Have a specific question about the Participatory Budgeting process?  Review the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) to find the answers.   

What is Participatory Budgeting (PB)?


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:

What are the goals of PB in Cambridge?


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.


How much money is Cambridge setting aside and what can it be used for?


The City is setting aside $1,000,000 in FY21 capital funds for the 2019 PB cycle, an increase of $100,000 from the fifth PB process in 2018. 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 $1,000,000 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.


How does PB work in Cambridge? What happens when?


The 2019 PB cycle will run from May-December 2019 and include the following key phases:

  • Planning and recruitment of a volunteer OUTREACH TEAM consisting of residents and representatives from local nonprofit and community-based organizations (May 2019)
  • Community members brainstorm and submit IDEAS about how to spend $1,000,000 of the City's FY21 budget on capital projects to improve Cambridge (June 1 -July 31, 2019)
  • Volunteer Budget Delegates research and prioritize ideas, ultimately developing final PROPOSALS for the PB ballot (August-November 2019)
  • City staff vet proposals for FEASIBILITY and COST (November 2019)
  • Residents VOTE on which projects they’d like the City to fund (Early December 2019)
  • RESULTS are announced and winning projects are included in the City’s FY21 capital budget (December 2019)
  • Winning projects are IMPLEMENTED (July 2020 onward)

What are some examples 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

How can I submit ideas?


The idea collection phase runs from June 1 - July 31 each year. During that time, community members can 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) of all ages.

How can I get involved with PB Cambridge?


There are many opportunities to get involved with the PB process, including:

  • Serving on the PB Outreach Team 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

To volunteer in support of Participatory Budgeting in Cambridge, please check here for current needs or contact Matt Nelson in the City's Budget Office at pb@cambridgema.gov or (617) 349-4270. Thank you!

What are Budget Delegates and how does proposal development work?


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 2017 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.  

How will voting work? Who is eligible to vote?


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 pb@cambridgema.gov 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.