Strategy 3 Ensure the Responsiveness of Government Institutions

Increase Participatory Governance

Strategy 3
Ensure the Responsiveness of Government Institutions

Recommendation 3.4

Expand the breadth of participatory opportunities at municipal and state levels for citizens to shape decision-making, budgeting, and other policy-making processes.

Read in the Report

A representative government?

Many participants in the Commission’s listening sessions felt that government does not represent them.

While polls show relatively high levels of trust in state and local governments, these bodies still do not offer enough opportunities for regular Americans to make their voices heard and to take part in the policymaking process. 

Direct involvement

Local lawmakers should increase the opportunities for Americans to get directly involved in government decision-making.

Participatory processes strengthen the responsiveness of governments, energize state and local civic engagement, and bring new and underrepresented voices into the political process. 

Participatory processes impart long-term civic skills and habits, facilitate communication between elected officials and their constituents, and help citizens better understand what goes into governing. Governments should provide support to participants by engaging experts to impart best practices, assess the feasibility of proposals, and monitor projects once underway.

3.4 Participatory Budgeting .png

Source

“You get discouraged. You’re like, they didn’t do anything the last time. So, sometimes I do feel like your voice isn’t heard or your vote doesn’t count or matter.”
—Jackson, Mississippi
“Even though we live in a small town, there’s a lack of communication between people.  There’s nowhere really to go to have these kinds of discussions. We need to get together... we need to decide what we want, how we want to pay for it, and do it.  I mean, how hard is this? But it’s become really difficult because people aren’t communicating with one another.”
—Dover-Foxcroft, Maine

Examples

There are many examples of participatory opportunities for citizens to shape decision-making, budgeting, and other policy-making processes.

  • National Dialogue on Mental Health 
    After the 2012 school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, tens of thousands of citizens participated in community dialogues around mental-health issues. These dialogues had many beneficial effects. They prompted the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, for example, to provide $5 million in community grants in support of civic engagement and mental-health first-aid training. They also prompted municipal governments, school systems, jails, and police departments around the country to create policies that deployed resources in line with citizen-established priorities. 
  • Participatory Budgeting 
    With participatory budgeting, people decide together how to spend public money. In the United States, nearly five hundred thousand participants have allocated $280 million through participatory budgeting, and over three thousand cities around the world have allocated some portion of their budget through similar processes. 

Champions

Healthy Democracy, The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement, Everyday Democracy, The Participatory Budgeting Project, Democracy Risingand CivicLex are committed to working to implement this recommendation in order to help reinvent American democracy for the 21st century.

Healthy Democracy works to elevate the voices of everyday people in public decision-making. Animated by the belief that our present political challenges require new ways of doing democracy, Healthy Democracy develops new formats for democratic engagement that prioritize thoughtful deliberation, transparency, and in-depth opportunities for everyday people to participate in real policy-making. Our signature program, the Citizens' Initiative Review (CIR) brings together randomly selected, demographically and politically representative groups of citizens to evaluate high stakes ballot measures. The CIR is one specialized example of what is known in the field as “Citizens Juries” or “Citizen Assemblies” whereby everyday people, chosen by lottery, are convened to address often difficult or complex policy questions.

The Davenport Institute for Public Engagement at Pepperdine University's School of Public Policy works with local governments, non-profit organizations, and residents to both promote and support constructive and broad-based civic involvement in decisions that affect people where they live and work. 

Everyday Democracy supports organizing across the country by bringing diverse groups of people together, helping them structure and facilitate community dialogue on pressing issues, and training them to use a racial equity lens to understand longstanding problems and possible solutions. Our function is unique and unparalleled in the community engagement field:  helping people create the spaces where they can build skills to bring difficult topics to light and address them effectively over the long term.  Our work helps communities move conversation into action, and action into lasting positive change.

The Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP) is a nonprofit organization that empowers people to decide together how to spend public money, primarily in the US and Canada. We create and support participatory budgeting processes that deepen democracy, build stronger communities, and make public budgets more equitable and effective.

Democracy Rising believes that the best approach to bring about election reform is to have impacted communities lead the advocacy process and to ensure the implementation of reforms are efficient and inclusive. We achieve this through long term partnerships with community partners, candidates, and jurisdictions on the ground by providing tailored trainings, tools, and resources to help build capacity for success. 

CivicLex is a civic education and media organization based in Fayette County, Kentucky that works to help residents understand and get involved with the issues, policies, and processes that shape where they live. 

See the full list of Our Common Purpose Champions.

In order to implement Recommendation 3.4 by 2026, the Commission proposes the following milestones to complete by year-end of:

2021

  • Benchmark and highlight best practices in state and local level participatory opportunities in decision and policy making as well as budgeting; the benchmarks will include the number of programs and citizen participation.

2022

  • Implement eight new participatory opportunities of various kinds following best practices at the municipal or state level.    

2024

  • Implement fifteen new participatory opportunities of various kinds following best practices at the municipal or state level.    

2026

  • Substantially increase the number of local and state governments with participatory opportunities and the number of participants (from the 2021 benchmark)
  • Ten states have mandates for participatory budgeting allocations with an average of $500 million allocate per state