Boston, United States

2016-12-31 16:53:55

Youth Lead the Change: Youth Participatory Budgeting

Background Information

Mayor Martin Walsh continues to empower youth to be involved in city decision-making. Youth Lead the Change, a participatory budgeting process, not only allocates part of the city budget, but also organizes the priorities of youth into a strategic plan. Youth collect ideas, distill those ideas into proposals, and vote to determine which projects get funded. Funding is set aside in the mayor's budget for this process.

Goals of the Initiative

The goals of Youth Lead the Change are to:

•Help ensure the capital plan reflects the priorities, interests and energy of Boston youth

•Align the work of government agencies with the priorities of young people

•Teach youth about the urban planning (and budgeting) process as well as provide education around the innovative use of crowdsourcing platforms

•Engage young leaders in developing and planning the city of Boston’s infrastructure to allow for community building and increased community ownership

•Engage populations that are traditionally underserved such as homeless youth, disconnected youth and those from low income families or with socio-economic barriers

•Foster increased partnerships between the city of Boston and Youth Serving agencies

Parties and Partners to the Initiative and Resources Used for Implementation

•City of Boston Mayor’s Office - sanctioned the initiative and supported Youth Lead the change

•Boston Department of Youth Engagement and Employment - provided day-to-day support, oversight, project management, and outreach agendas for the initiative

•Office of Budget Management - provided expertise around project feasibility and coordinated city department support

•Office of New Urban Mechanics - provided technical support

•Participatory Budgeting Project, Non-profit - consultant organization that provided project management support, content and training materials, and outreach support

•Boston University - guided data collection, measures for outcomes, and categories for evaluation

•Northeastern University - sponsored community events and meetings

•Stanford Crowdsourced Democracy Team - built online voting platform

•Boston Youth Service Network, Non-Profit - provided outreach support to marginalized young communities

•MGOV - mobile & text messaging platform

Innovation for the Initiative

The advent of youth participatory budgeting was revolutionary in our first year, sparking several cities in North America (e.g. Cambridge, MA; Seattle, WA; Dieppe, New Brunswick) to replicate our success by including people as young as 12 in their respective participatory budgeting processes. Additionally, we've taken lessons learned in the past two years to improve and further evolve our process to deepen engagement and focus on the strategies that work best. We've expanded city staff involvement to spur variety and creativity in idea collection. We've coupled our best in-person voting strategy (going to school lunches) with successful online ballot strategies to triple the amount of votes we collect in the same amount of time.

Innovation has been applied in

Finance Arrangement: this is primarily a participatory budgeting process, where young people between the ages of 12-25 vote and decide how to spend $1M of the city's budget

Policy/Strategy: young people also use the participatory framework to draft strategic plans for eight topic areas

•Arts & Culture

•Environment, Energy, and Open Spaces

•Public Health

•Public Safety

•Human Services


•Streets, Transportation, and Sanitation

•Civic Engagement and Communication

Design: depending on the type of project funded, young people are involved in the design and implementation of the process. For example, young people sat on the evaluation committee for a gym renovation and were the final authority on what features were to be included in the budget.

Obstacles and Solutions for Innovation

Ensuring cooperation between different city departments is sometimes a challenge. To mitigate this issue, it is important to regularly hold stakeholder meetings for each step of the process. As you can imagine, young people sometimes choose to prioritize ideas that are not popular with adults. It is at these moments critical to do teambuilding exercises with young people and adult staff together in order to build and sustain rapport.

Outcomes and Assessments

Civic Engagement and Open Government: Over 4,400 young people cast a vote, three times the amount of year 1. For many it was their first time engaging in a voting process.

Facilitate two way learning between young people and city officials: This is best illustrated by this quote from a youth: “Yeah, it was cool because we got to meet with Julie Burros, she’s like arts for the City of Boston, which is very cool. But she definitely treated us like we were bringing valid ideas to the table. We weren’t like kids. We were telling her what we wanted and she was like, ‘That’s cool. Let’s write it down on the board and talk more about it.’”

Youth Investment in Environment and City Infrastructure: 17 projects funded over three years totaling $2.86 million.

New Sidewalks for New Parks: $110,000

Security Cameras at Dr. Loesch Family Park: $105,000

Paris St. Extreme Makeover: $100,000

Tech knowledge - Chromebooks for High Schools: $90,000

Franklin Park Playground Upgrade: $400,000

Skate Park Feasibility Study: $50,000

Boston Art Walls: $60,000

Wicked Free Wifi for Students: $119,000

Water Bottle Refill Stations: $260,000

Boston Latin Academy Gym Renovation: $475,000

Hubway Expansion: $101,600

More Trash Cans and Recycling Bins: $80,000

Job and Resource Finder App: $135,000

Parks are for Everyone: $500,000

Wicked Free Wifi 3.0: $150,000

Link Up: Digital Billboards in Schools: $100,000

Sunshine and Books: $25,000

Methods Applied

An online ballot developed in collaboration with the Stanford Democracy team helped scale our outreach effort and social media strategy.

For voting, we focused less on throwing our own events and more on going to where young people were -- namely, school lunches. In our assessment, those were the locations that garnered the most votes per hour.

We also made strategic partnerships to reach our target populations. For example, to reach young people that have been involved in gangs and in detention, we went directly to a youth detention center to collect votes from young people who were committed to that facility. The number of votes was small in comparison to other voting locations, but was a huge deal for us in terms of achieving the goal of connecting Boston's most marginalized communities.

Benefit to Other Cities

We have made sure to chronicle and provide technical support to cities across the world that have sought to embark on the same journey. Since 2014, we have shared best practices with cities in the US, Canada, Tunisia, Algeria, Lebanon, Georgia, Turkey, Russia and China. Currently, we are in the middle of a two-way fellowship, having hosted in May 2016 a fellow who works in the President's Office from Azerbaijan. Francesco Tena, the lead organizer for Youth Lead the Change, has travelled to Baku in September 2016 to help replicate Boston's best youth engagement practices.