Participatory Budgeting

Overview

The City of Seattle is embarking on a participatory budgeting process. Participatory budgeting (PB) gives real people real power over how the City spends its budget. It deepens democracy, builds stronger communities, and creates more equitable distribution of resources.

The Seattle City Council earmarked approximately $30 million in the 2021 budget to run a Participatory budgeting process that allows Seattle neighbors to vote on how to invest public dollars.

The goal of this participatory budgeting process is to address the immediate needs of community as well as long-term goals by reducing police violence, reducing crime, and creating true community safety through community-led safety programs and new investments.

What is Participatory Budgeting?

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process that was first developed in Brazil in 1989 and is now practiced in more than 3,000 cities around the world. In these cities, PB lets community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget. While newish to Seattle - participatory budgeting is the standard in NYC, Chicago and Barcelona.

The City of Seattle has a history of practicing participatory budgeting since 2015, including “Youth Voice, Youth Choice and the “Your Voice, Your Choice” campaigns.

Participatory budgeting aims to increase civic engagement by creating a platform for Seattle residents to collaborate with the City to develop solutions to the challenges we face. Through PB, we aim to address the deepest needs in our communities and ensure City resources go where they will have the greatest impact.

Initial Research & Recommendations

The Seattle City Council allocated $3 million (Ordinance 126151) during the summer budget process of 2020 to research a participatory budgeting process that will engage BIPOC communities typically left out of City budget decisions and that will promote community safety and investments in BIPOC communities.

While past participatory budgeting processes focused on capital improvements, this renewed effort may focus more on programming. This process will also focus on better engaging BIPOC communities, and communities typically excluded from past participatory budgeting decision-making processes.

The Legislative Department contracted with the Freedom Project to do this early research work, called the “Black Brilliance Project,” which focused on answering three questions:

  1. What creates true community safety?
  2. What creates true community health?
  3. What do you need to thrive?

Through surveying hundreds of Black and Brown community members, the researchers synthesized the following answers:

Black Brilliance Research Project - Our Focus: Community Health, Safety, and Thriving Participatory Budgeting Recommendations from the Black Brilliance Research Project Participatory Budgeting Process

Read the Full Black Brilliance Research Project Report

The Black Brilliance Research Project presented their final report on February 26th, 2021. Watch their presentation below:

Additionally, you can review the Council’s Central Staff’s memo that summarizes the Preliminary Report and presents additional information and policy recommendations.

What's Next

On June 1, the Seattle City Council voted to lift the proviso on some of the participatory budgeting funding, and directed the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to work with community members to draft a Request for Proposals (RFP) to begin the search for an organization that would manage and conduct the participatory budgeting process. 

The Black Brilliance Research Project made it very clear that community members want to engage with a City department they can trust and that has existing relationships with the community – and that’s the Office of Civil Rights (OCR.)

Recently, OCR led a collaborative grant making process to develop an RFP to fund community alternatives to Incarceration and Policing, a collaborative approach to disrupting harmful systems. This process could be used to guide the Participatory Budgeting RFP process.

OCR plans to work with a broader group of people and community groups to rebuild buy-in to the participatory budgeting process.

Additional Media

Watch this video from the Participatory Budgeting Project to learn more about how other municipalities, such as New York City, use participatory budgeting and engage community to make decisions on how government funds should be used in their neighborhoods.

Watch this video from New York City Councilmember Carlos Menchaca about how Participatory Budgeting worked in his district, and how neighbors became more engaged and used their knowledge of government to advocate for more schools.