Webinar: Introduction to Participatory Budgeting

Introduction to Participatory Budgeting explains everything you need to know about the program, including what projects you can see funded in your neighborhood, what it means for New York City, and how local parks and open space advocates such as yourself can get involved in the process. Watch the webinar, or read the transcript, below.


Participatory Budgeting Home Page www.participatorybudgeting.org

What is PB? https://www.participatorybudgeting.org/what-is-pb/

PB Educational Videos https://www.participatorybudgeting.org/resources-to-do-pb/videos/

NYC City Council PB Page https://council.nyc.gov/pb/

Is my Council Member participating in PB: https://council.nyc.gov/pb/participate/

PB Idea Map http://ideas.pbnyc.org/page/ab...

PB Vote Sites https://council.nyc.gov/pb/vote-sites/

2018 Online Voting Link: https://pbnyc2018.d21.me/

Transcript: Introduction to Participatory Budgeting

Gabriella: Hello and welcome to the New Yorkers for Parks Webinar series, an opportunity for the NY4P staff to share tools, resources and research to our constituents on your own time. I am Gabriella Cappo, the Community Outreach Coordinator and today I will be leading you all in a webinar that will explain what Participatory Budgeting is, what it means for New York City, and how local parks and open space advocates such as yourselves can get involved in this awesome process.  This webinar will last about 20 minutes. I am joined today by my colleague from our Development Team, Michelle Velez.

Michelle: Hello everyone. My name is Michelle Velez, the Development Manager here at New Yorkers for Parks. For those of you who are new to NY4P, we are the citywide independent organization championing quality parks and open spaces for all New Yorkers in all neighborhoods. Here at New Yorkers for Parks, we believe that great parks make a great city, and we have been spreading this message for over 100 years. We are a research and advocacy organization that listens to and works with communities, educates New Yorkers on parks and open space related public policy, analyzes data and write reports, - and advocates every day for better parks across the city. We inform, lobby and influence key decision-makers into making the best decisions for our city’s open space. So with that little background about NY4P, let’s get into Participatory Budgeting – or as we will sometimes call it here, PB.

G: Okay so first we are going to look at what exactly the Participatory Budgeting Process is. See the logo on the screen. Overall, PB refers to the process of democratic decision making and a type of participatory democracy as it relates to the public budget. It allows ordinary people to decide how to allocate a part of a municipal or public budget. So basically, it is a way for residents, such as yourselves, to identify, discuss, and prioritize public spending projects and gives you the power to help make real decisions about how this money is spent. These public spending projects have quite a range and can include projects relating to schools, parks, libraries, public housing, and public spaces. The public votes these spaces through a process that is not connected to electoral voting. 

M: PB has a long history. It actually started in Brazil in 1989 and since then it has spread all over the world, including to 1,500 cities across the US.  It began as a way to include people who were traditionally left out of the democratic process such as youth, the elderly, or people in low income areas. The process is meant to engage and empower populations that have previously been disenfranchised. And it has been really successful in many ways. It has resulted in more equitable public spending, more transparency in government, greater accountability in government, and more public participation. So that was a very, very brief look at PB all over the world, but today, we are going to zoom in on PB in New York City, specifically. 

G:  PB in NYC began in 2011 for a trial cycle for the City 2011FY and has continued ever since, which is great. As of spring 2018, it is actually the largest PB process in North America. Also as of 2018, 27 of the 51 City Council districts participate in it. It is up to individual Council Members to choose if they would like to join. If you are unsure if your CM is participating you can look it up here here. You can click the “Is my Council Member participating” button here and it will take you to this website page which will let you know. If you want your Council Member to join you can be vocal about this before the next election year. 

M: When a Council Member joins PB, they commit to allocating at least one million dollars from their five million dollar capital funds they have allocated to projects across all city agencies to the PB project proposals that have the greatest support in their district. Just a quick side note about discretionary funding – normally discretionary funding is divided into two categories. Expense and Capital. As of right now, spring 2018, PB funds are generally only capital funds. Capital projects include infrastructure and “brick and mortar” projects; which would mean renovations, construction, repairs of city owned property, and certain purchases. Some examples of these would be replacement of outdated playground equipment, a new sidewalk, or an upgraded computer lab for a middle school. 

G: Besides the Council Members, NYC also has a Citywide Committee that participates in the PB process. This committee is made up of individuals, community organizations, and city council members. This committee is meant to guide the process of PB. New Yorkers for Parks is actually a part of the Citywide Committee and anyone can join as you see on the screen here. This committee also creates the rules for PB which are adopted by the City Council. At the end of the PB vote cycle, the Committee reflects on the past cycle and may change or update the rulebook as needed. The rulebook is kept online on the city council’s page and updated yearly. You can use the link you see on the screen: https://council.nyc.gov/pb/ to find it.  

M: Now that we have talked about PB as a whole and the framework for PB in NYC, we are going to talk about the PB cycle. And just to make a note, we are referring here to the process in general, but each district has some ability to do things slightly differently within each cycle, so make sure to be in communication with your council member and PB budget delegates to know what your district is doing.

G: This is a picture of the whole cycle that we will refer back to. But let’s talk about the first step. In New York, the cycle begins in late summer or early fall and ends in spring. And it all starts with community ideas. To begin this idea collection process, participating districts host neighborhood assemblies. They will usually host upwards of 5 to 6 meetings at various locations in each district and aim to get a broad array of individuals participating in the process. These meetings are hosted by a combination of volunteers and by Council Members and their staff, and whether or not there will be more volunteer leadership or council member leadership here, and in the whole process overall, varies from district to district.

M: These meetings serve a number of functions. At the meetings, hosts will explain what PB is, what rules that specific district may have, the difference between capital and expense projects, and PB project eligibility. We aren’t going to get into all the rules of what makes a project eligible here, you can find them in PB rule book, but there are some stipulations a PB project has to meet. Explaining all of these rules and notes at the onset helps narrow down and focus community ideas from the start, and separate out non-eligible ideas. Once all these rules have been explained, ideas are put forward by community members in attendance. PB ideas are also collected through online links. Once they have been submitted, districts receive hard copies of the list of preliminary ideas. There is also an Idea collection map. 

G: The Idea Collection Map you can find here. During the idea submission time for a specific PB cycle you can add community improvement ideas to this map which would be what projects you would like to see funded in your district. This map also allows you to see past ideas that were funded and suggestions other citizens in your district have. The helpful key on the right hand side tells you what type of project is being proposed. Anyone can add ideas to the map. The final date for submission will be in the fall but the exact dates change yearly so it is best to check the city council website, the pbnyc website, and to follow your CM and PBNYC on social media. This map also has really helpful guidelines, both on how to use the map and when you can submit ideas, and guidelines on what type of projects can be funded, which is really helpful if you were unable to attend a neighborhood assembly meeting or just want to see these rules and guidelines in writing. This map is also available in Spanish. During this time preliminary ideas will also be placed in tentative agency buckets; like parks for example. 

M: Once you have attended a meeting or successfully submitted your ideas to the map, the ideas move to a second step where they are looked at and researched by a budget delegate.

G: A budget delegate is a volunteer who works with a PB district to help transform community ideas into actual project proposals that will eventually be added to the ballot. There will generally be several budget delegates per district. These delegates will form committees and take these community ideas, make sure they are in the correct agency buckets, and flesh out ideas that are too expensive, or not feasible at the moment. The budget delegates really work on narrowing this list down over the course of several steps. With this new pruned list of ideas, budget delegates do further research on the ideas, and may go and do some field visits for the remaining proposals. This could include visiting a school and talking to the principal or going to a park and checking up on the site for a proposed project. Based on the site visits they are able to narrow down the list yet again.

M: This narrowed list is then sent through the Council Members office to agencies with jurisdiction to review the feasibility of the proposed project. So repairs to a dog run or the installation of adult fitness equipment in a park would be sent to the Parks Department. Again, this can look a little different in your individual district, and the reviews may be done in one or two stages. Each agency will place a limit on the number of projects they will accept from each district. So for example, in 2018 the parks department may only accept 5 parks project proposals for review from every participating City Council District.

G: Finally, after these various stages of review and evaluating feasibility of these projects, there is a selection of proposals that will be part of the final ballot. And it is important to note here that this ballot aims to reflect a variety of project areas (like parks, education, improvements to library, or technology), different amounts of money, and discussions council members, budget delegates, and agencies have had about the proposals.  So you won’t have a ballot of all parks projects, the goal is that the ballot and project proposals be more diverse across neighborhoods.

M: Once these projects are on a final ballot, they are put back to the community for action in the form of vote week. The ballots are available in English and Spanish, and in some communities they have them printed in additional languages as well. Some districts, you may notice, will do a “pre vote week” expo where projects are explained and outreach is done, but this is optional and again may vary by community districts. Vote week itself generally lasts about 8 days. It consists of a mix of preplanned + pop up voting places. There is also an option to vote online and at your Council Member’s office. Community members have the chance to vote for up to five projects. In order to vote, community members only need to live in the district. They do not need to register or have an ID. This spring, any and all members of the community over the age of 11 are welcome to come vote on these various projects in their district. *This is the first year the voting age was lowered to age 11. 

G: Much like the date for idea submission, the dates for Vote Week change yearly so it is best to check in online as to when exactly it will be. For this current cycle of PB, which is 2017-2018, vote week will be from April 7th – April 15th, which is coming up! If you live in a district that is participating in PB we encourage you to get out there and vote! If you want to vote but don’t know where and when; check out the City Council website for locations. You can also sign up to receive texts about vote week by texting PBNYC to (212) 676-8384. 

And so because this webinar is being recorded and will be available on your YouTube page, if you are listening to this webinar after spring of 2018 please check the City Council and or PB websites you see on the screen for current information on dates. 

M:  At the end of vote week, the total votes and costs of the projects are tallied up.  The project or projects with the most votes up to the $1 million (or other CM allocated funds) win. A CM might also see the popularity of a project through the PB process and decide to fund it separately, outside of the process, with their other discretionary funds. 

G: After votes are tallied, one or more winning project are announced and will be added to the Council District’s projects and adopted into the next City fiscal year budget. It is important to remember that a winning project may take a number of years to complete. If your project did not win, don’t lose heart. You can always submit it the following cycle. Now that you have gone through the process once, you will already know what to expect and can help get even more folks involved in the process. 

M: So that’s the full summary of Participatory Budgeting, and PBNYC specifically. We would also like to point out that the websites www.participatorybudgeting.org and the City Council website on PBNYC that we have referenced throughout this webinar are great resources to help you understand and get involved in PB. 

G: Both websites also have a number of videos which are a great way to again understand PB and help explain it to others who might be curious about it. That finishes our portion of the Webinar. We would like to thank you all so much for participating and we hope you learned a little something about PB today.