PB as a Best Practice

Participatory budgeting was created as a process that emphasizes the needs of low-income communities to promote social justice and equity. PB promotes transparency in public budgets and incorporates the voices of marginalized populations often excluded or silenced in government processes. It gives everyday people control over a portion of a city budget and empowers residents to hold elected officials responsible for their actions. PB was created as a democratic process to encourage residents to participate in civic duties by making collective decisions about what is best for their communities. Institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the Movement for Black Lives, and the World Bank have all endorsed PB as a best practice for democracy. Around the world, PB has emerged as a tool for empowering marginalized communities and advancing social justice concerns through civic participation.

“There is a real lack of political and civic engagement, and I see PB as a vehicle for building a culture of civic engagement.”

- Public Agenda, Why Let the People Decide?, p.16

PB has continued to expand across the U.S. and Canada with more than 300 active PB processes worldwide. In 2017, roughly $299 million in public funding was allocated through PB in 29 cities. As of 2017, more than 400,000 people have participated in PB processes across North America, with more than 1,630 community-generated winning projects. Many of the PB processes within the United States take place in large urban cities, but it is gaining some influence in smaller towns as well. Currently, there are over 50 active PB school processes across the United States and Canada, with an average of $54,000 allocated for PB in schools and a range of $5,000-$25,000 allocated for PB in colleges and/or universities.

The amount of money allocated in a PB process varies based on the population and budget of the municipal, city, or school doing PB and is often based on dollars allocated to PB per resident. As shown in the graphic below, in 2015–2016 PB processes in North America:

  • The average dollars spent per resident was $9.85

  • The minimum dollars spent per resident was $1.18

  • The maximum dollars spent per resident was $69.85

There have been six other university and college campuses that have implemented participatory budgeting processes in the U.S. On average, student-based PB processes have allocated $2.03 per student.

Amount Allocated to University/College PB Processes Across the U.S.

Amount Allocated to University/College PB Processes Across the U.S.


Origins of APB

This Machine Has A Soul! (TMHAS) was a community-based project implemented to provide a new framework for understanding how a public budget works by combining participatory budgeting with art and performance. THMHAS developed the first participatory budgeting project in Denver by introducing two processes: one in the Cole neighborhood, and one on the Auraria campus. Both PB processes were organized by non-profit organizations, who became  community partners for this evaluation project: Warm Cookies of the Revolution, Project VOYCE, and Project Belay.

The Auraria PB process was led by students from Community College of Denver (CCD), University of Colorado, Denver (UCD), and Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) on Auraria campus with aid from Project VOYCE staff. Auraria PB allocated$30,000 in campus-improvement projects due to a grant from several area foundations: ArtPlace America; Arts in Society with the support of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation; Hemera Foundation, and Colorado Creative Industries; and Colorado Art Tank with the support of Denver Arts and Venues and Denver Foundation’s Arts Affinity Group. The pot of money forAuraria PB increased to $42,000 after MSU donated $11,000.

The Auraria campus is largely funded by students’ tuition and fees, therefore, all students should be provided a process to decide how that money is used. Auraria PB provides students with the ability to do so—to have a say in how their money is spent. Here’s a breakdown of how much of the operating budget, for each school, is paid by students:

Operating Budget Breakdown of Auraria Campus

Operating Budget Breakdown of Auraria Campus

Considering student dollars provide an overwhelming base of support for each school to operate, students need the opportunity to help improve the campus by focusing on the issues students find most important. Students fund 69% of Auraria’s budget, so by implementing PB at Auraria, students were able to gain control of a portion of the budget to improve campus without increasing student fees or tuition.