General Issues
Governance & Political Institutions
Planning & Development
Identity & Diversity
Specific Topics
Public Participation
Citizenship & Role of Citizens
New York
New York
United States
DRAFT#2 POSC4640 Case Memo Step 2-2.pdf


NYC Participatory Budgeting: The People’s Money Initiative

April 22, 2024 Jenna Hennebury
April 21, 2024 Jenna Hennebury
April 2, 2024 Jenna Hennebury
General Issues
Governance & Political Institutions
Planning & Development
Identity & Diversity
Specific Topics
Public Participation
Citizenship & Role of Citizens
New York
New York
United States
DRAFT#2 POSC4640 Case Memo Step 2-2.pdf

NYC's Participatory Budgeting: The People’s Money Initiative aimed to empower residents in budget decisions. By engaging 82 community partners, translating ballots into 12 languages, and allocating $5 million, it fostered transparency and community cohesion.

Problems and Purpose

The People’s Money initiative aimed to address the longstanding issue of limited citizen engagement in municipal budgetary decisions in New York City. Previous test-pilots of Participatory Budgeting (PB) in NYC, held from 2012-2013, revealed challenges in ensuring widespread participation and equitable distribution of resources. [1] The primary purpose of The People’s Money was to enhance democratic engagement by empowering residents, regardless of immigration status or citizenship, to decide how to allocate $5 million of the city’s budget towards expense projects in their communities. By enabling residents to directly influence budget allocations, the initiative sought to foster community cohesion, address local needs, and increase trust in local government.

Background History and Context

Participatory budgeting has gained traction in the United States since the pioneering pilots in New York City in 2012-2013. While the concept originated in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1989, its adaptation and implementation in the U.S. context have evolved, reflecting the local political structures and community dynamics. Participatory budgeting is an institutional mechanism that aims to give ordinary citizens control over the spending of a portion of a government’s budget. PB is a generative process that can take many different forms depending on factors such as whether it is applied at a city level, state level, etc. There have also been cases, such as in 1988, when the Brazilian Constitution set up structural space in which PB could take place. [2]

Participatory budgeting has continued to expand across the United States, with ongoing initiatives in cities such as San Francisco, California, Vallejo, California, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Each implementation reflects the local context and objectives of local innovations that allow PB to work at these specific political levels. The main goal of the PB process is to get public involvement in planning the budget and allocation of the use of the funds directly from the people. Many studies compare the benefits and disadvantages of the process, the level of interactions, process, involvement, and reactions. [3]

Feedback from the pilots in NYC highlighted the need for broader participation, improvised accessibility, and enhanced transparency in future participatory budgeting initiatives. The People’s Money, launched in 2022 by the NYC Civic Engagement Commission (CEC), represented a significant evolution of PC in NYC. It marked the first citywide PB process, utilizing Mayoral expense funding and expanding participation to all New Yorkers aged 11 and older, irrespective of council district boundaries. The initiative aimed to build on past experiences and address previous limitations to create a more inclusive and impactful participatory budgeting process.

Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities

The People’s Money initiative, spearheaded by the NYC Civic Engagement Commission (CEC) was a significant collaboration between governmental and community stakeholders to democratize the budgeting process [4]. The CEC assumed a pivotal role in orchestrating and facilitating the participatory budgeting process. As the primary coordinating body, the CEC undertook various initiatives to operationalize PB across the city. This included the establishment of the Participatory Budgeting Advisory Committee (PBAC). This was an evolution of the Participatory Budget Project (PBP) and the Community Voices Heard (CVH) committees created during the 2012-13 pilot. The PBAC comprises representatives from diverse sectors to provide strategic guidance and oversight throughout the process. Additionally, the CEC formed the Intergov Working Group, consisting of key stakeholders from city agencies, to foster collaboration and streamline communication channels.

A significant milestone for PB funding was the allocation of $5 million in mayoral expense funding to finance PB projects. This financial commitment demonstrated the city’s commitment to empowering communities and investing in grassroots initiatives that address local needs. The allocation of mayoral funds differed from the 2012 pilot as council members signed on using $1.4 million each in their discretionary budgets. [5] The funds are allocated so that the communities receive equity in funding underrepresented, underserved, and less influential communities are prioritized rather than the well-funded and politically influential communities. [6]

Recognizing the importance of grassroots mobilizations and community outreach, the People’s Money initiative engaged 82 community partners to have a greater reach and impact. [7] These community-based organizations played a crucial role in facilitating outreach efforts, organizing idea-generating sessions, and mobilizing voters across the five boroughs.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

All New Yorkers aged 11 and older were eligible to participate in The People’s Money, regardless of immigration status. The original pilot in 2012 opened voting to those 18 and older. The initiative employed various recruitment strategies, including virtual and in-person idea generation sessions, community outreach events, and an online platform for project proposals and voting. Resident committees, comprising randomly selected, demographically representative individuals, were tasked with evaluating project proposals and selecting the final projects to be placed on the ballots. Additionally, neighbourhood coalitions and borough committees were formed to ensure localized input and representation in the PB process.

Methods and Tools Used

This initiative is an example of participatory budgeting. There are many benefits associated with participatory budgeting, including increasing civic and democratic education, increased government transparency, and an increased opportunity for marginalized populations. The PB process comprised three main phases: Idea Generation, Project Evaluation, and Citywide Voting, with both in-person and online voting permitted to allow as many to participate as possible. Idea generation is when New Yorker’s have the opportunity to submit their ideas to the Civic Engagement Commission. During project evaluation, residents and subject-matter experts committees work together to turn ideas into projects and committees narrow down projects to place onto the ballot. During Citywide Voting all New Yorkers aged 11 and older have the opportunity to vote on the projects they would like to see implemented. [8]

What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation

The process of PB is not new to North America; before the implication of the process in NYC, Chicago was the first to adopt this process in the first place to implement the idea of PB. NYC was one of the major cities to implement the process in 2011. Since then the process of PB has evolved.

Studies and empirics show that the process of PB has encouraged underrepresented and underheard communities to have a voice. Ballots were translated into 12 languages to ensure accessibility and availability to vote online and in person, and approximately 32% of ballots were cast in a language other than English. Since the pilot program, the number of districts participating in the program has increased from four to 31 out of the 51 districts in NYC. [9] Despite the measures taken, some studies have concluded that PB in North America is slightly less inclusive and accessible to a wide variety of communities and groups within the participating region than its counterpart program in South America. [10]

In the case of New York The People's Money initiative for this current cyle begins in October 10th to November 19th, 2023 being used for Idea Generation, residents can submit ideas for projects to address community needs. Between January to February 2024, resident committees convene with subject matter experts to develop ideas into final project proposals to be placed on the ballots during the Project Evaluation Phase. Finally between May and June 2024, New Yorkers will have the opportunity to vote on how to spend part of the city budget to address community needs. Residents will be able to vote online or in-person, in multiple languages, at sites across the five boroughs.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

One of the most notable outcomes of The People’s Money initiative was the heightened level of transparency and accountability in the budgeting process. [7] By opening up decision-making to the public, the initiative made the budgeting process more accessible to ordinary residents. There were ballots for each of the 5 boroughs, and each had a number of projects listed that were selected by the resident committees:

  • Bronx Ballot: There were 8 projects listed. The 3 projects with the highest number of votes will be funded for $265,000 each.
  • Brooklyn Ballot: There were 10 projects listed. The 4 projects with the highest number of votes will be funded for $250,000 each.
  • Queens Ballot: There were 9 projects listed. The 3 projects with the highest number of votes will be funded for $280,000 each.
  • Manhattan Ballot: There were 8 projects listed. The 2 projects with the highest number of votes will be funded for $262,500 each.
  • Staten Island Ballot: There were 4 projects listed. The project with the highest number of votes will be funded for $177,000.

In the borough process, a total of 110,371 ballots were cast, including 85,032 paper ballots and 25,339 digital votes. The allocation of funding towards community projects in 2023 was as follows:

Bronx - $265,000 of funding for each project

1. Financial Literacy Classes for Youth

2. Trauma-Informed Childcare Workshops 3. Youth Life Skills Workshops

Brooklyn - $250,000 of funding for each project

1. Strengthen Mental Health Programs for 9-13 Year Olds

2. Parenting Education Program for Single and Teen Parents

3. Field Trips for Elementary and Middle Schoolers

4. Delivery of Nutritious Meals for Homebound Seniors

Manhattan - $262,500 of funding for each project

1. Trade Skills and Vocational Resources for Students

2. Housing Resource Outreach

Queens - $280,000 of funding for each project

1. Healthy Lifestyle Guidance for Kids

2. Parent Support and Wellness Services

3. Young Entrepreneurs Program

Staten Island - $177,000 of funding for each project

1. Staten Island Job Link

There were also 33 equity neighbourhoods that would receive $50,000 each to fund the top-voted initiative; between 3-5 initiatives were placed on the neighbourhood ballots. The Bronx received $450,000 for nine equity neighbourhood projects; Brooklyn received $450,000 for nine equity neighbourhood projects; Manhattan received $250,000 for five equity neighbourhood projects; Queens received $450,000 for nine equity neighbourhood projects; Staten Island received $50,000 for one equity neighbourhood project. Of the 46 funded projects, 13 focus on mental health, 9 on job training, and 7 on education. Moreover, 16 of the 46 funded projects intend to serve youth, while 14 of them have an intergenerational emphasis. [12]

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The People’s Money initiative illustrates how innovative approaches to citizen engagement can revolutionize traditional governance structures and empower communities through participatory democracy. [13] Through a combination of strategic planning, community outreach, and robust participation mechanisms, the initiative successfully navigated challenges and obstacles to effectively engage a diverse range of residents in budgetary decision-making.

Drawing from the experiences and lessons learned from the 2012 pilot, The People’s Money initiative implemented several key improvements to enhance inclusivity, transparency, and community empowerment. For example, the expanded use of technology, including online platforms and virtual sessions, facilitated broader participation and accessibility addressing previous limitations in reaching underrepresented communities. [14] Moreover, efforts to streamline evaluation procedures and ensure diverse representation through random selection in decision-making highlight the commitment to equity and fairness, mitigating concerns raised in earlier iterations. The success of the initiative offers lessons for future participatory budgeting efforts. Effective outreach strategies tailored to the diverse communities were essential in generating interest and participation among residents, alongside the establishment of resident committees and expanding the initiative to the entire city allowed voters to meaningfully engage with their community's needs. The ongoing evaluation and phase set-up of the initiative allowed the evaluation of evolving community needs and priorities, this highlighted the importance of flexibility and responsiveness in democratic governance.

Despite its successes, The People’s Money initiative also faced setbacks and challenges along the way. Persistent barriers to participation, including language barriers, the ballot was translated into numerous languages but did not cover the diversity of New Yorkers and the digital divide between online and in person, underscored the need for targeted outreach and support to ensure equitable engagement of citizens. [15] Additionally, resource constraints and bureaucratic hurdles posed significant challenges to implementation, requiring creative solutions and collaboration between government, community partners, and residents. It is also a challenge to navigate the political dynamics to ensure the sustainability of participatory budgeting efforts in the long term, this remains an ongoing challenge highlighting the need for continued investment and commitment from all stakeholders.

By building upon the successes and lessons learned from initiatives like The People’s Money, cities globally can harness the collective wisdom and innovation of their residents to address the persistent needs of their communities to shape a more inclusive and equitable future.


[1] Participedia. "Citizen Deliberation on Voting Reform in British Columbia." Participedia. Accessed February 14, 2024.

[2] Hagelskamp, Carolin, Celina Su, and David Schleifer. n.d. “When Participatory Budgeting (PB) Funds Schools, Who Benefits? An Equity Analysis of PB-Associated Investments in NYC Public Schools.” Local Development & Society, 1–25.

[3] Kuenneke, Ashley and Gina Scutelnicu. 2021. "How Successful is Participatory Budgeting in Promoting Social Equity? Evidence from New York City." Public Administration Quarterly 45 (4) (Winter): 370-391.

[4] NYC Civic Engagement Commission (CEC). "The People's Money: A Guide to Participatory Budgeting in New York City." 2023a.

[5] Mayor's Office of Management and Budget. "Allocating Mayoral Expense Funding for Participatory Budgeting Projects." 2023.

[6] Hagelskamp, Carolin, Celina Su, and David Schleifer. n.d.

[7] Mayor's Office of Management and Budget. 2023.

[8] NYC Civic Engagement Commission (CEC). "Community Partnerships for Participatory Budgeting: Engaging Local Organizations in the Decision-Making Process." 2023b.

[9] NYC Civic Engagement Commission (CEC) 2023a.

[10] Participedia. "Citizen Deliberation on Voting Reform in British Columbia." Participedia. Accessed February 14, 2024.

Hagelskamp, Carolin, Celina Su, and David Schleifer. n.d.

[11] NYC Civic Engagement Commission (CEC). (2023c) 2023 Annual Report. New York City Government. Retrieved January 25, 2024, from -Report_Final.pdf

[12] NYC Civic Engagement Commission (CEC). 2023c

[13] Kuenneke, Ashley and Gina Scutelnicu. 2021

[14] Participedia. "Citizen Deliberation on Voting Reform in British Columbia." n.d.

[15] Dajer, Diana. “Designing for Inclusion and Designing for Exclusion: The Influence of Digital Tools on Political Inclusion in Medellín’s Participatory Budgeting Process.” Local Development & Society ahead-of-print, no. ahead-of-print (2023): 1–36.