Commitment and awareness are key to the participatory budgeting effort

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Professor Matt Easterday of Northwestern University begins his presentation on participatory budgeting at Thursday’s town hall. Credit: Alex Harrison

Organizers from the PB Evanston Group, based at Northwestern University, held a town hall Thursday night to kick off the City of Evanston’s Participatory Budgeting process, where residents will pitch, develop and vote on projects the city will allocate to. funding of $3 million.

A handful of residents made their way to the Civic Center’s Parasol Room for the event, which was led by Professor Northwestern and PB Evanston Director Matt Easterday. He introduced the audience to the process, which was first developed in Brazil in 1989 and is now practiced in approximately 7,000 municipalities around the world.

“In short, it’s a democratic process where community members decide how to spend part of a public budget, which gives people real power over real money,” Easterday said. “The city has given $3 million in ARPA funding and lets residents decide how to spend it.”

City Council earmarked ARPA funds for participatory budgeting in December 2021. A committee consisting of Mayor Daniel Biss and council members Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th Ward), Bobby Burns (5th Ward) and Devon Reid (8th Ward ) first met in February 2022 to begin planning the process, and on June 27, City Council approved an agreement with Northwestern to bring in the PB Evanston team to facilitate and provide technical assistance.

Ndona Muboyayi (left) listens to Matt Easterday answer her question. Credit: Alex Harrison

Evanston is currently in the design phase of participatory budgeting, and the city has open an app for residents to join a steering committee to lead the process and develop a bylaw. Easterday said this rulebook will be a comprehensive roadmap for the city’s process and will include goals and principles, assessment measures, voter eligibility, draft criteria, voting rules and a global schedule.

Easterday said the committee would be made up of “11 to 16 members” from across Evanston, including individuals, council members and representatives from local civic organizations. He said the composition and level of engagement within the steering committee will be critically important to buy-in from the wider community later in the process.

“It’s really important that we get a really representative group of steering committee members because they make big decisions about how the PB is going to work,” Easterday said. “It really depends on the community, right? We’re gonna show up and do it right, or we won’t. Really, that’s the good and bad part of it all, it’s up to us.

During and after the presentation, Easterday and the city’s grants officer, Sarah Flax, answered questions from the audience about how the participatory budgeting process will work and how it will be designed to fit the specific characteristics of the city. Evanston community. A key concern was how to ensure that underrepresented communities are both aware of the process and able to access it.

Participant Joyce Hill asked Easterday how PB Evanston makes the process visible to the community, and as an example, Easterday said their outreach at the 5th Ward Block Party last week was the most successful to date, garnering 73 entries. After the town hall ended, Hill told the roundtable that she planned to volunteer with the group throughout the process.

Joyce Hill (centre) signs up as a volunteer with PB Evanston. Credit: Alex Harrisson

“Certainly with the awareness, certainly with the population that is isolated and needs a little push,” Hill said. “I know some good people who have really good ideas, and I can’t wait to bring them in and dispel the idea that they never tell us anything.”

Participant Ndona Muboyayi told the roundtable that she was unaware of participatory budgeting before the town hall announcement and said she was encouraged by what she had heard. She said she hoped the process could provide a way for underrepresented residents to get some priority in the budgeting process, especially for the “multitude of needs that often go unmet” in the black community.

“I think it would be a great move for Evanston to move forward so that we can help those who need it most,” Muboyayi said. “I will be applying, and I know a number of people who will also apply and are looking to involve others in the process.”

The current PB committee will begin to review applications to the steering committee on August 22, and final nominations by City Council are tentatively scheduled for September 12. More information about the process can be found at pbevanston.org.

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