Integrating Participatory Budgeting and Institutionalized Citizens’ Assemblies: A Community-Driven Perspective

Article by Nick Vlahos: “There is a growing excitement in the democracy field about the potential of citizen’s assemblies (CAs), a practice that brings together groups of residents selected by lottery to deliberate on public policy issues. There is longitudinal evidence to suggest that deliberative mini-publics such as those who meet in CAs can be transformative when it comes to adding more nuance to public opinion on complex and potentially polarizing issues.

But there are two common critiques of CAs. The first is that they are not connected to centers of power (with very few notable exceptions) and don’t have authority to make binding decisions. The second is that they are often disconnected from the broader public, and indeed often claim to be making their own, new “publics” instead of engaging with existing ones.

In this article I propose that proponents of CAs could benefit from the thirty-year history of another democratic innovation—participatory budgeting (PB). There are nearly 12,000 recorded instances of PB to draw learnings from. I see value in both innovations (and have advocated and written about both) and would be interested to see some sort of experimentation that combines PB and CAs, from a decentralized, bottom-up, community-driven approach.

We can and should think about grassroots ways to scale and connect people across geography using combinations of democratic innovations, which along the way builds up (local) civic infrastructure by drawing from existing civic capital (resident-led groups, non-profits, service providers, social movements/mobilization etc.)…(More)”.