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Reading: Budgeting for Equity: How Can Participatory Budgeting Advance Equity in the United States?


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Processes and Institutions

Budgeting for Equity: How Can Participatory Budgeting Advance Equity in the United States?


Madeleine Pape ,

The Participatory Budgeting Project, US
About Madeleine

Madeleine Pape was a Research Associate for the Participatory Budgeting from 2013-2016. She is currently a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, Madeleine has published research with colleagues from RMIT University on the role of state-led consultation forums and civil society groups in Australian regional development. For her Masters thesis, she analyzed the dynamics of inclusion and social justice in participatory budgeting in Chicago. Her current work (and dissertation) explores how gender and sex differences are defined and contested with the institutional contexts of science, sport, and law. @Madeleine_Pape

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Josh Lerner

The Participatory Budgeting Project, US
About Josh

Josh Lerner is co-founder and Executive Director of the Participatory Budgeting Project(PBP), a non-profit organization that empowers people to decide together how to spend public money, across the US and Canada. Through programs that PBP has launched and supported, 100,000 people in 12 cities have directly decided how to spend $98,000,000. This work has been recognized by The White House as a model for open government, and by the Brown Democracy Medal as the best practical innovation advancing democracy around the world. Josh completed a PhD in Politics at the New School for Social Research and a Masters in Planning from the University of Toronto. He is the author of Making Democracy Fun: How Game Design Can Empower Citizens and Transform Politics (MIT Press, 2014), Everyone Counts: Could Participatory Budgeting Change Democracy? (Cornell University Press, 2014), and over 20 articles. @joshalerner

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Participatory budgeting (PB) has expanded dramatically in the United States (US) from a pilot process in Chicago’s 49th ward in 2009 to over 50 processes in a dozen cities in 2015. Over this period, scholars, practitioners, and advocates have made two distinct but related claims about its impacts: that it can revitalize democracy and advance equity. In practice, however, achieving the latter has often proven challenging. Based on interviews with PB practitioners from across the US, we argue that an equity-driven model of PB is not simply about improving the quality of deliberation or reducing barriers to participation. While both of these factors are critically important, we identify three additional challenges: 1) Unclear Goals: how to clearly define and operationalize equity, 2) Participant Motivations: how to overcome the agendas of individual budget delegates, and 3) Limiting Structures: how to reconfigure the overarching budgetary and bureaucratic constraints that limit PB’s contribution to broader change. We suggest practical interventions for each of these challenges, including stronger political leadership, extending idea collection beyond the initial brainstorming phase, increasing opportunities for interaction between PB participants and their non-participating neighbors, expanding the scope of PB processes, and building stronger linkages between PB and other forms of political action.

How to Cite: Pape, M., & Lerner, J. (2016). Budgeting for Equity: How Can Participatory Budgeting Advance Equity in the United States?. Journal of Public Deliberation, 12(2), 9. DOI:
Published on 13 Oct 2016.


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