Participation in the City of Austin’s budget process : motivations, process, and efficacy



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Popularized internationally, counties, cities, and districts within the U.S. are increasingly utilizing participatory budgeting (PB) to shape priorities and funding for public spending. Ideally, this offers an opportunity for direct participation and empowerment of the average citizen, potentially flattening inequitable power structures among residents and between public entities and the populace within their jurisdictions. However, many municipalities, such as the City of Austin, have implemented a watered-down form of PB practices for influencing the citywide budget, therefore retaining state control and diminishing the intended redistributive effects of PB. This report utilizes a review of publicly available online information about long-standing PB processes within the U.S., surfacing common challenges experienced among them, and using the experiences and lessons from these cities as a lens to analyze the City of Austin’s budget engagement process. Stakeholder interviews provide key community perspectives on the efficacy of Austin’s process, while content analysis of the budget engagement’s promotional materials, host sites, and resulting budget reveals the intentions behind and subsequent uneven application of the process. Altogether, these paint a picture of a process that utilizes language in line with the spirit of PB processes but fails to provide the necessary tools and access to realize transformative and transparent outcomes.


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