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 City is setting aside $500,000 in FY22 capital funds for the 2020 PB cycle. 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)
- 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 $500,000 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.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the limitations on conducting in-person events and community engagement activities, the City is running an abbreviated version of Participatory Budgeting. This year’s cycle will be conducted as a half cycle, and a future Participatory Budgeting cycle will be conducted at an expanded level.
The 2020 PB cycle will run from September-December 2020 and include the following key phases:
- Community members brainstorm and submit IDEAS about how to spend $500,000 of the City's FY21 Budget on capital projects to improve Cambridge (September 1-September 30, 2020)
- Volunteer Budget Delegates research and prioritize ideas, ultimately developing final PROPOSALS for the PB Ballot (October-December 2020)
- City staff vet proposals for FEASIBILITY and COST (November 2020)
- Residents VOTE on which projects they’d like the City to fund (December 2020)
- RESULTS are announced and winning projects are included in the City’s FY22 capital budget (December 2020 - January 2021)
- Winning projects are IMPLEMENTED (July 2021 onward)
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 runs from September 1 - September 30. During that time, community members can submit ideas five ways:
- Using the interactive online map
- Emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
- Calling 617-349-4270
City of Cambridge Budget Office
795 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02139
- Dropping the idea off in the Payment Drop Box in the rear of City Hall
To mitigate risks caused by COVID-19, there will be no in-person idea collection events in 2020. Idea collection is open to everyone (not restricted to Cambridge residents) of all ages.
Budget Delegates are volunteers who work in the fall to research, evaluate, and prioritize the project ideas submitted by community members over the summer. Budget Delegates ultimately develop the final project proposals for the annual PB vote in December. 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 three main criteria: need, impact, and feasibility.
During the 2019 PB process, 50+ Budget 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, Streetsmarts, and Youth & Technology.
To mitigate risks caused by COVID-19, the 2020 cycle proposal development process will be conducted virtually. Delegates will be able to participate through a computer or by phone.
If you are interested in volunteering as a budget delegate, click here to sign up.
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.
The 2020 Participatory Budgeting vote process will be conducted in a way that minimizes risk of exposure to COVID-19 while still maximizing access and participation. The specific details, including the schedule and available voting methods, are still being planned and will be announced at a later day.
Cambridge residents who are at least 12 years old, 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.
The 2019 Participatory Budgeting vote will be held from in the beginning of December 2019. Voters will be able to choose up to 5 of the 20 projects on the PB6 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@example.com or 617-349-4270 to obtain an access code to vote online. The 2018 online ballot was available in English, Haitian Creole, and Spanish.
Residents can also vote in person at multiple events around town during vote week. Paper ballots at in person events last year were available in English, Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Portuguese, and Spanish.
Winning projects are announced at a PB Vote Results Party in mid-December. You can read about winning projects from past PB cycles here.