#NCLGBA19 Recap Series: PB Durham: Humanizing the Budget Process

Over the next few weeks, we will be featuring reflections on the 2019 Summer Conference. If you would like to share your experience, please email admin@nclgba.org.

Our second #NCLGBA19 Conference Recap comes from Darin Johnson, Strategic Initiatives Analyst, City of Durham.

Participatory Budgeting in the City of Durham, North Carolina

This fun, high energy, and insightful session around the Participatory Budgeting (PB) Durham process in the City of Durham community was brought to North Carolina Local Government Budget Association attendees by the good folks in the City of Durham Budget and Management Services Department. More specifically, Andrew Holland, Budget Engagement Manager, and Robin Baker, Budget Engagement Coordinator, broke down some of their successes and lessons-learned around their time intensive quest to build PB Durham in the Triangle. My reflection for the people who may want to know what the PB Durham process in the City of Durham Community was like, would be – the PB Durham team have demonstrated a standard of leadership through this process that is human and meaningful to the City of Durham.

Rubber, meet road!

I reflected on the lessons-learned during that presentation as it relates to how a key part of their successes was the buy-in from City Council and ultimately Department staff. It was good to hear about the person-centered process in which the team engaged with residents in each phase of their engagement process from 1) Idea Collection, 2) Proposal Development, 3) Voting, to the forthcoming 4) Implementation. Residents from every segment of the Durham community were at the table for each phase of the PB Durham process.

Spirit of Recognition

In the spirit of recognition, it was great to see other PB trailblazers such as City of Greensboro in the room who were interested in learning more about Durham’s process and similar challenges along the way. Many in attendance were most interested in ways the Budget Engagement team harnessed the Durham community’s capacity to activate residents. Budget engagement efforts were innovative & high performing in order to reach underrepresented segments of Durham’s community for buy-in, in addition to those who are typically interested/involved in budget-related conversations. The focused engagement of the PB Durham team lead to the submission of over 500 ideas across the City of Durham’s three wards while also obtaining votes on vetted projects from more than 10,000 residents via paper and online voting.

Yes, and…

There was a great conversation during the presentation that lasted until the last minute of our time together with the engagement team around lessons learned that other counties and municipalities can take back to their communities with the intent of encouraging a more democratic budget process where residents’ human voices, viewpoints, and perspectives are paramount in one-time projects being built in their communities. Two of the most salient insights from their PB Durham budget engagement experience was around the need for: A) a more flexible timeline during the next PB Durham cycle, which was realized as early as the Idea Collection phase and B) more resources, which became most evident during Proposal Development.

Leadership in Durham

Lastly, to build on my initial reflection around this team’s leadership – a leader is one who knows the way. A leader is one who goes the way. A leader is one who shows followers the way. It is easy for communities to be ordinary but it takes courage for communities to excel at bridging the gap between their most minimized/marginalized residents and their government in a way that educates each person involved. This session was a testament to how other Budget and Management professionals in and around Durham might reimagine the budget process to encourage greater participation. Thanks to the City of Durham leadership as well for supporting these bold ideas.

For more information about the history of participatory budgeting and other municipalities that have implemented this process please visit the Participatory Budgeting Project