On Saturday, June 26, I held my final FY 22 Budget Conversation with some help from former council member Fabian Bedne. This conversation was particularly exciting for me because we discussed something that I value dearly: participatory budgeting. As some of you may know, my entire council campaign revolved around two key pillars, one of which was the implementation of some version of community budgeting, the other being education. So, I am happy to report what we talked about below:
What is Participatory Budgeting?
Participatory budgeting, at its core, is relatively simple. It seeks to empower individuals through participation to decide how the budget will be allocated in the community. In other words, it is a budget made by the people for the people, all based on real community needs. While there are certain eligibility criteria, the community members are given free reign to choose what their community needs the most.
Are there pre-selected projects given to the community to choose from?
NO! The very foundation of Participatory Budgeting relies on suggestions from community members for community members. Metro is only involved as a support system and/or when legislation is necessary (in a transaction of land, for example).
Specifically, the FY 22 capital spending budget includes a participatory budget pilot program in North Nashville/Bordeaux and consists of $2 million worth of funds to allocate. While it certainly could expand in the future, this preliminary project is only serving members of the North Nashville and Bordeaux communities to ensure that we smooth out any kinks in the system before implementing it elsewhere.
How will it work?
The very basics of the Participatory Budgeting process are rather straightforward: each year, an extended brainstorming session is opened up for public participation, volunteers sift through the suggestions and turn them into real, feasible projects, and the community returns to vote.
Truthfully, many of the actual details are still up in the air and must be decided by the community members themselves, so I cannot outline everything here today. However there are a few details about the general steps and individuals involved that I am able to outline at this time.
Again, these steps will become more detailed as the steering committee begins work, but at a basic level they are as follows:
- Idea Collection: A four-month long brainstorming period where community members are encouraged to propose projects either online or in person.
- Proposal Development: Neighborhood leaders (the budget delegates outlined below) undergo a 3-stage process of cleaning up and narrowing down all the suggestions from the idea collection phase to a number that is suitable for a ballot.
- Voting: The method through which to vote is subject to change based on the bylaws of the process (that have yet to be written). However, former CM Bedne indicated that there might be some sort of expo in which the community can gather and discuss all of the options before making a decision.
- Evaluation and Monitoring: Evaluation and monitoring compose one of the most important phases of any project because they ensure that funds are being used appropriately. And, they uncover any areas from which to improve in the future.
Evaluation and Monitoring: Evaluation and monitoring compose one of the most important phases of any project because they ensure that funds are being used appropriately. And, they uncover any areas from which to improve in the future.
- The community!: Anyone residing in the North Nashville/Bordeaux area is encouraged to participate in this budget process, especially during the idea creation phase. No idea is a bad one––the more creative, the better. Even our younger community members, ages 14+, are welcome to use their voices throughout the process.
- Steering Committee: The steering committee is made up of 21 community members who are in charge of deciding the specific details of North Nashville/Bordeaux’s Participatory Budgeting process that make it unique from any other city. In essence, this committee designs the rulebook and writes the by-laws that will guide the entire process. Fourteen (14) of the individuals for the steering committee have already been chosen via recommendations from the council members in the area as this is an extremely important and involved role.
- Budget Delegates: Budget delegates are a group of 50 volunteers from the community who turn budget proposals into living, working possibilities. Their main job is to sift through all the responses from the idea collection phase and boil them down to between 15 and 35 options that are legal, feasible, and can fit on a ballot. If you are interested in being part of this group, follow this link or the one below.
- Metro Staff/Mayor’s office/Metro Council: All of these entities are involved only for oversight and support. Of course, questions of legality and feasibility must be answered by metro’s experts.
What is the timeline?
Participatory Budgeting is a year-long process that is beginning very, very soon. The timeline below is just a brief overview of the workflow, but is subject to change as the program gets settled in. In general, the duration of each phase should be around the same no matter what. Unfortunately, the pilot is getting started a little later than some may have hoped because of COVID restrictions, but there should be ample time to conduct the decision-making process effectively.
How can I get involved? Can other Nashville community members be involved?
Although most of the positions for the Steering Committee are already filled, you may still acquire a leadership role as a budget delegate if you are a member of the North Nashville/Bordeaux community. At present, only 2 of the 50 slots have been filled, so there is still plenty of time to sign up to have a large impact on your community.
If you are not a member of the North Nashville/Bordeaux community but still want to be an active participant in the process, there are still options for you as well. One of which is as a committee facilitator, a position that sets the agenda for meetings, takes notes, and/or provides feedback and evaluation throughout the process. Another option is to volunteer on the logistics side of things––helping with voter registration, idea collection, data entry, meeting setup, etc.
Sign up to lead or volunteer here
Beyond volunteering, there are also many ways to stay up to date such as attending community meetings or viewing the website, which should have an interactive map of the project ideas once they pass the proposal development stage.
If you have questions, suggestions, or concerns, please reach out to email@example.com
Personally, I am very excited to see what amazing community project comes out of this pilot program. Participatory Budgeting is a way to create effective, community-driven solutions to problems that your council members may not even be aware of. I applaud all of the hard work of individuals such as Eric Howell and Blake Stockdard for participatory budgeting advocacy, to Fabian Bedne and Eric Brown getting us to this point, and for Mayor Cooper’s willingness to commit tax dollars to such an exciting project in our city.
I would also like to thank you all for such a successful Budget Conversation series this summer. As we come to a close, please feel free to let me know if there are other areas that you would like me to continue to break down for you. Next, I have been thinking about opening up a conversation about Affordable Housing, for it is an area that certainly deserves more discussion.
As always, thank you for your input and I look forward to serving you and our community each and every day.