This appendix provides additional material from the interviews in support of the takeaways identified in the report. It is designed to be of particular use to participatory budgeting advocates and practitioners who want to get a granular and detailed view of each process’ successes and challenges and of the interviewees’ perspectives on them.
Wayne Abraham (Greensboro, North Carolina) was a leader of the grassroots organization that worked to create participatory budgeting in the city. He then served on the steering committee for the process and went on to chair Greensboro’s newly created commission for the third cycle, leaving the commission.
Antonina Ettare (San Jose, California) was a lead participatory budgeting volunteer for two cycles, serving on a committee of 12 volunteers who worked with residents and city staff to vet projects, get them approved for placement on the ballot, and conduct outreach to the community.
Andrew Holland (Durham, North Carolina) was hired by the city to oversee the participatory budgeting process as the budget engagement director.
Doran Hoge (Hamilton, Ontario) worked on participatory budgeting as a high-level volunteer while doing a master’s degree in global political economy at McMaster University.
Gary Hytrek (Long Beach, California), a professor of sociology at California State University, Long Beach, played a key role in getting the city’s participatory budgeting process approved and launched in 2013–14. He subsequently went on to help run it.
Norman Kearney (Hamilton, Ontario), at the time a graduate student in political science at Carleton University, spearheaded the campaign to win participatory budgeting and helped lead the process during its first cycle.
Karen Kixmiller (Greensboro, North Carolina) is an analyst in the city’s budget department, where the participatory budgeting process is housed. Kixmiller works closely with volunteers and other city staffers to administer funding.
Jeff Lail (Greensboro, North Carolina) chairs the city’s participatory budgeting commission, on which he has served for two years.
Vonda Martin (Greensboro, North Carolina) is a park planner with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Among her responsibilities is working with the participatory budgeting process.
Erica Maybaum (San Francisco) served as a legislative aide to Supervisor Norman Yee. She was responsible for running participatory budgeting for five of the seven years that it existed under Yee.
Adriana Ochoa (Long Beach, California) worked in 2019–20 for Best Start, Central Long Beach, as a facilitator and organizer of the participatory budgeting process.
Norman Pase (Hamilton, Ontario) was vice president of a local university chapter of the Canadian Public Employees Union. He served as a high-level participatory budgeting volunteer, primarily working to build partnerships with local labor and other organizations.
Welsey Petite (Toronto) spent two years observing Toronto’s participatory budgeting process for a political science PhD thesis at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Angelica Ramdhari (New York City) has been volunteering in the District 39 process since 2018 as a budget delegate and later as a facilitator. In these roles, she has helped to develop residents’ proposals, worked with city agencies and nonprofits to get proposals approved and onto the ballot, and assisted with managing the broader process.
Christina Ramos (San Jose, California) serves as chief of staff to Councilmember Raul Peralez and was responsible for running the participatory budgeting process.
Vincent Russell (Greensboro, North Carolina) was the president of the grassroots organization that worked to create participatory budgeting in Greensboro. He then served as an evaluator of the process for its first cycle.
Marla Tepper (New York City) has been volunteering in District 39’s process since 2019. Like Ramdhari, she has moved from being a budget delegate to a facilitator.
Rich Whate (Toronto) was brought into the city manager’s office to run the participatory budgeting pilot program for the 2016 and 2017 cycles.
Additional Process Insights
Give more control to residents.
Greensboro saw particularly intractable struggles for control between PB organizers and city staff, who often changed or delayed projects that residents had approved. Vincent Russell, a leader of the movement that helped create PB in the city, stated:
“There was a lot of city staff resistance . . . They were really kind of brought kicking and screaming to this PB process . . . They saw Participatory Budgeting as generating more work for them . . . That it’s time intensive, that it’s a waste of time. It’s a headache dealing with these residents that don’t know what they’re talking about. Some staff had that perception. And so they can make it very hard for residents to do the process.”
But Karen Kixmiller, a Greensboro budget analyst, said some projects were not fully vetted during PB. That is, after projects were approved by voters, planners sometimes discovered they were not feasible —at least without major changes — because of cost, safety, compliance, or other concerns.
“Projects get on the ballot, and then it gets to the implementation point and it’s like, ‘Whoa, we can’t do it like that.’ And then you risk disenfranchising the community. You seem disingenuous.”
Vonda Martin, a planner with Greensboro’s Parks and Recreation Department, made a similar point:
“I think [PB] is an incredible opportunity for improvements to a community by way of resident recommendations, as long as there is an opportunity for staff to be involved in their idea, so that we can guide them, so that the expectations are met . . . Because we don’t want to have to come back and be the bad guy and say, ‘I’m sorry, the money didn’t go as far, we couldn’t do anything to the playground because it was all taken up by the [Americans with Disabilities Act] access that we had to bring into the park.”
Still, to Wayne Abraham, another leader of Greensboro’s campaign for PB who then served on the steering committee for the process, the point of PB is for residents to communicate their actual wishes to city agencies, even — or especially — when the city has its own plans. So the city should try much harder, he believes, to prioritize projects approved through PB.
“It’s the entire reason why Participatory Budgeting is supposed to exist, so that city staff find out what the public really wants . . . The public is telling you it wants a sidewalk here now rather than . . . three years from now. Or the public wanted an upgrade to this recreation center now, and it was willing to spend its money now to upgrade this locker room. Maybe you had it scheduled to occur five years from now, but the public wanted to spend it now and do it now.”
Russell added that advocates had erred by disbanding a grassroots group that had fought to create PB. Keeping it running, he thinks, could have made it harder for the city to undermine the process.
“In hindsight, we should have kept that group together so that we could have continued to apply pressure on the city to make sure that PB remained robust.”
Antonina Ettare, a lead volunteer with San Jose’s PB process, pointed to similar barriers imposed by city agencies that she said stood in the way of accomplishing projects residents wanted. She suggested that the process was not well suited to overcoming those kinds of hurdles. Ettare recounted how residents voted for a speed radar trailer that could show how fast passing cars were going in order to encourage drivers to slow down. At least one potential vendor was rejected because they were not authorized by the city. Eventually, a suitable vendor was found, and the funding was approved. But that was not the end of the story.
“We found out later that the trailers are actually deployed by the police department, which is different. And in order to get the trailer deployed from the police department, we’d have to go to the police department. Well, they aren’t engaged in participatory budgeting . . . they would use it to their own purpose. It wouldn’t serve the community as we wish.”
Wesley Petite, who observed Toronto’s PB process closely for a PhD project, likewise said that in order to comply with city rules, agencies modified many proposals after the vote, often leaving residents unsatisfied.
“A lot of residents that I spoke to said, ‘Well, I wish I hadn’t voted for that because that’s not what we had planned.’ So it’s really kind of a stripped-down form of involvement that resembles picking from a kind of a menu of things rather than this more open dialogue around how capital funds can be used in a new way.”
In Hamilton, by contrast, the major conflict was with the elected official who had originally agreed to launch the PB process in his district. Norman Kearney, who led the push for PB in Hamilton and went on to run the process, remarked:
“PB requires a leap of faith from elected officials, lots of whom think they were put there to make the tough decisions, they were given a mandate to do that. Also, they tend to believe that they know best because they spend all day every day thinking about these issues, meeting with the experts, etc. And, of course, there’s some truth to all this. On the other hand, people have lived experience and knowledge that comes from living with these problems they face in their day-to-day lives. So that’s also a valid piece of information in decision-making.”
Doran Hoge, a high-level PB volunteer in Hamilton, put it more succinctly:
“One of the other challenges is: this kind of goes around politicians. And I think that that can be a bit threatening, right?”
In Hamilton’s second cycle, public officials no longer seemed willing to make the “leap of faith” needed, Kearney said. The local council member took much more control over the process, banning non-capital projects, sidelining the neighborhood residents’ councils, attempting to gain access to volunteer contact lists to use for electoral purposes, and even canceling projects already approved by voters. Kearney, who had been working 60-hour weeks to run the process, mostly unpaid, found himself edged out and was also forced by other commitments to pull back. He recounted:
“Once I moved on to a master’s degree, and once the councilor decided, ‘Hey, I’m taking full control,’ there was no one really to push back. The volunteers were demoralized. They turned to me and said, ‘What should we do?’”
Ultimately, turnout dropped for the second cycle, and the program was shuttered.
Provide enough project funding to motivate residents.
Rich Whate, who was hired by the Toronto city manager’s office to run PB, said the low level of funding for projects led to a feeling among some volunteers, administrators, and council members that the effort required simply was not worth the payoff.
“There were times people looked at us, even the councilors, and said, ‘Okay, so in the end, we just spent $250,000 in my ward — great! But it took a full-time staff person sitting in the city manager’s office, it took about a half-time person in my constituency office, and it took all these Parks staff to learn a new process and show up at meetings they wouldn’t normally show up to. . . . I could have spent this money and built this park with one or two public meetings and a survey that would have cost almost nothing. “‘We had to create ballots and moderate votes. We had to host like a dozen different meetings over three months, with multiple staff at each, to result in, like, a splash pad or something. Whereas the regular city process is a lot leaner and maybe just as fast, and people seemed satisfied.’
. . .
“Even people who voted three years in a row said, ‘That was fun, but next time I’m just going to a meeting because that doesn’t require me to spend three months engaged in a process.’ Some of the public told us, ‘It’s too much involvement for the results.’”
Abraham, Russell, and Greensboro PB commission chair Jeff Lail all saw a similar dynamic in that city.
“People looked at $100,000 as not much and not worthy of their time.”
“If we want PB not just to be a token process, if we actually want it to promote systemic funding change, then it needs the budget to do that.”
“I think Greensboro has kind of dipped a toe into this and hoped it would work. Whereas a bigger commitment might be a more successful commitment.”
Gary Hytrek, who played a key role in getting Long Beach’s PB process approved and then helped run it, said a lack of funding was one key reason why the program no longer exists. He believes residents needed to feel that there was enough money at stake to at least begin addressing deep-rooted issues.
“Once [residents] realize the work involved and the money involved, they’re reluctant to commit to a process unless there’s sufficient money that they can really have an impact on the issues of justice and equity in their neighborhoods.
. . .
“I think they saw the potential of deeper, more transformative processes or outcomes if there was more money available.”
Marla Tepper, who has served as a budget delegate and facilitator in New York City’s process, said many of the capital projects that are proposed do not make it onto the ballot because they are projected to exceed the $750,000 limit that applies to capital projects.
“There’s a disconnect between the amount of funds allocated and how much it actually costs to get a capital project done. The capital projects just cost so much more now than they did ten years ago. So it’s really hard to accelerate those types of projects, which are also really important for the community. Our parks are not getting as funded, or our schools or roads . . . The end result is that we have a smaller capital ballot than we used to. And it’s harder to find capital projects that work.”
Erica Maybaum, who ran San Francisco’s PB process as a legislative aide to Supervisor Norman Yee, highlighted another problem that arose from a lack of project funds. In San Francisco’s process, individual projects, other than traffic-safety projects, could cost no more than $25,000 (upped to $50,000 in 2022). This creates inefficiencies for city department staff, whose cooperation is needed to get projects on the ballot. Said Maybaum:
“Our departments don’t love this project. Because $25,000 for a project might seem like a decent amount for a community member, [but] for a department in San Francisco, that’s nothing. So whether it’s a tiny project or a $4 million project, it takes dedicated staff time on their part . . . And then they have the pressure from our office saying, ‘Five hundred people voted for this. Why is it taking so long?’”
Don’t forget funding for full-time staff.
Andrew Holland, who ran Durham’s PB process as the city’s budget engagement director, said it was crucial that Durham allocated funding for two full-time staff members — himself and a more junior staffer — to run the process, as well as a part-time Hispanic-outreach staffer.
“One of the things that I stress to various communities if they’re asking about doing PB is this: It’s important to have dedicated staff implement the process. Because if you’re expecting a budget analyst or someone who already has an existing workload to implement it, then the results may not reach the expectations of your community.”
Kixmiller (Greensboro) said that at times, budget department staffers like herself were essentially running the process on their own.
“It’s important to say that that responsibility has always been on top of existing responsibilities. Nothing is shifted off the plate of that person to do PB. It’s a tremendous amount of work. It’s a full-time job while it runs . . . PB is thrown at [staff] on top of their regular job. I’m definitely, during PB, [working] sixty hours or more a week. And then other staff — the engineer who’s working on a slate of projects that are already coming to him in a capital improvement plan that has been planned out twenty years down the road.”
Hytrek (Long Beach) agreed:
“If you are serious about PB being successful, you have to make funds available for staff time. Residents, they’re working forty, sixty hours a week. I mean, they can’t run these processes. Plus, they don’t have the skill set at that level. So, whoever is running it has to make sure that there’s adequate staff to make sure that all the pieces fit together nicely.”
San Francisco, also, did not include funding to hire dedicated staff. The lack of staff resulted in lower participation and voting rates than might otherwise have been the case, Maybaum said:
“If there was dedicated staff full time, [voting numbers] could have been improved. I mean, every year more people participated. But we have 84,000-plus constituents. Two thousand voting is not that great. But we tried our best.”
This especially lowered participation among non-English speakers, she added.
“Those who are monolingual [in languages other than English] or English-language learners did participate less. We wouldn’t get very many ballots back in the other languages . . . An area for improvement would be more outreach in those other languages. But it’s hard when there’s just me, and I’m actually a full-time staffer on [policy issues].”
Christina Ramos, who ran San Jose’s process as chief of staff to Councilmember Raul Peralez, said her office requested funding for staff but instead was given a website with tools to help with outreach. Eventually, even this was defunded. Without support, the workload — and especially the outreach piece — became unmanageable for council office staff. Said Ramos:
“We’re low [on] staff as it is, coming from a council office. There’s about six of us dealing with a variety of [issues from] over 100,000 constituents on a regular basis . . . You really do need a dedicated office staff to do the outreach. . . . It was a lot of work on the residents and on the staff, which kind of caused burnout of time and energy.”
Some staff at city agencies, too, struggled with the workload, Ramos said.
“A lot of the city staff were resentful of the program because they were like, ‘How do we fit this work into our regularly scheduled projects?’ So even though these are all one-off projects, and these were not long-term projects, they still found it difficult and were resistant.”
Limit restrictions on the types of projects allowed.
Whate (Toronto) said the process’s capital-projects-only requirement was largely responsible for low voting numbers. The rule existed, he explained, because non-capital projects would require a second review from the city council after voters had weighed in, something organizers understandably wanted to avoid. But he said the rule reduced enthusiasm for the process among residents.
In fact, the rules for Toronto’s PB process appear to have included a particularly large number of restrictions on what types of proposals could be included. Petite’s PhD dissertation describes a 2016 meeting held at a community center in the Oakridge neighborhood of Toronto — an area with a high poverty rate and a racially diverse population — designed for residents to offer and discuss proposals for projects:
“Many of the proposals made in Oakridge focus on addressing the low economic standing and deficient infrastructure in this [neighborhood]. Increased funding for programs in the Oakridge Community Centre and for childcare centres are not eligible because they rely on operating funds. Similarly, proposals for farmers’ markets to address the lack of access to fresh food, as there is no grocery store in Oakridge, are also rejected on the grounds of not being a capital project. Proposals to increase access to free wireless internet in parks are rejected on the basis that they require operational expenses. Proposals for a swimming pool, splash pad, skating rink, and a skateboard park are also placed among the ineligible proposals due to estimated cost. A proposal to acquire land at Danforth and Warden Avenue is deemed ineligible due to costs and existing guidelines for land acquisition. Calls for security cameras in parks to increase public safety are responded to with the basic information that the city does not install surveillance cameras in public places.
“Small and rudimentary installments like benches, shade structures, and games tables are found among the proposals deemed feasible.”
Hytrek (Long Beach), too, said residents saw a pressing need for social programs that the process did not allow.
“A second frustrating aspect of PB for many residents is: ‘Yeah, we need potholes fixed. We need our parks cleaned up or rehabilitated, or whatever that might be. But we also need programming around particular kinds of things.’”
Adriana Ochoa worked as a paid facilitator and organizer of the nonprofit-run PB process in Long Beach. The rules and structure for this process — largely set by the nonprofit group that ran it, First Five L.A. — differed greatly from the District 9 process that Hytrek helped to run. For one thing, proposals had to be for services, not capital projects — a requirement that appears to have created as many problems as the opposite rule requiring capital projects.
“That was one of the biggest frustrations with the process. I think we lost a good chunk of folks over that . . . I’m sorry to say this, but there’s only so many workshops that people need. And I think that people want to see tangible results in a lot of cases.”
Reflecting the mission of First Five L.A., proposals also had to address one of a few areas, including child development, childcare, fighting child abuse and neglect, and increasing housing or economic security for parents with young children. And, though most PB processes consciously aim to make voting rules as inclusive as possible, this process required that residents participate in the idea-collection phase if they wanted to vote. The rule made it much harder to get a large voter turnout, Ochoa said.
“It was only folks who had participated from the idea collections. Well, it was sometimes hard to get those folks back, because they hadn’t been participating the entire time. It was hard to get ahold of them again. And when people started learning about the process later, they wanted to participate, they wanted to vote for stuff, but then they couldn’t because they hadn’t participated from the beginning . . . It was a really frustrating constraint.”
All these restrictions, said Ochoa, detracted from the feeling that ordinary residents were truly being put in charge.
“I just think it kind of took some of that away — that power for the people to make the decisions — because it put a lot of constraints on everything.”
By contrast, Lail (Greensboro) said ending a rule that had limited proposals to infrastructure projects so that residents could propose programmatic ideas as well was a key reason why turnout jumped in the city’s third PB cycle.
“I think that’s largely been a really positive thing . . . Sometimes it’s easier to wrap your mind around ‘I’m going to do a program at the library’ rather than ‘Let’s build a walking trail.’”
And Kearney (Hamilton) said that at his and his allies’ insistence, Hamilton’s process at first allowed proposals that addressed not only physical but also social infrastructure — such as one successful project that put healthy food in the backpacks of kids who needed it.
“Most of the concerns that residents were bringing were about the lack of social infrastructure: lack of nutritious food, lack of space for multicultural programming. So we initially had this broad definition of infrastructure, which was really exciting. And it essentially meant that residents could come forward with any idea, they didn’t just need to have a road re-pavement or a crosswalk.”
Maybaum (San Francisco) said that in at least one case, organizers found a way around the process’s rule barring proposals that require ongoing funding, which made service projects difficult. To fund exercise classes for seniors, provided by a local nonprofit, residents proposed a pilot program that would need only one-time funding. The classes ended up being so popular that the council member’s office allocated separate funding outside of the PB program, allowing them to expand into several neighborhoods. Said Maybaum:
“That’s just another example of this starting out at as, ‘Let’s seed this idea,’ and then it’s completely grown, and now it’s funded outside of this program.”
You can never do enough outreach.
Andrew Holland, who ran Durham’s PB process as its budget director, said it was vigorous outreach, focused especially on underserved communities, that allowed Durham to exceed its engagement goals. To generate proposals, organizers knocked on doors in low-income neighborhoods, worked with the public housing authority to reach out to its residents, and set up tables at places like the bus station and the public health department, where many low-income Durhamites receive services. One part-time PB staffer was focused exclusively on outreach to the city’s Hispanic community. To make it as easy as possible for all types of people to participate, the city provided need-based stipends for volunteers, free bus passes, childcare, and meeting spaces at City Hall. But, Holland added, forging productive relationships is an ongoing process.
“In some cases, there has been past harm that has been done — and some of that has been due to government policies and decisions. So, in some cases, there is some distrust with government. So you have to be intentional in how you go about engaging those individuals and building that trust. And that takes time, and that takes a lot of effort.”
Kearney (Hamilton) likewise emphasized the importance of building relationships with communities that may be skeptical of government. He recounted meeting several times with representatives of the ward’s large Somali community.
“I took a bit of a beating . . . there was no trust. I was perceived as a guy from the city who was there to, essentially, placate them. To calm them down so that they would stop causing the councilor trouble. And that this promise of real power and real money was either a lie, or it was going to be co-opted by white people. And that the richer members of the community, the wealthier neighborhoods, were going to get all the funding, and [the Somalis] were going to invest all this time and get burned by this process.”
Russell (Greensboro) said one strength of his city’s first PB cycle was its concerted outreach to a diverse range of communities and neighborhoods — something that was new for Greensboro city government. Organizers engaged residents at a local mosque and at an event for undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, among other examples.
“The PB organizers were going to meet residents where the residents actually are instead of expecting residents to come to City Hall or something like that.”
Be clear from the outset on what PB can and can’t do.
Ettare (San Jose) said she went into PB thinking that it could deliver any idea that residents got behind strongly enough, but she came to realize that’s not always the case. That is why she believes it is important to be clear with residents and volunteers about the limits of the process.
“For any city, you need to really understand and put the parameters around what is accomplishable and what is not.”
Holland (Durham) echoed that view:
“Participatory Budgeting isn’t going to solve all issues that a city organization is facing. There’s just not enough money. There’s not even enough money in our overall city budget . . . It’s important to manage those expectations.”
Kixmiller (Greensboro) said the way PB is often pitched, as a smooth journey from idea generation to project implementation, ignores the real-world hurdles involved, in which agencies need to carefully vet projects for cost, safety, legal compliance, and other feasibility factors before they can move forward.
“The four-step process [used by PB advocates to pitch PB to residents] sounds simple, right? Residents come up with ideas. They work with staff to come up with proposals. The proposals get on the ballot, and the projects get funded. Easy peasy! [But] it’s the interaction and the process between staff and the community that is such an intensive process for an extended duration.”
Don’t be afraid to experiment.
Several interviewees described innovative ways that organizers tweaked the process, sometimes departing from PB’s usual procedures, in response to specific challenges. To ensure that richer, whiter, better-organized neighborhoods could not dominate the process, organizers in Hamilton added a wrinkle: Once proposals had been approved for the ballot, a group of delegates from across the ward met multiple times to consider all of them — including doing a bus tour of the ward, during which delegates presented their neighborhood’s ideas. After a lot of negotiation and compromise, the group agreed on a list of projects to recommend to voters, prioritizing the ward’s most urgent needs and most underserved communities. Voters then were given a choice of voting for individual projects or for the recommended list — and most chose the list. Measures like these aim to promote a core aspect of PB since its inception in Porto Alegre: distributive justice. But the extent to which they are prioritized varies from place to place.
Kearney (Hamilton) described the challenging but rewarding process of forging a consensus among delegates to come up with a list of projects to recommend to voters:
“It was a real turning point on this bus tour — people see first-hand what different neighborhoods are dealing with. After that, the tone of the meetings changed, and we were able to come to an agreement . . . So I thought that was also a very successful feature.”
Kixmiller (Greensboro) has championed an idea that the city is trying out for the current PB cycle: to avoid some of the issues arising from delays and changes made to projects after voters approve them, residents can vote not only for ideas generated through the PB process, but also for existing, shovel-ready projects that have already been budgeted and approved through the conventional city planning process. Said Kixmiller:
“Most of these plans, if not all of these plans, have already been developed with community input and buy-in and have been adopted by our elected officials . . . It also can alleviate a lot of the work from staff because these ideas have already been vetted, and you know that that slide will work at that park.”
About the Author
Zachary Roth is a fellow and former editorial director of the Brennan Center for Justice. Prior to joining the Brennan Center, he was a national reporter at MSNBC. He is the author of The Great Suppression: Voting Rights, Corporate Cash, and the Conservative Assault on Democracy (Crown), which was the runner-up for the 2017 J. Anthony Lukas Prize. He has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, The New Republic, Politico, Slate, and other outlets.
The Brennan Center gratefully acknowledges the Lumina Foundation and The JPB Foundation for their generous support of our work.
The author thanks the Participatory Budgeting Project for generously providing its contact list for PB processes in the United States and Canada, without which this project would not have been possible. Thanks also to Elizabeth Crews, Thea Crum, Matt Harder, Josh Lerner, David Schleifer, Celina Su, and Don Waisanen for sharing their expertise on PB. And thanks to all interviewees, including those not quoted here, for taking the time to share thoughts about their experiences with PB.
At the Brennan Center, Emelia Gold, Ashley Zhao, Larissa Jimenez, Josh Bell, and Gabriella Sanchez provided research, editorial, and administrative assistance for this paper. Finally, Ted Johnson provided valuable support and supervision of this project.