Poster Paper: Social Media Use in Participatory Budgeting: The Case of Twitter

Thursday, November 6, 2014
Ballroom B (Convention Center)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Won No and Chul Hyun Park, Arizona State University

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a process designed to enlist community stakeholders in local level budget decision-making. Participatory budgeting (PB) was first experimented with in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 1989. Since then, PB has been adopted and modified around the world to over 1,500 cities. First introduced into the U.S. in 2009 in Chicago, PB has spread to Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Vallejo, CA. New York City has recently undertaken the latest experiment, mounting PB processes in select districts with the new administration’s support.

As the PB movement has spread, the importance of social media use has been emphasized because it is believed that social media – various online social networking services such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, can facilitate online discourse and public engagement. There has been less empirical research undertaken, however, on how PB participants and communities actually use social media, and what strategies they can use in order to create more democratic and effective PB processes.

In this regard, this research first assesses the current state of social media use in U.S. PB communities from the public involvement perspective. On the basis of a continuum of public involvement (i.e. informing, consulting, including/incorporating, collaborating, and empowering), we examine how PB communities are actually using social media now. Specifically, we focus on whether social media is used for facilitating many-to-many public engagement or whether it serves as another tool for one-to-many information dissemination.

We gather data from the Twitter accounts of three U.S. cities that have adopted participatory budgeting: Chicago, New York City, and Vallejo, CA. In order to analyze the data from those three PB communities’ Twitter accounts, we use the social network analysis tool NodeXL and webometrics. We focus on the relationships amongst the participants and the direction of communication.

First, it is expected that each twitter account show three kinds of relationships: 1) main account and its followers, 2) main account and the people who the main account follows, and 3) mutual following relationships. Social network analysis allows us to find how close the relationships are, and whether the relationships form any particular clusters or subgroups. Second, the communication between the main account and followers are expected to show three different types: 1) one-way from the main account to others (unilateral ties), 2) one-way from others to the main account (unilateral ties), 3) two-way communication between users (mutual ties). While a unilateral tie shows the one direction communication where only one actor transmits information to another and the other did not respond, a mutual tie shows the case when two users communicate with each other. More mutual ties indicate that the PB community uses Twitter more as an engagement tool than for information dissemination.

Finally, this research is expected to contribute to developing a strategic approach for PB communities to help them use social media to enhance public deliberation and effective public budget allocation by providing empirical evidence of social media use in participatory budgeting.