When we started working with the small town of Dieppe, Canada to help them launch their first participatory budgeting (PB) process they asked us about the lowest voting age we had ever seen. When we provide technical assistance it’s up to our partners to lead writing the rules and setting priorities for engagement. Dieppe made sure that young people were included so we were not surprised to meet Judith.
Judith Bourque is an 11th grader who is very involved in her community. She has a zest for democracy and loves being part of innovative change in her neighborhood. Judith gets the democracy fever flowing in her hometown!
We spoke with her recently and were inspired by her work as a steering committee member in Dieppe’s first PB process ever. Get to know Judith’s story on how collective action can bring about a great sense of community and accomplishment in less than a year!
PBP: Tell us about yourself
Judith: I’m an 11th grade student and I’m part of the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, which is an educational program that is focused on international interactions and encourages personal growth through academia. What I’m doing right now is focusing on school and on the side I really love getting involved in in my community and making a difference, and I also love art.
PBP: How were you introduced to PB?
Judith: It all started with my participation in the City Youth Committee. I was introduced to PB during one the meetings with a city employee where we discussed city issues and towards the end of the discussion, he played the PB promo video from the PBP website and I was like, hey democracy, I love it! I didn’t act on it initially and thought I’m only 16, how can I get involved? However, during another event, I saw the same video and just had to ask how I could get involved. I was excited to learn that my age didn’t get in the way of my interest in participating and was like OK, I can get started on this so I began training as a steering committee member.
PBP: What did you end up doing in the PB process? What did you learn?
Judith: This summer I had the opportunity to help facilitate meetings with budget delegates and it was really fun! Everyone that was there wanted to do something great! I didn’t know what I was getting myself into at first and there were different dynamics that I wasn’t used to. I learned that there are many ways to encourage community engagement and I used my skills as an active listener to deal with the different issues the committee and I came across. Everyone seemed to enjoy exercising their citizen power!
I also met lots of different members from my community through this process and in some way it’s making me less shy around adults and other groups that I’m not used to speaking with. I’ve learned to approach people and it’s really rewarding now as I am pursuing different activities and opportunities. As a steering committee member, I approached groups that I wasn’t familiar with, like I approached my student council for the first time in the Spring and that was a different experience for me. I’ve learned how to go out and speak to people and not be afraid of their reaction because people can be pretty receptive to ideas and having a conversation about them wit you.
PBP: What was surprising during your PB experience?
Judith: The turnout was amazingly unexpected. I was a bit insecure about how many people were actually going to commit to organizing PB in Dieppe and become active voters. PB delegates in my town were very engaged and attended meetings while also sharing and pursuing their personal project proposals! We had a diverse group of delegates and I was pleasantly surprised to see everyday residents go out of their way to try to build a project from the ground up, like doing the research required to push ideas forward.
PBP: What were some challenges in implementing PB in Dieppe?
Judith: The thing is it’s our first round of PB in Dieppe so that brought up some challenges along the way. Luc Richard, who is the city representative in charge of the PB process, helped us do outreach to other cities that have done PB before and asked for links and materials we could look at to make PB happen in Dieppe. For instance, figuring out how to get people to participate and vote was a focus point of ours and the city council advised us to reach out to residents who weren’t as involved or informed on city operations. We were all sitting there at the steering committee meeting and wondered if people were actually going to go out of their way to be active!
At first we tried to figure out how to reach out to kids and teens in the neighborhood and that is where the city council staff helped us spread the word of PB throughout schools and reminded people of all ages to vote. One of the more difficult issues we faced was trying to make voting available online so it could be convenient for everyone. We wanted to be inclusive and make this process safe and easy to use without risking a manipulation of the results so we gave away 1 code per individual to use online so that voting could be done efficiently. It was quite interesting thinking about how to deal with all these issues and organizing/managing activities.
PBP: Were you able to get support from your peers and community members?
Judith: Well as a 16 year old with most of my friends part of the IB program, we volunteer a lot of hours to community development. My peers really love getting involved as well and as a matter a fact my friend also became interested in volunteering for City Hall after seeing the presentation on PB to our Youth Committee. Everyone was eager to get involved and it has been well received from my peers. I’m also pretty sure that all my friends who were eligible to vote hit the polls! I remember back in March how distant November seemed (beginning of voting phase) but we had devoted groups of volunteers that did local outreach in public spaces and facilities, talking about PB to parents, students and kids and motivating them to vote and participate!
PBP: Did you feel that your voice was heard through PB?
Judith: Yes definitely! I’m very interested in democracy and being able to voice my ideas and turn them into a reality as a youth is very rewarding. I was the only youth in a group of more than 20 steering committee members and my voice carried the same weight as everyone else in the decision-making process! I also want to give a shout out and special thanks to all the work that everyone did to make PB a reality in Dieppe and I hope that we can launch another process next year!
More material from PB Dieppe:
Here are some inspiring project video proposals that came out of PB Dieppe: