Globally, one of the most trending tools for strengthening civic engagement and fortifying communities has been participatory budgeting (PB), an inclusive process that empowers residents to decide how to allocate grant funding through collaborative deliberation and decision-making.
We launched our first PB project this fall to address the issue of childhood lead testing. We identified this priority by using the Life Needs Assessment, a data tool we designed to measure the well-being of our community in real time. It revealed that more than 45% of Syracuse residents have not had their homes or children tested for lead; the PB process will examine how we can increase lead testing of Syracuse children. The winning project(s) will be funded with a pool of $150,000 grant dollars.
People often say that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches come to mind when they first hear about PB, and they are not too far off, metaphorically speaking. Much like the sandwich, we have two layers of professional nonprofit specialists (slices of bread) that sandwich the critical work of neighborhood discernment (the peanut butter and jelly) on either end.
The first slice of bread represents the facilitators and expert presenters who set clear guidelines and expectations for discussion and the generation of ideas. It is this group that makes relevant data available and conducts extensive outreach to recruit residents, usually from historically disenfranchised communities. They make it possible for people to share their different perspectives and daily experiences, much like peanut butter and jelly come from their own separate jars to make their magic when mixed together.
At the center of the PB process are the residents who drive the process by learning about the issues that empower their voices and inspire their ideation for proposals. Then, once ideas are generated and ranked by residents, the process is sandwiched by the second slice of bread in the form of a different set of nonprofit and government professionals who can work the ideas that residents generate into concrete projects that their staff members can carry out. The process culminates in a communitywide vote on the vetted proposals to determine which proposal(s) will be funded.
By spearheading the PB process, we seek to journey with residents to transform our community. In preparation of this project, we conducted extensive outreach over the summer, directly engaging hundreds of residents all around the city through participation and funding of conferences, festivals and fairs. Our participation at more than 20 events has afforded us the opportunity to discuss who we are, the work we do and to recruit residents to participate.
We look forward to working with residents on this unique approach to civic engagement and philanthropy. Those looking to learn more can visit cnycf.org/budgeting.