaries. Multi-year operating PB projects can win funding for a maximum duration of three years. Once PB project funds are spent, the project will end. Cambridge’s 10th PB cycle is the first year operating projects are eligible for PB funding consideration. Many City services like trash and recycling collection, animal control, the Fire Department, and Cambridge Public Schools, involve operating funds.
You can learn more about the City’s FY24 Operating Budget here.
Capital Projects fund infrastructure improvements, typically things that are bought or built. Most capital projects have some sort of associated operating cost, like the ongoing cost to maintain and clean a public bathroom. Capital projects could include open space amenities, transportation infrastructure, vehicle purchases, technological materials, and much more. Examples of previous PB capital projects include youth center upgrades, electric vehicle charging stations, basketball court upgrades, water bottle filling stations, and tree plantings.
You can learn more about the City’s FY24 Capital Budget here.
The 10th PB cycle will run from September 2023 - March 2024 and include the following key phases:
- Community members brainstorm and submit IDEAS about how to spend $2 million of the City's FY25 Budget on projects to improve Cambridge (September 11 - October 9, 2023)
- Volunteer Budget Delegates research and prioritize ideas, ultimately developing final PROPOSALS for the PB Ballot (October 2023 - January 2024)
- City staff vet proposals for FEASIBILITY and COST (January 2024)
- Residents VOTE on which projects they’d like the City to fund (March 2024)
- RESULTS are announced and winning projects are included in the City’s FY25 Budget (March 2024)
- Winning projects are IMPLEMENTED (July 2024 onward)
PB Delegates are volunteers who work in the fall to research, evaluate, and prioritize the project ideas submitted by community members from October - January. PB Delegates ultimately develop the final project proposals for the PB vote in March. They do this through research, community assessments, and site visits, as well as through consultations with City staff regarding project feasibility and cost. PB Delegates evaluate submitted ideas on three main criteria: need, impact, and feasibility.
During the 2022 PB process, 60+ PB Delegates worked in the following 5 committees to narrow down all of the submitted ideas into 20 final project proposals for the ballot: Community Resources, Environment, Parks & Recreation, Transportation Streets & Sidewalks, and Youth.
If you are interested in volunteering as a PB Delegate, please contact the Cambridge Budget Office at [email protected] or (617) 349-4270.
The PB10 vote will be held in March, 2024 and will be conducted in a way that maximizes access and participation. Cambridge residents who are at least 12 years old (as well as students in the 6th grade), regardless of citizenship status, are eligible to vote in Participatory Budgeting. College/university students whose dorm/apartments are in Cambridge are also eligible to vote. Voters will be able to choose up to 5 of the 20 projects on the PB10 ballot. They do not need to rank their choices or do any math.
Voters will need an access code to vote online. Residents can obtain codes via text message to their cell phone. People who don't have cell phones can contact the Budget Office at [email protected] to obtain an access code to vote online. The PB9 online ballot was available in English, Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Residents can also vote over the phone in English at (617) 349-4270 and in-person at multiple events around Cambridge. Paper ballots at in-person events last year were available in English, Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Winning projects will be announced at a PB vote results party in March. You can read about winning projects from the last PB cycle here.