The White House, Harvard, and Democracy Fund gather leaders to promote Participatory Budgeting

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On Feb 22 and 23, 2016 we joined more than 60 community leaders and civic technologists in Washington DC, to map a future for PB in the US.
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, and the Democracy Fund hosted an event which built on the 2014 convening that PBP co-hosted with the White House.
This convening featured lead PBNYC partners for their work that won Roy and Lila Ash Innovations Award for Public Engagement in Government. The award recognizes the incredible work undertaken by our partners at Community Voices Heard, the New York City Council including Speaker Mark-Viverito’s office, Arts & Democracy, and the Community Development Project at the Urban Justice Center. We joined them to share the work that ensured NYC residents are at the heart of PBNYC.

Five years ago participatory budgeting in the US was a small experiment in one city ward,” said Josh Lerner, PBP Co-founder and Executive Director, at the event. “Today there are over 46 processes, and The White House and Harvard are promoting PB as a best practice of local government. PB is repairing the relationship between government and the people.

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US Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith shared the international commitments that the White House has made around PB, and its desire to help grow PB in the US and open up participation in government. “Governments are just us. They’re whoever shows up.”

Attendees shared new data and tools, and left the event with concrete commitments:

  • Cities and counties new to PB are committing to convene community coalitions to build political support, and attend PBP’s May conference in Boston to learn how to make it happen.
  • Elected officials and volunteers who have pioneered PB in the US are stepping up to advise new communities who are organizing to launch PB.
  • Federal agencies already publicly supportive of PB will encourage other bureaus to officially embrace PB in national policies and plans.

Tom Glaisyer, program director for Democracy Fund, proposed how PB could rapidly grow in scale: “$275 billion of the US federal budget is allocated to local governments each year, excluding health entitlement programs. That’s a huge opportunity for PB.”

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PBP’s Data and Technology Manager, Aseem Mulji, shared the ways that PBP uses tech to make PB processes more accessible.

“How you use civic technology depends on your goals,” said Mulji. “At PBP, we believe the goal should be to use technology to engage marginalized communities and to enable more informed, equitable decision-making. Through our Participation Lab, we are experimenting with new tools like text messaging, vote reminders, and interactive mapping to make PB more inclusive and equitable.”

Professor Brian Wampler presented rigorous international data showing how participatory budgeting reduces infant mortality, leads to stronger health services, and increases the number of community organizations.
“PB has the most impact,” Wampler said, “when people decide more money – 7-12% of the budget, often $100-150 million.”
Public Agenda Slides

Public Agenda’s Carolin Hagelskamp shared new data on the growth of PB in the US in Canada.


In the past year, over 70,000 people in 13 cities allocated $50 million through PB.

Thank you to everyone who made this possible including the Administration whose commitment to supporting participatory budgeting efforts in both the second and third US Open Government National Action Plans continue to renew trust in government.

PBP is committed to continuing to work with the federal government and our partners to build new support for growing and deepening PB. We are excited to work together to create more inclusive government and more equitable public budgets!


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