April 26, 2017
Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School
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This collection of resources related to participatory budgeting is curated by the staff of the Government Innovators Network. Please visit our Public Finance and Civic Engagement & Participation pages for additional resources.

Participatory budgeting refers to processes through which citizens help to decide how to allocate public monies, empowering them to identify community needs, work with elected officials to craft budget proposals, and vote on how to spend public funds.

Featured Resources

Engaging Citizens: Participatory Budgeting and the Inclusive Governance Movement within the United States

Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, Harvard Kennedy School

This research paper provides a brief overview of the genesis of participatory budgeting and its current incarnations in the United States. It situates the participatory budgeting process within a larger context of civic innovation strategies occurring across America. The paper outlines the institutional challenges and proposes assessment criteria to be considered when implementing civic and social innovations such as participatory budgeting.


Democracy Reinvented: Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in America

Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation and Brookings Institution Press

This is an excerpt from Hollie Russon Gilman’s 2016 book, Democracy Reinvented: Participatory Budgeting and Civic Innovation in America. Using hundreds of interviews, survey research, process tracing, and field observations, Democracy Reinvented assesses the opportunities and obstacles of participatory budgeting and civic engagement. Based on Russon Gliman’s PhD dissertation, the book is one of the first academic works to extensively analyze participatory budgeting in the United States and its efforts to mend our democratic state.


Participatory Budgeting in New York City Named Winner of the Roy and Lila Ash Innovation Award

Government Innovators Network

Through a multistage evaluation process that included two application rounds, a research round, a site visit, and a final public presentation, the Ash Center named Participatory Budgeting in New York City (PBNYC) as the winner of the Roy and Lila Ash Innovations Award.


Innovations in American Government Awards: Participatory Budgeting in NYC: Finalist Presentation

Government Innovators Network

Participatory Budgeting in New York City (PBNYC) is the largest and the fastest-growing participatory budgeting process in the United States. This page features information about the program and a link to the group’s finalist presentation from the 2015 Ash Center’s Innovations in American Government Awards. 


Is Showing Up Enough? Lessons from Mobilizing for Participatory Budgeting in Rural Kenya

Government Innovators Network

This blog post explores the issue of elite capture in participatory budgeting processes, highlighting a randomized experiment in rural Kenya, which seeks to understand the links between mobilization, participatory budgeting, and elite capture. The study finds that mobilization is important in increasing participation, but may not prevent government officials, the wealthy, or other elites from co-opting the participatory budgeting processes in ways that serve their interests.


Overview of Participatory Budgeting

Public Agenda

Public Agenda’s website provides an overview of communities across the country experimenting with participatory budgeting, and outlines how participatory budgeting processes are implemented.


Participatory Budgeting

Participatory Budgeting Project

The Participatory Budgeting Project, a New York City-based nonprofit organization, creates and supports participatory budgeting processes that deepen democracy, build stronger communities, and make public budgets more equitable and effective. This website provides an overview of the participatory budgeting process and of the organization’s work.


Participatory Budgeting: Core Principles and Key Impacts

Journal of Public Deliberation

This essay is a reflection piece identifying key principles of participatory budgeting and discussing the scope of change that might arise from these processes. The author argues that there is not a specific model or set of “best practices” that define participatory budgeting, but that is most fruitful to conceptualize participatory budgeting as a set of principles that can generate social change.


Assessment of Participatory Budgeting in Brazil

Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Center for Urban Development Studies

This study is based on research undertaken by the Center for Urban Development Studies on participatory budgeting in Brazil. The main objective of the study is to assess the extent to which participatory budgeting is fostering the efficient and democratic allocation of resources and citizen involvement.


Cambridge Participatory Budgeting

City of Cambridge

This website highlights the Massachusetts city of Cambridge’s participatory budgeting process. The city hopes that participatory budgeting will help directly involve residents in the budgeting and city-building process, foster civic engagement and community spirit, and help ensure that the city’s Capital Plan reflects the priorities of Cambridge residents.


Chicago's 50th Ward Residents Want Ballot Referendum For Participatory Budgeting

Progress Illinois

Progress Illinois’ article outlines the recent spread of participatory budgeting across Chicago’s various wards.


Chicago: The Elected Official as an Engagement Leader

National League of Cities

Chicago was one of four communities selected for an in-depth case study in the National League of Cities and Knight Foundation's Bright Spots in Community Engagement report. This case study provides an opportunity to understand the motivations of public officials in community engagement using Alderman Joe Moore’s integration of participatory budgeting into his Chicago ward.


City of Boston Receives 2016 Guangzhou International Award for Urban Innovation


The City of Boston was recently awarded the top prize at The Guangzhou Institute for Urban Innovation’s international convening held in Guangzhou, China. Boston’s youth participatory budgeting process, “Youth Lead the Change,” was selected from 301 innovations projects submitted by 171 cities.


Greensboro, NC: Using Grassroots Advocacy to Adopt PB

Public Agenda

In Greensboro, North Carolina, a core group of grassroots organizers have been working with elected officials to adopt participatory budgeting. This article highlights the organizers’ efforts and recommends strategies for other jurisdictions to adopt participatory budgeting through grassroots efforts.


Participedia: Case Studies on Participatory Budgeting


This website provides an easily accessible way for hundreds of researchers and practitioners from across the globe to catalogue and compare the performance of participatory political processes.


A Process of Growth: The Expansion of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada in 2015–16

Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation

This report makes comparisons across key metrics on US and Canadian participatory budgeting processes. By bringing together data from all US and Canadian participatory processes, the report seeks to inform ongoing debates about participatory budgeting and to advance the practice of participatory budgeting.


Turnout and Diversity in Participatory Budgeting: Long Beach, California

Public Agenda

Attracting large numbers of people to vote is important to all participatory budgeting processes. Long Beach, California has increased efforts not only to increase voter turnout but to increase overall community participation, particularly with a focus on participatory budgeting.


Vallejo: A Model for Broader Engagement in Participatory Budgeting

Public Agenda

For local officials and community leaders using or considering participatory budgeting, Vallejo, California offers a model for funding programs and services.


What 43 City Officials Say About Participatory Budgeting

Next City

This article highlights the findings of interviews with 43 elected officials, 28 who have used participatory budgeting and 15 who have not, about the successes and challenges of implementing participatory budgeting. Most officials who have adopted participatory budgeting reported they had not necessarily done so to make the budget more responsive to community needs, but as a way to get their constituents more involved in local affairs.


What Online Ballots Did for Inclusion in Participatory Budgeting: San Francisco

Public Agenda

This article discusses the importance of online voting in achieving participatory budgeting goals in San Francisco.


15 Key Metrics for Evaluating Participatory Budgeting

Public Agenda

Public Agenda developed these 15 metrics with the goal of encouraging and supporting common research goals across participatory budgeting sites and informing local and national discussions about participatory budgeting in the United States and Canada. The key metrics address specific research questions and describe participatory budgeting’s potential impacts in three areas: civic and political life, inclusion and equity, and government.


Brazil Has Reduced Inequality Incrementally — Can We Do the Same? Gauging the Potential of Participatory Budgeting in the United States and Canada

Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation

Evidence from Brazil suggests that participatory budgeting has helped alleviate poverty, expand access to public services, reduce corruption, raise tax compliance, increase the number of civil society organizations, and improve the social well-being of a wide range of citizens. This report examines how participatory budgeting seems to have incrementally reduced both political and economic inequalities in Brazilian cities.


By the People, For the People: Participatory Budgeting from the Bottom Up in North America

Journal of Public Deliberation

This article shares the lessons learned from working with the Participatory Budgeting Project in New York City and in other North American cities. The article argues that participatory budgeting models should be built around four key principles: strategic funds, grassroots leaders, accessible design, and targeted outreach.


Digital Tools Enable Citizen Budgeting

Brookings Institution

Participatory budgeting and other civic innovations create the opportunity for experimentation and digital tools to provide new opportunities for citizens to engage with the government. This article explains that while innovations like participatory budgeting may not be a panacea for status quo politics in the United States, they can equip citizens to more deeply engage as problem solvers and civic participants in 21st century society. 


Scoping Toolkit: A Guide for Officials and Staff Interested in Starting Participatory Budgeting

Participatory Budgeting Project

This toolkit is for officials and staff of governments and institutions that are interested in launching a PB process. Its purpose is to help you understand what it takes to start a PB process and how to lay a foundation for success.

Issue Briefs

Can Participatory Budgeting Help Improve Democracy?

Public Agenda

Public Agenda explores the relationship between participatory budgeting and public engagement. Better public engagement can improve the relationship between leaders and the public, and this article explains the role of participatory budgeting as a key element of citizen engagement.


Citizen Input in the Budget Process

The American Review of Public Administration

Using survey data about citizen involvement practices utilized by the state departments of transportation across the country, this study examines the impact of participation on overall organizational effectiveness. The study results show that citizen participation in the budget process has the greatest positive effect on organizational performance at both the beginning and ending stages of the budget process.   

Learning from the South: Participatory Budgeting Worldwide — an Invitation to Global Cooperation

Capacity Building International

This report represents an attempt to provide an overview of participatory budgeting around the world. The authors’ aim is to present and analyze existing cases using consistent definitions and typology. The report is designed to facilitate future research on the topic.


Participatory Budgeting in Schools and School Districts

Participatory Budgeting Project

Schools have used participatory budgeting around the world to engage students, parents, teachers, and community members in deciding which school programs and improvements to fund. This process builds understanding of school budgets, directs funds to pressing needs and innovative ideas, and helps students and other community members learn democracy and active citizenship. This brief provides an overview of participatory budgeting processes within schools.


Participatory Budgeting Reaches Historically Disenfranchised Neighbors

Next City

With participatory budgeting programs cropping up in cities around the country, elected officials in cities are taking the opportunity to begin to strengthen democracy and citizenship among constituents, especially among citizens who have historically been disenfranchised from the political process.


Power to the People! (And Settings for Using It Wisely?): Balancing direct and deliberative democracy in participatory budgeting processes

Public Agenda and the Kettering Foundation

From its inception in Brazil in 1989, participatory budgeting has incorporated, to varying degrees, both direct and deliberative democracy. In deliberative democracy, citizens become informed about an issue, talk about their concerns and goals, weigh different policy options, and find common ground. This report examines the policy implications and implementation ideas at the crossroads of direct and deliberative democracy.


The Struggle for a Voice: Tensions between Associations and Citizens in Participatory Budgeting

International Journal of Urban and Regional Research

The emergence of new participatory mechanisms, such as participatory budgeting, in cities in recent years has given rise to a conflict between the old protagonists of local participation and the new citizens invited to participate. This article aims to analyze this power conflict in three different cities that set up participatory budgeting at different times: Porto Alegre, Cordova, and Paris.


Transformative Deliberations: Participatory Budgeting in the United States

Journal of Public Deliberation

This article develops two conceptual models, based on empirical data, for assessing deliberation and decision making within United States adoptions of participatory budgeting. The first model is results oriented whereas the second model is process oriented. The two models demonstrate the tension between inclusiveness and efficiency that emerge as participatory budgeting tries to accommodate the dual goals of improved short-term service delivery and democratic expansion.


Whose Budget? Our Budget? Broadening Political Stakeholdership via Participatory Budgeting

Journal of Public Deliberation

This piece contextualizes New York City’s inaugural participatory budgeting process in the larger landscape of American political participation. It discusses the bottom-up way in which stakeholders wrote the process’s rules in the first place, and how these rules helped to broaden notions of stakeholdership among constituents.

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