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Seattle's Participatory Budgeting Process

Introduction

In June 2021, the City of Seattle placed the development of a request for proposal (RFP) for the Participatory Budgeting process into the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR). SOCR does not distribute the funds for participatory budgeting. The RFP resulted in a contract with the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) to run the participatory budgeting program.

For the most up to date information on Participatory Budgeting, visit pbseattle.org

Community Participation Needed

We need community members to participate in workgroups and committees. These are paid opportunities. Please share applications with your networks: Steering Committee, and Workgroups.

In May 2020, the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers sparked nationwide protests. The protests called to defund the police and justice for Black victims of police violence. This tragedy forced people to confront the racism, oppression, and white supremacy of the government.

These calls to recognize the harm done to Black communities resulted in Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community groups demanding divestment from policing and reinvestment directly back into the community.

In September 2020, Seattle City Council directed $3 million into research on how to address public safety. Community-based groups got together. The Black Brilliance Research Project submitted their report in February 2021 with recommendations to invest in housing, healthcare, and economic opportunity through participatory budgeting. This is how the Participatory Budgeting (PB) program was born.

While PB began in Seattle's Department of Neighborhoods (DON), Seattle City Council decided to move the program into SOCR. Our previous work in community funding gave us the experience we needed to run the search for the organization who would run PB.

With $28 million in funding, this is one of the largest PB programs in the nation.

The Black Brilliance Research Project (BBRP) report was developed through a $3 million fund given by Seattle City Council. This funding was used to understand communities that are most affected by police violence. It also showed how participatory budgeting could be a solution for investment in those communities.

The BBRP brought in over 100 community members to be paid researchers. The researchers asked three questions:

  • What creates true community safety?
  • What creates true community health?
  • What do you need to thrive?

BBRP’s overall recommendations were to stop causing harm, create inclusive policies, follow Black leadership, pay for community expertise, and invest in thriving solutions. BBRP also highlighted five investment focus areas.

  1. Housing and Physical Spaces
    • Housing diversity and the need for more Black-led residential and Black-led commercial spaces.
  2. Mental Health
    • Researchers and community members were adamant about the need for caring and culturally responsive health networks led by people with lived experience. An equitable payment structure is required to ensure people receive proper care by appropriate healers.
  3. Youth and Children
    • Childcare and intergenerational out-of-school time supports were big priorities for several teams, particularly for children facing systemic violence, trauma, and multigenerational disadvantages.
  4. Economic Development
    • The urgent need for economic relief to address the triple crises of COVID-19, economic recession, and systemic racism via hyperlocal, cooperative solutions that build new capacity and opportunity in community.
  5. Crisis and Wellness
    • Alternatives to the currently harmful 911 and crisis response system are needed. Trained and skilled community members should staff these.

The above focus areas help to inform the development of the project proposals during the PB process.

In addition to their research findings, the BBRP report also talked about a PB Roadmap. The expectation was that the PB process be mostly run by the City starting in 2021. However, the City had trouble starting the PB process in adherence to the spirit and vision of the BBRP report. It was then decided to hire a contractor who would run the PB process.

We sought applications from organizations to provide administrative services to assist the City in planning and developing the PB program. 

The request for proposal resulted in a contract with the Participatory Budgeting Project.

Three information sessions were held for the RFP

  • Tuesday, December 7, 2021, 5-7pm: Information Session 1 - RFP Process Overview
  • Thursday, December 9, 2021, 5-7pm: Information Session 2 - Presentation of Black Brilliance Research Project Report
  • Tuesday, December 14, 2021, 5-7pm: Information Session 3 - Application FAQ: Proposals, Budgets, etc.

We encouraged joint applications between organizations and coalitions. We prioritized applications that showed:

  • Capacity and experience to conduct a citywide PB Program with actionable recommendations for the City to make decisions resulting in community investments.
  • A strong connection to communities historically and currently impacted by police violence, including the Black community.
  • Sustained commitment to work with and for historically and currently marginalized communities, and in collaboration with local organizations/coalitions led by Black, Indigenous, and communities of color in building power and local capacity for this citywide PB Program; uplifting BIPOC queer and transgender leadership to build solidarity.
  • A commitment to address internalized oppression, affirming all identities, and values ending all forms of oppression, which include racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny.
     

For the RFP, we asked that consultants be able to perform the following tasks:

  • The establishment and implementation of a participatory budgeting process that aligns with recognized best practices and has fidelity to the spirit and vision set forth by the Black Brilliance Research Project's Report, [subject to guidance and direction from the City to align the work with City policy objectives, feasibility, and legal requirements].
  • Maximum feasible participation with historically and currently marginalized community members.
  • Oversee a process that results in the selection of actionable projects for recommendation to the City which can begin implementation in late 2022 or early 2023. 
  • While the participatory budgeting process implemented by the selected Contractor will not itself bind the City to any particular budget decisions, participatory budgeting will provide the City input to guide and inform City elected officials as they make budgeting decisions. There are no budgeting decisions being made through services provided by the Consultant selected to perform this scope of work.

Our Commitment to Transparency

Our vision at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights is a city of liberated people where communities historically impacted by racism, oppression, and colonization hold power and thrive. We understand that liberation cannot happen without full transparency and honesty to the communities we serve.

Our mission is to end structural racism and discrimination through accountable community relationships and anti-racist organizing, policy development, and civil rights enforcement. We understand that we cannot be true to our mission without upholding a participatory budgeting program that repairs the harm experienced by Black community and staff.

We commit to openness, authenticity, integrity, collaboration, and thoughtful planning throughout the process of supporting the participatory budgeting program.

We acknowledge the valid criticisms that exist on the transparency that the City has displayed throughout this process and how that has caused significant harm, especially to Black, Indigenous, and people of color communities. Our commitment in the Office for Civil Rights is to offer access to information; that you, as members of the communities most impacted by racism, oppression, and colonization hold the right to see how this process works, how decisions are made, by whom they are being made, and how they will affect you.

FAQs

What is Participatory Budgeting (PB)?

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process, where communities and members of the public decide how to spend allocated public funding. PB allows those generally left out and marginalized from budgetary conversations to have a voice in the process.  

Graphic explaining the participatory budgeting process. White background with teal letters.

Graphic from Participatory Budgeting Project

Where else has participatory budgeting been done?

Seattle is not the first city to utilize a participatory budgeting process. Other cities across the US have enacted similar programs, using PB to make investment decisions in education, community development, housing, and so on.  

See how participatory budgeting works in other jurisdictions and the potential Seattle holds to revolutionize the way we invest in our communities.  

Participatory Budgeting Project
New York City, NY
Cambridge, MA
Boston, MA

What does the Seattle Office for Civil Rights do?

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) works to advance civil rights and end barriers to equity.

We enforce laws against illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and contracting within Seattle city limits. We enforce the All-Gender Restrooms Ordinance, the Ban on Providing Conversion Therapy to Minors, and the Closed Captioning in Places of Public Accommodation Ordinance. 

We also lead the Race and Social Justice Initiative, a citywide effort to end institutional racism in City government and to achieve racial equity across our community. 

Learn more about what SOCR does here

What is SOCR's Role?

In collaboration with and input from community-driven organizations, SOCR will develop the parameters and criteria that will be outlined in the Request for Proposal (RFP).  

Where does the PB funding come from?

The $30 million funding for this Participatory Budgeting program came from a $100 million fund earmarked by former Mayor Jenny Durkan after community groups demanded investments into Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities during the protests for Black lives in the summer of 2020.

Timeline

May 2020

George Floyd is murdered by Minneapolis Police and nationwide protests demand police accountability.

Sept. 2020

City budget amendment directs $3 million to community-based research groups to evaluate the processes needed to reimagine public safety.

Feb. 2021

The Black Brilliance Research Project Report is submitted.

June 2021

Participatory budgeting (PB) process moves from Department of Neighborhoods to the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

Nov. 2021

Formation of the Community Investments Division in the Office for Civil Rights to house PB.

Dec. 2021

Request for Proposal for a third-party administrator to administer the PB process.

Jan. 2022

SOCR receives a proposal from the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP).

Feb. 2022

A convened rating panel moves forward with the PBP as the third-party administrator for the PB process.

March 2022

Contract negotiations begin with PBP and SOCR. Council is sent a PB award notification letter.

July 2022

Anticipated execution of PBP contract and beginning of PB Planning phase including landscape analysis, committee and workgroup recruiting, and convening of City interdepartmental team.

Sept. 2022

Anticipated start of the PB Design phase including rulebook, workshop, and content finalization.

Nov. 2022

Anticipated start of PB Idea Collection phase where community members are engaged to initially brainstorm possible proposals.

Dec. 2022

Anticipated start of PB Proposal Development phase where initial ideas are developed to ballot proposals.

March 2023

Anticipated start of PB Vote phase where ballot proposal voting occurs.

June 2023

Anticipated PB Evaluation phase where a final report is due.

Civil Rights

Derrick Wheeler-Smith, Interim Director
Address: 810 3rd Avenue , Suite 750, Seattle, WA, 98104-1627
Phone: (206) 684-4500
civilrights@seattle.gov

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The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) works to advance civil rights and end barriers to equity. We enforce laws against illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public places, and contracting within Seattle.