New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Participatory Budgeting

What is Participatory Budgeting?

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. In other words, the people who pay taxes decide how tax dollars get spent. Participatory budgeting is grassroots democracy at its best. It helps make budget decisions clear and accessible. It gives real power to people who have never before been involved in the political process. And it results in better budget decisions - because who better knows the needs of our community than the people who live there?

In 2011, four New York City Council Members launched a PB process to let residents allocate part of their capital discretionary funds. This year, twenty-eight Council Members are participating in the process, giving the community real decision-making power over almost $30 million in taxpayer money.

The Brazilian city of Porto Alegre started the first full PB process in 1989, for its municipal budget. Since then, PB has spread to more than 1,500 cities around the world. Its usually used for city budgets, but states, counties, schools, universities, housing authorities, and coalitions of community groups have also used PB to open up spending decisions to the people.

How does it work?

PB lets the whole community participate in decision-making. It’s a yearlong process of public meetings, to make sure that people have the time and resources to make wise decisions. Community members discuss local needs and develop proposals to meet these needs. Through a public vote, residents then decide which proposals to fund.

For more information on participatory budgeting and how it has worked elsewhere, visit the website of The Participatory Budgeting Project

What Kind of Projects can be Funded?

Discretionary funds are money that the City Council Member allocates. There are two types of discretionary funds. Expense funds are used to pay for salaries and services. Capital funds are used to pay for physical infrastructure - for “bricks and mortar” projects.

For the time being, PBNYC only deals with CAPITAL money. That means community members can propose projects like improvements to schools, parks, libraries, public housing, and other public or community spaces.

What happens when?

Neighborhood Canvassing: July - August

Volunteers go to street fairs, parks and community meetings throughout the district to hear from about the community's needs.

Neighborhood Assemblies: September

At public meetings in each district, community members learn about PB and discuss their community’s needs. They then brainstorm project ideas and volunteer to be budget delegates.

Delegate Orientations: October

Volunteer budget delegates learn about the budget process, project development, and key spending areas, then form committees.

Delegate Meetings: October - January

Delegates meet in committees to transform the community’s initial project ideas into full proposals, with support from Council Member staff and other experts.

Community Voting: March

Residents vote on which projects to fund at voting sites throughout the district.

Implementation & Monitoring: April onwards

The Council Members submit their spending priorities to the City Council’s Finance Division, including the winning PB projects, for inclusion in the City budget. Community members evaluate the process, and oversee the implementation of projects. Research and Evaluation happens throughout these stages, to improve the process for next year.

To learn more about participatory budgeting or the budget delegate process, please contact Sushant Harite at 212-860-1950 or

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