Chicago Participatory Budgeting Project and Rulebook

In 2009, the Chicago 49th Ward Alderman, Joe Moore launched the first participatory budgeting process in the United States in the City of Chicago, Illinois. When participatory budgeting was first introduced in the City, Alderman Moore used the process to engage with his constituents regarding how the community would spend its $1.3 million in discretionary capital funds. Since this initial introduction, the participatory budgeting process in Chicago has proved a rousing success. In 2012, the Great Cities Institute partnered with the Participatory Budgeting Project and community-leaders from the area to launch PB Chicago to spread the budgeting process throughout the city. PB Chicago has now engaged with over 13,000 residents in 12 different communities, allocating over $18 million in funding to community-chosen projects varying from tree planting to establishing bike lanes. By focusing a majority of their outreach on marginalized and underserved communities, PB Chicago ensures not only that policymakers and city officials hear these residents’ voices, but that these same voices have the opportunity to effectuate change within their own communities as well. 

Since its founding, PB Chicago has worked to incorporate neighborhoods and stakeholders in the decision-making process regarding how the local government spends its money. In 2017, after years of helping communities participate in the democratic process, PB Chicago released its Rulebook, which lays out the successful system the Program has developed on how to encourage participation in the PB process best. The Rulebook describes PB Chicago’s process in four steps of: idea-collection, proposal development, expos and voting events, and project implementation. 

During the idea-collection stage, PB Chicago hosts “idea collection events” throughout the Ward. During these events, community members learn about available budgeting and funding from the city. They are also encouraged to propose project ideas on ways to spend that money within their own neighborhoods. Each Ward participating in PB Chicago is required to hold at least five of these events, two of which must focus on involving and engaging with underrepresented populations. To reach a larger audience that is more “reflective of community demographics,” Wards participating in the PB Chicago process are encouraged to hold meetings at different times of the day and week (nights and weekends), and reach out to local organizations, such as churches or civic associations.  

In the proposal development stage, city officials and community leaders work together to create “issue committees,” which are based on the projects that have been proposed by the community during the idea-collection phase. In the past, committees have focused on topics like public safety, schools and libraries, or parks. In some instances, community representatives are encouraged to create “demographic committees,” which work to ensure maximum participation from underserved residents within the neighborhood who may not otherwise participate in the PB process. 

The next phase of PB Chicago’s process is to hold expos or voting events, where project proposals are presented to the community. At least two of these events are held for a minimum of five days in places like the publically available Aldermanic Office, as well as at mobile voting stations, which are specifically placed in areas that have higher populations of underrepresented communities. Residents are able to vote on the project proposals they believe will best benefit their communities, and project supervisors are given feedback on their projects and plans.

Finally, during the implementation phase, winning projects are presented to the Ward’s Alderman and to city officials within the Office of Budget and Management for implementation. The projects with the most votes are implemented through the city’s usual process of procurement, and the community is kept informed on the progress of winning projects.  


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