Passionate about amplifying the voice of Greensboro residents, Maddie Reed and Fanta Dorley from Greensboro, NC helped engage many people from all walks of life to improve their community. PB Greensboro launched as the first PB process in the south last year, August 2015, and has since become an engaging outlet for people to have a say in managing $500,000 citywide!
PBP: How did you learn about PB?
Maddie: I heard about the PB initiative from my son, Dave Reed, a member of the Steering Committee and an original proponent of PB for Greensboro. As he studied and learned about PB, he helped introduce this process to Greensboro. Through his work with the Fund for Democratic Communities, he felt strongly that PB would be good for the citizens of Greensboro.
Fanta: Social media helped get the message across to people who liked the city website or Facebook page. The City of Greensboro did a great job to get the message of what was coming to our neighborhood. People who were involved in the community through the city were also being alerted on PB.
PBP: How did you become involved with the PB process?
Maddie: With the beginning of my retirement from public education last June, I was looking for ways to participate in activities connected to my community, and PB offered those opportunities. I firmly believe in the PB process so this was a way to contribute and help. I learned what it truly offered the citizens of Greensboro, my community. I love the ability to directly interact with city officials and as a taxpayer, having direct input in the budget process is empowering.
Partnering with others introduced meaningful conversations about the value of community projects.
Fanta: I’ve been involved in a lot of different non-profits throughout the city as well as the commission on the status of women. My experience in dealing directly with human services and passion for community engagement encouraged my involvement in PB.
I thought it was interesting to have a process where people have the ability to help the government make decisions. Community involvement is something that is rare and PB helped make it happen.
PBP: What was your role in the process?
Maddie: I have been involved in both the “Project Gathering” process and as a “Facilitator” during the budgeting process. This enabled me to meet and listen to the citizens of Greensboro as they expressed and offered their ideas for ways to improve their neighborhoods, and the city.
Fanta: I couldn’t choose between being a facilitator and budget delegate but I decided to get the best of both worlds. As a facilitator, I was with the special projects and I served as a budget delegate for the parks and recreation group. I enjoyed being able to dig in and do the research as well as experience the frontlines of PB by speaking to the community and asking for their opinions. Being a facilitator allowed me to tune in to the voice of the community. Hearing the community express their ideas, turning their ideas into tangible proposals and seeing their projects on a ballot was rewarding and it all came together quite well.
PBP: What project did you work on?
Fanta: For the parks and recreation group, we were all assigned different projects. There was a total of about 200 submitted projects. We divided it to check on the feasibility and also directly deal with the Parks and Recreation department to see if any of these projects were already in queue. There were various project types that went from building a park bench, water fountains to developing a solar system display in the community. The solar system display was a great proposal because it involved many different facets of the city government. Not only with Parks and Recreation but also with the arts and cultures department and the security department. That one project bound everybody together and formed a collaborative nature that PB is all about.
PBP: What skills did you apply in the PB process?
As a team, we worked to provide an atmosphere where everyone’s contributions were invited.
Maddie: Being a retired public school educator, I brought the facilitation skills, collaboration pedagogy, listening skills, and respect for the ideas of others to this process. By being a positive listener and a willing collaborator, others in the group knew that I was sincere in my evaluation. My desire to learn from them no matter the simplicity or complexity of their ideas worked to provide a safe, respectful and encouraging atmosphere focused on positive engagement.
Fanta: From my experience working with community organizations, I was able to tap into people’s passion for their community. While people have passion, it can be difficult to express it. Maddie and I did a lot of motivational interviewing and helped people find the right words to express what they truly meant. These practices allowed people that would have never been in the same room with each other, to be able to hear and learn from one another. People from all economic backgrounds, all classes, all racial backgrounds, even people who lived on the other side of town came to the idea collection meetings.
PBP: How does teamwork go hand in hand with PB?
Maddie: Both Fanta and I are good listeners and “curious” facilitators. As a team, we worked to provide an atmosphere where everyone’s contributions were invited. Dialogue between us was cordial and respectful which set the tone for the dialogues between participants. We shared the PB work-load as we facilitated the meetings and “at-home” responsibilities. Crucial to our success was having each other to bounce off opinions and ideas and it helped contribute to a more relaxed atmosphere.
Fanta: Partnering with others introduced meaningful conversations about the value of community projects. I learned a lot from my peers by hearing different ideas from community members. The visuals provided to display the feasibility of projects were helpful and made the process exciting. For instance, there was a project that had to do with implementing security cameras. For those of us who didn’t know the process of installing security cameras, we were able to see the visuals and steps to do this. Everyone who was present throughout the process, was there for the common good. Everyone had equal talk time and it was really a great group experience.
PBP: What do you believe PB stands for?
Maddie: PB is democracy-in-action at the local level. It’s true citizen engagement and I look forward to it continuing in Greensboro. I think once the votes are counted and the projects completed, more of Greensboro’s residents will participate next year.
Fanta: PB is truly an educational and mind blowing experience. It’s being involved with government policies and procedures without being involved with the government. It’s allowing the community to regain its voice and say, this is what’s important to us, this is what will matter to us in our everyday lives and the government actually listening to that.
PBP: How do people add value to PB?
Maddie: I think participation in the PB process should be open to any resident of the community funding the process. I was an advocate, and very proud of the involvement by students and youth from the neighborhoods. These children, ages 11 and up, had some very good suggestions! Not all of them were practical, but each child I spoke to was excited to just be asked! They see our community from a different perspective than the “adults on the block.” They can bring fresh ideas into the discussion. All that remains is to encourage other participants to listen to them, take their ideas seriously, and offer guidance/mentoring into the remainder of the PB process. Investment in both the community and the residents of the community is one of the great strengths of PB. This includes the youth!
Fanta: Everyone should participate! From the young and old, from the college educated to the school drop-out, from the international person to the person that has been born and raised in Greensboro, everyone should participate. I especially appreciated the input of people that were not residents of Greensboro. Many live in the surrounding city or they work in Greensboro. I would like to know what they want to see in Greensboro. For instance, we received great input from someone who lives in a neighboring town who said they would love for Greensboro to have city maps that pinpoint Greensboro’s attractions and main streets as opposed to calling the city. We have too much of a comfort and familiarity with our city that we should extend that same sense of comfort to those who don’t reside in Greensboro. That’s why I would encourage people who are not residents of Greensboro to also be involved.
PBP: Anything else you’d like to add?
Maddie: I am proud to be a part of this initial “toe in the water” of Participatory Budgeting. It has been eye-opening for me as to know how a city budget works, how projects are approved and implemented, and just how energized the people of Greensboro can become, given their direct opportunity to participate in how their city funds are spent.
Fanta: Greensboro is a culturally rich town and I would like to hear more from individuals and families who aren’t native to Greensboro. We have a growing population of international residents. What may be important to us might not be as significant to others. I think once we can establish the champions of our international communities we can embrace more inclusive PB.