The guiding principles for Auraria PB in 2018 were to foster equity, community-building, and empowerment among students on a campus that disproportionately serves first-generation, working and middle class students of color. In sum, the process achieved its goals.
Auraria PB included meetings and other events across the campus that helped students imagine possibilities for change and then vote for campus improvement projects they wanted to see implemented. From a rulebook created by 15 steering committee members, to 423 project ideas submitted by approximately 400 individuals, to 12 ballot items developed by 29 budget delegates across four committees, leading to 918 students voting to fund 7 projects. Auraria PB incorporated the participation of over 1,000 students as they worked collectively to improve their campus and achieve Auraria PB’s goals:
Equity: Participants generally reflected student demographics on campus, and some of the winning projects will most benefit underserved students, including the textbook rental program for low-income students, a campus kitchen for students experiencing food insecurity, and a retreat for native and indigenous students.
Empowerment: Auraria PB fostered participation from groups that, historically, have been marginalized and oppressed. Student participants frequently remarked in interviews that they felt more confident in their ability to affect change on campus.
Community Building: Auraria PB brought students together from across three institutions to work together to solve social problems on campus. Several participants said PB was the first time they had met and worked closely with people from different schools on campus.
Auraria’s students seized the new opportunity PB provided to meet with others across campus and develop solutions to issues deemed most important to the student body. Winning projects sought to improve academics and social life on campus and thereby increase Auraria’s reputation as a high quality and inclusive learning environment.
Benefits of Dialogue and Deliberation
Auraria PB offered an opportunity to develop tri-institutional deliberative infrastructure that could allow students to identify campus issues, develop potential solutions to those issues, and implement the solutions. First, PB provided an inclusive and empowering space for discussion, feedback, and action. Second, PB offered facilitation to stimulate additional talk that allowed participants to consider alternative possibilities for the process and their roles on campus. As the process progressed, participants began to feel ownership of the campus and that their voices were being heard and held authority.
Campus staff members saw the value of Auraria PB in communicating to participants that their voices mattered and were worthy of consideration:
Students and Campus Staff Build Trust
At the start of Auraria PB, student participants frequently expressed doubts about the intentions of campus administrators. Administrators were said to run the schools like “corporations” and were driven by profits. Student participants often worried that administrators would co-opt the process or prevent it from empowering students and accomplishing its goals. Surely, students did face resistance. The schools did not officially endorse PB, nor did they dedicate significant resources to support it. Students reported examples of “stonewalling” from staff, flyers being taken down, and unsubstantiated denials of requests to table at locations on campus.
However, campus staff members reported that they were allies of the process and that the defiant nature of Auraria PB participants alienated some staff. Additionally, administrators did finally agree to implement the projects approved by student voters, signaling that the process was viewed as legitimate.
By the end of the process, some attitudes had begun to change between students and campus staff. Budget delegates found campus staff members to be helpful in developing project proposals, and staff members were impressed with many budget delegates’ tenacity, knowledge, and maturity. Certainly, Auraria PB did not resolve all the tensions between students and staff, but it initiated a building of trust between the stakeholders.
The People’s Critiques: Students Want More of What PB Promises
Despite Auraria PB’s many successes, some participants felt improvements could be made in the future.
Student participants consistently enjoyed working with each other to make meaningful change on campus. Several interviewees reported that the most rewarding aspect of the process was seeing what projects won and knowing they played a part in improving the campus.
However, the timeline and lack of administrative support increasingly presented challenges for participants. The compressed schedule of Auraria PB caused participants to work more quickly than they would have liked, potentially sacrificing the quality of their work. A lack of time also meant less opportunities to conduct outreach and generate broader participation from the campus body.
Similarly, the lack of administrative support meant that PB organizers frequently worked as outsiders trying to get permission for everything they hoped to accomplish. Bureaucracy and institutional recalcitrance put up many barriers for students, whether it was for outreach, getting information about potential projects, or even scheduling a meeting space.
Participants also wanted more money for PB. $30,000 was not enough money to make significant impacts on the campus. The small pot of money for PB limited the kinds of projects that could be approved, and having more money for the process could attract more students to get engaged.
Campus Staff Critiques: More Collaboration
Campus staff reported being skeptical of PB when it began. One staff member thought the process sounded “too good to be true,” and other staff were unsure whether a new student organization would be able to implement the process. For those reasons, among others, they were less willing to work with PB organizers.
However, staff, overall, saw PB as beneficial, and, once the process was underway, were excited to work with students. Staff wished they had been better incorporated into the process and embraced as collaborative partners, rather than as occasional consultants.
Auraria PB deserves to be repeated. That was the sentiment expressed from every stakeholder in the process. The highlights and critiques were shared, in part, across steering committee members, budget delegates, and campus staff members, as demonstrated throughout this report. Moving forward, organizers ought to take care to consider how PB can be used to the greatest benefit of the campus, especially students.
Finally, there was overwhelming agreement that the merits of Auraria’s first PB process outweighed the challenges in what was a dedicated effort to involve students in social change on the Auraria campus.
Next Cycle Suggestions: Research Team Ideas
This report has provided observations and suggestions from the many stakeholders involved with the first cycle of Auraria PB. The research team has benefitted from tracking the process since its inception, and with our expertise in communication, we developed several recommendations for the next cycle of Auraria PB, a process that is, at its core, one of public deliberation for social justice.
We recommend that time be devoted to determining what success for the next cycle of PB will mean for organizers and participants. Steering committee members ought to explicitly state the goals of the process after facilitated reflection. We agree that the goals of equity, inclusion, empowerment, and community building are vital to a strong PB process, and steering committee members ought to decide what those terms mean for the Auraria campus. With that in mind, we recommend discussions for improving PB consider:
Increasing the amount of money allocated. Given the successes of the first PB cycle, future participants deserve to have a greater say over how their tuition dollars are spent. The Auraria campus receives approximately 70% of its funding from students’ tuition dollars (nearly $3.5 million), and students deserve to have a direct say in deciding how that money is spent.
We recommend future cycles work their way up to allocating at least $9.85 per student through PB, which would be .08% of the campus’s 2018–2019 budget.
For the next cycle, Auraria PB ought to allocate at least $50,000 to help provide adequate resources for students to affect change on campus.
Increase the Timeline. The first cycle of Auraria PB was completed in almost half the time of other PB processes. This time crunch caused multiple challenges for participants and limited the process from achieving its full potential.
The next cycle of Auraria PB ought to last an entire school year. This would bring it in line with other PB processes and grant participants more time to achieve high quality results.
The steering committee ought to design the rulebook within the first two weeks of classes starting, and the vote should be held two weeks before the start of final exams.
Boosting Participation Rates. Although Auraria PB engaged over 1,000 people in its first cycle, many participants felt that more participation would generate improved results. To encourage even more community involvement, we suggest the use of:
Low-cost mobile outreach methods proved invaluable for the first cycle of Auraria PB. These methods could be streamlined by developing a 5-minute overview of PB that could be shared in presentations to groups or when tabling.
Provide outreach training to student participants. Students varied widely in their comfort approaching strangers to talk about PB or speaking publicly to recruit participation. Organizers ought to hold workshop(s) for students to equip them with effective public speaking and dialogue skills for conducting outreach about PB.
A coordinated messaging campaign. A consistent image set and message for PB outreach could help the process recruit more people. Organizers ought to develop content for a coordinated multi-platform messaging campaign.
Implement an outreach campaign with stakeholders across campus. Organizers ought to develop partnerships with community stakeholders such as student government, diversity offices, student housing, student affairs, student clubs, and others across all three schools. Having these offices promote PB will likely generate more participation from under-served student populations.
Generating Deeper Engagement. The next cycle of PB should not only try to increase the quantity of people who participate in the process; it should also strive to improve the quality of their engagement, especially during the idea collection phase.
The next cycle of Auraria PB should not only implement mobile idea collection methods; they should also provide several facilitated idea collection events. These events are typically called “neighborhood assemblies” in other PB process and provide attendees at least an hour to work with their neighbors to identify community needs and propose solutions. Incorporating neighborhood assemblies into Auraria PB will allow participants more time to work together and think more deeply about their project ideas.
The steering committee could develop one-page information sheets to provide basic information about the campus and some of the challenges at Auraria. These could be used to inform participants as they generate higher quality project ideas.
We recommend idea collection events follow a mock PB process, with the outline as follows:
What is PB? Organizers provide a brief presentation about PB in general and Auraria PB specifically
Brainstorm project ideas: Attendees work in small groups with a facilitator to identify issues on campus and potential solutions and then select one or two projects to propose to the room. However, a note taker records all project ideas.
Present proposals: Attendees present a modestly developed project idea to everyone in the room and “pitch” it to convince people to support it.
Vote: All the proposals are listed on a board, and attendees discuss the various ideas and then vote for the ones they want to see implemented.
All the ideas are then recorded by facilitators and organizers, along with the number of votes they received. This information can then be provided to budget delegates and better inform their process of project vetting and development.
Develop a form for project ideas. The form ought to include the originator’s name and contact information, as well as why they proposed the project. This will provide a stronger base of information for later use by budget delegates. If they have questions about the project idea, they can contact the creator and factor that input into their project vetting and development process.