Participatory Budgeting


Participatory budgeting is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget. Although there are different types of participatory budgeting, the process generally involves three distinct phases:

Share Ideas: In this phase residents generate ideas on how to improve their neighborhood, district or other area of interest. In this phase we encourage as many residents as possible to contribute ideas through activities like community meetings and online software tools that facilitate idea capture.

Proposal Generation: In this phase budget delegates review ideas to ensure they adhere to any guidelines and develop the details of the proposal, including cost estimates.

Proposal Selection or Voting: In this phase the potential projects are presented to residents for voting. The projects with the greatest number of votes are selected for implementation.


Budget Games

The first Budget Games for the City of San José, CA, transformed how the Mayor’s office engaged with the community during the budgeting process and directly affected the city budget. According to then Assistant City Manager Kip Harkness, “This was the first time the City was told that while police and fire are important, there is a limit to how much we’re willing to cut libraries and parks.”

During the second year of Budget Games, 80% of the recommendations generated by citizen participants were adopted and integrated into the City’s $2.6B budget.



Since that first Budget Games in 2011, we have worked with governments around the world, including the City of San José, CA, Missoula, MT, and Kortrijk, Belgium — to bring ordinary citizens into the municipal budgeting process. Road repair, fire and police department staffing, funding of community centers, public library hours and potential bond measures and sales tax are just a sampling of the services that residents have prioritized using Budget Games.


Zero-Based Budgeting

The primary goal of Zero-Based Budgeting is to determine how residents wish to spend a budget that remains the same from year to year, while Budget Games explores budgets that are up for decision. Let’s explore this further.

Budget: The total budget is held as constant for the prior year. So, if the City spent $64M on neighborhood services last year then the Budget for the next year is the same – a “Zero” Change.

Project or Program Cost: The initial cost of the projects or proposals, in this case neighborhood service programs, are the amount of money the City spent in the prior year.

Item Funding Policy: Residents can choose to increase or decrease the amount of funds for a given program. This means that if a program is working well residents can fund more of the program and if it is working poorly residents can fund less of it or recommend that it be eliminated by not funding it at all. All items start out with zero funding – the “Zero Base”.

Write-In Candidate: We allow residents to add up to two write-in candidates for new programs and ask them to indicate how much they’d like to invest in these new programs.

Zero-Based Budgeting provides residents with a means to shape the programs of the city in a way that better meets their needs over time.


We Commit 

We Commit (designed by Luke Hohmann, CEO of Conteneo) enables groups and individuals to collaborate on allocating project resources. Once resources and requirements are identified, participants work together to assign and make tradeoffs together.

The activities can be played online or in person and match volunteer hours as well as financial (and other) resources to each of the projects identified. The Every Voice Engaged team will assist with planning, facilitating and post-event next steps, as well as ongoing guidance and support.