Participatory Budgeting in New York, NY


New York City was an early Participatory Budgeting pioneer in the United States. In 2011, representatives from the Participatory Budgeting Project joined a few NYC council members at an international participatory budgeting conference in Canada. For the next three years, those four council members built a participatory budgeting process in their individual districts.

Today, the participatory budgeting process has a stable home in the NYC Council’s Community Engagement Division. As of the most recent cycle, 33 council members engaged with their districts in the participatory budgeting process. Currently, each council member gets an annual $5 million allocation to fund capital projects. Originally, the funding criteria specified a minimum project allocation of $35,000, and today that minimum is $50,000. The goal for capital project funding is that these investments support a project with a useful lifespan of at least five years. 

The timeline process aligns with the city’s internal finance deadlines. Because the final capital project deadline is in April, before the council finance deadline, the entire process works backwards from there. City agencies conduct briefings and support other forums such as community meetings, accounting for resident scheduling challenges such as holidays and school breaks. The community engagement office supports council members in hosting events and offering administrative support to engage residents on how to spend at least $1 million in capital funds.

Every August, the council launches an online idea mapping effort to collect suggestions. Budget delegates (a volunteer position) work with district staff to develop those project ideas into concrete proposals that will be housed at city agencies. Then, there are two rounds of agency vetting in November, and again in January and February of the following year, to determine the feasibility and cost of the proposed projects. The participatory budgeting vote week concludes during the first week in April. The city announces the winners in mid-April. 

The NYC Community Engagement Office plays a central role in supporting the 33 council members who implement the participatory process on an annual basis. Five staff members run the internal logistics which include: 

Developing outreach materials 

  • Funding partner organizations
  • Funding districts to work directly with community-based organizations
  • Partnering with agencies as they vet proposed projects
  • Printing hundreds of thousands of ballots and surveys translated across 17 languages
  • Paying printing costs for materials 
  • Supporting district level outreach efforts
  • Develop digital materials 
  • Support district  canvassing efforts 

In 2020, the council suspended the process for the next fiscal year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Moving forward, the Community Engagement Office is focused on connecting the participatory budgeting process to other city processes. They hope to expand online participation as currently many votes are submitted via paper ballot—which is one of many reasons that Covid-19 proved an insurmountable obstacle to completing the 2020 cycle.



A citywide committee formed in response to the growing interest in participatory budgeting to try to ensure socio-economic diversity perspectives on the developing project proposals. This committee meets regularly with central office staffers to evaluate the council’s participatory budgeting process. 

Members apply and are selected to serve based on their ties to community organizations and experience with participatory budgeting and they rotate over time. Their responsibilities include revising the city’s participatory budgeting rulebook and providing input on what issues to consider more broadly on behalf of volunteers (e.g. childcare). Some individuals serve on the committee after participating in the process and bring value input from previous years that helps refine best practices or adjust timelines based on previous direct experience. 

Community organizations can also run independent PB processes, which is expanding participatory democracy practices beyond governmental institutions, although they may need city or private funding to help support the in-depth engagement process.

The council used central budget funding to contract with local organizations in underrepresented communities to help with idea collection and support the voting process for each participating council district. Individual councilmembers selected the partner organizations based on data shared by central staff. Some also contracted the same organizations to run their district’s full PB operation, although funding that came out of their individual council budget.



Community residents are frequently excluded from decisions that benefit their community due to their immigration status, age, criminal background, or disconnection from local democratic processes. The NYC participatory budgeting process embraces all individuals that contribute to civic life and stand to benefit from it, regardless of their identification markers. Most embrace input from non-citizens, youth over 11, and formerly incarcerated individuals regardless of their criminal record. It is at each members’ discretion. In some districts, anecdotally, a large number of participants are individuals with low English proficiency who do not vote in traditional elections. 

Participatory budgeting shifts resource allocation and city investment priorities. City agencies work with budget delegates to demystify the capital budget allocation process so that district residents can more efficiently influence potential proposals. The delegates have the opportunity to meet with agency representatives as part of their effort to educate district residents on the cost and feasibility of the various projects already proposed and under consideration. This is a distinctive shift from previously centralized and remote processes that attempted to engage residents in decision-making on community investment priorities. The current process focuses on organizing neighborhood assemblies that seek to engage residents who are traditionally excluded from local decision-making opportunities. 

In reflection, community enthusiasm and investment in the process are less about the actual dollars and more about the commitment to people based decision-making. The system supports broad buy-in and resident-centered preferences, which leads to enthusiastic and increased participation. Participatory budgeting may be a more locally focused approach to spend public dollars, but the more that individuals buy into the idea and its possibilities, the broader the scale for resident-driven financial priorities at all levels of government.



  • Preemption: The funding allocations happen at the city budgeting level, however some localities may need to get authorizing language at the executive or state level. 
  • Local government dynamics: The NYC Council has 51 councilmembers and as a body would be considered relatively progressive on a range of issues. This particular process depends heavily on the participation of individual councilmembers.
  • Program impact: Participatory budgeting, when well staffed and funded as in NYC, is a highly democratic and civic engagement focused process. 


This case study was last updated: January 19, 2021.