The Textizen Blog

MAY 05 2015

New York City Brings Budgeting to the People

NYC PB voting staff

Image via New York City Council.

In 1989, government reformers in Porto Alegre, Brazil had a brilliant idea to combat the city’s rampant inequality and uneven representation of the city’s poor. They introduced the world’s first full implementation of participatory budgeting, a democratic way to allocate public funds. Under participatory budgeting, community members develop and propose civic projects, which are then funded with taxpayer money based on public vote.

Since then, the participatory budgeting movement has spread far and wide, with adoption in over 1,500 cities across the globe. Four years ago, New York City launched its own program, now the largest in the U.S. This April, over $25 million in public money was allocated to locally-developed projects across 24 city districts, selected by popular vote. This year’s expansion more than doubles the number of participating districts, and represents a nearly 80% increase in funding allocated for participatory budgeting from the previous fiscal year.

Equal representation is a core goal of participatory budgeting, and New York’s City Council chose Textizen to inform and engage residents in preparation for the voting in April. The Council’s goal was to not only drive greater participation in this year’s voting, but also to stay in touch with residents over the long term and make this year’s process more representative than the last.

NYC PB ballots

Image via New York City Council.

Open Democracy Demands Accessible Communication

Eligibility is simple: Anyone 16 or older with proof of residency can vote on budget items, removing traditional obstacles to full civic participation such as age, income status, English-language proficiency and citizenship status. However, the City is still faced with the challenge of making sure that all eligible voters know how and when to take part, and Textizen is a key element of NYC’s strategy to ensure that all voices are heard.

Data show that texting is highly popular among groups that are traditionally hard to reach, including low-income populations and youth. New York City’s low-income residents, in particular, prefer texting overwhelmingly. Textizen provided a convenient way for any New Yorker to join the movement, including those who might have been left out before.

New York City Council kicked off their Textizen outreach with the Council’s State of the City address, as well as on Twitter, where they invited New Yorkers to participate in a short text survey about participatory budgeting.

NYC PB Spanish outreach

Image via New York City Council.

Enrollment continued through on-the-ground outreach, social media promotion, and integration with Get Out the Vote efforts. Survey respondents who opted in for occasional text message updates received a personalized text with their nearest polling location when voting kicked off on April 11. The City Council sent these geographically-targeted voting reminders to thousands of residents over the course of the voting week.

At Textizen, we’re proud to be increasing reach and inclusion in participatory budgeting efforts across the country, including in Vallejo, Long Beach, and New York, and we look forward to more projects in this space.

For more info on NYC Participatory Budgeting, click here. To learn more about the worldwide participatory budgeting movement, visit the official Participatory Budgeting Project website.

If you’d like to learn more about how mobile can help you get the word out about important projects, get in touch: