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Building Participatory Democracy at International Conference

Seventeen-year-old Participatory Budgeting Youth Fellow Jacinta Ojevwe stood before an international audience at our Innovations in Participatory Democracy Conference and said, “To breathe life into this revolution, young people must be involved. That means we have to go to where young people are” just before she declared: “I am not just here for this conference, I’m here for my community.”

In March, we hosted an international conference bringing together leaders from 18 countries and 75 cities who participated on behalf of their communities, their work reshaping democracy through participation.

In partnership with the Center for the Future of Arizona, the Jefferson Center, the Katal Center, the Participatory Governance Initiative at Arizona State University, Phoenix Union High School District, and the Policy Jury Group, we ran 45 timely sessions spanning the roles of creativity and play in democracy, ways to center equity in reshaping democracy, innovations in civic tech, and new approaches to participatory justice and action civics.

Youth Power at #IPDConf2018

We opened the conference at Phoenix’s Central High School during their PB vote—where we heard from elected officials, students, and teachers about youth power in public decision-making, and saw nearly 3,000 students cast their ballots on how to spend public dollars.

In total, 10,242 students voted on how to spend $55,000 of the Phoenix Union High School District budget.

Through this process, the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office registered 786 students to vote, creating a pathway between participation in PB and voting in other elections.

Throughout the conference, young folks and their allies hosted many conference sessions on how to engage, support, and empower youth leadership in reimagining democracy. When we asked attendees for feedback, we heard over and over about how much they appreciated centering young voices and seeing youth power in action. Folks left Phoenix energized and ready to elevate youth leadership.

Why participatory budgeting and participatory democracy? Why now?

“We’re in a moment where people are skeptical of top-down, elite change. We also know that when people most affected by decisions are involved in making them, we get better outcomes. How can we practice that?”
—Annelise Grimm, Code for America

“We need to build community power. Without building power, you can’t change the systems causing the inequity we see.”
—Brian Mimura, California Endowment

“Having something revolutionary like participatory budgeting shows that there’s hope, that being an adult won’t be terrible.”
—Jennifer Abarca, student leader at Phoenix Union High School District

“Each community has different priorities and we need to support the people who understand what those priorities are.”
—Lola Rainey of Tucson Second Chance Bail Fund

“We are developing the leaders of today.”
—Dr. Chad Gestin, Superintendent Phoenix Union High School District

“Participatory Budgeting is the engine that changes how government works.”
—NYC Council Member Carlos Menchaca.

One month out from the conference, and we’re still reflecting on the ideas, questions, and calls to action shared by attendees.

See more outcomes and quotes at #IPDConf2018 on Twitter, and in wrap up posts from the Jefferson Center, NCDD, and Community | Learning | Design. Find presentation materials from our fantastic conference presenters here.

What’s next?

José Manuel Ribeiro, Mayor of Valongo, Portugal, reminds us that “perfecting democracy is a job that will never be finished.”

And so, we’re ready to continue this work, to make participatory budgeting and participatory democracy a core part of government – empowering more and more people to make the decisions that affect their lives.


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