Beyond Participation: Evaluating the Impacts of Participatory Budgeting for the City of Cambridge
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Findings suggest that the City of Cambridge is achieving most of its stated goals. Voters strongly associate the process with meaningful impact on the community and endeavor to select sustainable projects. Voters and volunteer participants report that they’ve learned more about their neighbors and the city overall through participatory budgeting. Youth participation is indisputably supported. Though the city has successfully expanded the electorate pool to include youth and non-US citizens unlike traditional democratic processes in the US, they have not reached minority communities such as African Americans, Asians, and those of Hispanic heritage to a degree proportionate with local population demographics. Voter turnout remains a challenge. Outreach has not yet succeeded in targeting marginalized communities, reticent voters, or those with opportunities to engage in the political process. While the technologically advanced and flexible online voting process is highly accessible to most voters, for those without computer access or comfort using technology, it can be limiting. Community member budget delegates invest significant time and energy as volunteers which eliminates some populations from deliberative engagement. The city has indeed achieved many of its stated goals for the PB process, but there is still room for improvement to reach traditionally marginalized populations, expand the budget and scope of eligible projects to effect systemic change, and enhance outreach throughout the program cycle. Implications of these findings for the case of the City of Cambridge and municipalities across the US suggest that PB can be a powerful tool for community impact, but will require an increased effort to move the needle on large-scale democratic or social change.