Youth Lead the Challenge: Youth Participatory Budgeting
Continent:North AmericaCountry:USACity:BostonYear Submitted:2016



Boston continues to cement itself as a leader in youth civic engagement with it's third round of Youth Lead the Change. What started as a participatory budgeting process that engaged young people has evolved into a multifaceted strategic planning inititative that puts young people at the center of community engagement, participatory budgeting, participatory policy making, cross sector collaboration, and an evolution of collaborative
citywide strategic planning.
Boston has refined it's outreach strategies, elevated the role of young people by aligning its youth civic engagement work with its $4.5M youth employment program, and has made strides in harnessing technology to find new audiences for traditional civic processe

Background Information

Mayor 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 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 City of Boston infrastructure to allow for community building and increased community ownership
Engage populations that are traditionally underserved such as homeless youth, disconnected youth, 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, Government - Sanctioned the initiative and supported Youth Lead the change
Department of Youth Engagement and Employment, Government - Provided day-to-day support, oversight, project management, and outreach agendas for the initiative
Office of Budget Management, Government - provided expertise around project eligibility and coordinated city department support
Office of New Urban Mechanics, Government - provided technical support
Participatory Budgeting Project, Non-profit - consultant organization that provided project management support, content and training materials, and outreach support
Boston University, Private University - guided data collection, measures for outcomes, and categories for evaluation
Northeastern University, Private University - sponsored community events and meetings
Stanford Crowdsourced Democracy Team, Private University - built online voting platform
Boston Youth Service Network, Non-Profit - provided outreach support to marginalized young communties
MGOV, Private - mobile & text messaging platform

Innovation for the Initiative

An argument can be made for both. 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 the 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.
Youth Lead the Change is built on best practices from participatory budgeting in North America. Boston builds on that foundation in a few ways
- since this initiative is coming directly from the Mayor's Office, who in Boston is also the head of all city departments (strong Mayor system), we're able also include young people in not just the funding of the projects, but also the implementation, procurement, and ongoing programming that happens for each project
- we've taken the principles of participation and have begun to apply them to participatory policy-making and program design, with this year's ballot featuring both a vote for participatory budgeting and a ranking of policy priorites
- we've increasingly made this a youth led process by hiring young people to take facilitator roles that have in the past been held by adults
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 8 topic areas
- Arts & Culture
- Environment, Energy, and Open Space
- Public Health
- Public Safety
- Human Services
- Education
- 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 to the Innovation

Ensuring cooperation between different city departments is sometimes a challenge. To mitigate this issue, it is important to regularly hold stakeholder meetings at each step in the process. As you can imagine, young people sometimes choose toprioritize 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, 3 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 quotation from a youth “Yeah, it was cool ‘cause we got to meet with like Julie Burros, she’s like arts for the City of Boston, which is like very cool. But she definitely treated us like we were like bring valid ideas to the table. We weren’t like kids. We were like 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 $2.86M
New Sidewalks for New Parks$110,000.00
Security Cameras at Dr. Loesch Family Park$105,000.00
Paris St. Extreme Makeover$100,000.00
Techknowledge - Chromebooks for High Schools$90,000.00
Franklin Park Playground Upgrade$400,000.00
Skate Park Feasibility Study$50,000.00
Boston Art Walls$60,000.00
Wicked Free Wifi for Students$119,000.00
Water Bottle Refill Stations$260,000.00
Boston Latin Academy Gym Renovation$475,000.00
Hubway Expansion$101,600.00
More Trash Cans and Recycling Bins$80,000.00
Job and Resource Finder App$135,000.00
Parks are for Everyone$500,000.00
Wicked Free Wifi 3.0$150,000.00
Link Up Digital Billboards in Schools$100,000.00
Sunshine and Books$25,000.00
Adapted from this year's research draft
The Boston University School of Social Work provided evaluation for this year's process. Throughout the year, the Evaluation Team of Boston University researchers conducted interviews, observations, and other data collection activities to fully understand and analyze the process, its intent, and its outcomes.
The evaluation and associated data collection activities were focused on three research questions
(1)Where are opportunities for improvement to Boston’s youth participatory budgeting process, including the pre-planning stages, as well as idea collection, proposal development and voting?
(2) What general needs and priorities of Boston youth emerged as a result of the process?
(3) What populations are represented in this process? Are we engageing previously disconnected youth?
This initiative did contribute to an evolving reputation in Boston that provides an image of a city that definitively invests in youth through an open and trustworthy branch of local
government. This image allows for our future leaders to take an active role in contributing to city infrastructure and youth empowerment.

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 assesment, 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 the court system, 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

Boston has once again set the standard for what"civic engagement"means in North America. Since 2014, young people have been the driving force behind not only the project’s success, but also the generators of the movement. Through surveys and focus groups with the Mayor’s Youth
Council, city leadership was able to understand the desire for young people to contribute to the decisions that are being made around them and also understand the benefit and strength of having young people participate in real decision making.
The project began with the assembly of a steering committee
composed of young people connected to youth serving organizations. It was important to make sure that young people on the steering committee were supported by adults to allow for youth development moments and intentional relationships between youth and adults. This
cohort of young people and supporting adults created the rules that would govern the process with a focus on the voices of young people.
In order to further legitamize the role ofthe steering committee, members were also given a budget of $10,000 to choose to spend in any way they'd like to support the overall process. This was, in fact, participatory budgeting within participatory budgeting.
Once the rules were written, members of the Mayor's Youth Council worked with the Mayor's
Cabinet members to creat mission statements across 8 topic areas. This helped cultivate guiding questions for idea collection. For example, instead of simply asking"How would you use $1M to make Boston better?", an Arts and Culture representarive would ask"How would you use $1M to diversify the genres of art young people are exposed to?"In total, members created 24 guiding questions (about 3 for eah topic area).
The steering committee members then began community outreach and facilitated idea collection assemblies. Locations for idea collections assemblies had a focus on traditionally underserved neighborhoods. As ideas were collected in person and though an online platform, young people and residents had the opportunity to interact with local government in a positive and empowering way that promotes real change and ownership in communities.
Change agents applied to serve to transform ideas into capital projects based on community need, project feasibility and project impact in the community. Change Agents worked with city departments to vet ideas and approve proposals. Throughout this process, young change agents had an opportunity to collaborate and learn with adults in city leadership.
Once projects made it to ballot, only young people could decide how funds would be spent. 10 capital projects made it to the third Youth Lead the Change Ballot and 6 projects were selected by young people as winners. In addition, 8 policy areas were ranked and the top 3 will set the agenda for the following session of the Mayor's Youth Council.
This sort of real and tangible process empowered youth to get engaged in their communities and indicated that they can affect real change in their communities. The goal is that this initiative promotes civic engagement, changes social behaviors, increases trust and communication between youth and local government and promotes education about budgetary and democratic processes.
Finally, We have made sure to chronicle and provide technical support to cities across the
world who look 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, the lead organizer for Youth Lead the Change, will be traveling to Baku in September 2016 to help replicate Boston's best youth engagement practices
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