Greensboro, NC: Using Grassroots Advocacy to Adopt PB

In Greensboro, North Carolina, it was up to the residents to convince their elected officials that participatory budgeting (PB) was a worthwhile innovation to try.

It can be a tough sell. PB, which enables residents to decide how to allocate public funds, is the fastest-growing form of public engagement in the U.S. PB can and has yielded many benefits, and elected officials have noted it helps them be more responsive to community needs and improved their political prospects. Still, PB is very resource intensive, and some argue the budgets and projects devoted to PB are too insignificant to have a real impact on the public-leader relationship.

Yet as Greensboro faced shifting demographics and decreasing trust in government, community members saw PB as a real opportunity to turn things around.

Spoma Jovanovic, professor of communication studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, was one of the Greensboro residents who led the grassroots efforts to bring PB to the city. She says that she saw PB as a chance “to bring about much needed positive change by tapping into the energy and creativity of people talking about and making public decisions to address community needs.”

Starting in 2011, Spoma and her fellow PB advocates devoted their efforts to build grassroots support and convince city leaders of the benefits of PB for Greensboro.

One of their most successful strategies was holding mock PB processes around the city, in churches, schools and a homeless shelter. Their efforts paid off: Greensboro adopted PB in 2015.

In our recent analysis of PB in the U.S. and Canada, Spoma provides suggestions for other grassroots advocates looking to bring PB to their communities.

She writes:

  • Be patient and persistent. Grassroots advocacy for PB can take time and may require several rounds of turnover among local elected officials.
  • Try mock PB processes. Doing mock PB processes can demonstrate how the process works to residents, community-based organizations, elected officials and city staff. Mock processes can help people begin to understand PB’s potential value.
  • Get city staff onboard. Inviting city staff to mock PB processes and conferences can help them understand what PB is, how it works and its potential benefits to the city and the community.
  • Demonstrate to elected officials that it is in their interest to be involved in PB. Help elected officials understand how PB can help them build trust and improve their relationships with community members.

More and more PB processes are taking hold as a direct result of grassroots advocacy. If you’re interested in promoting PB to your elected officials, check out our research in the benefits of PB and resources for evaluating PB. And share them with your elected officials!

This post was first published on the Public Agenda blog.