ASU researchers detail participatory budgeting experiment


Heather Beshears

Last year, students at Phoenix Union Bioscience High School got an unusual opportunity. Believing that one of the best ways to learn democracy is by doing it, Principal Quintin Boyce offered a portion of his discretionary budget and asked the students to decide how it should be spent.

Matt Cohen, an Arizona State University doctoral candidate in the School of Sustainability, and Daniel Schugurensky, a professor in ASU's School of Public Affairs detailed this school participatory budgeting experiment – the first of its kind in the U.S. – in an article that was featured in TIME.

Participatory budgeting is a democratic process of deliberation and decision-making over budget allocations that is being implemented in more than 1,500 cities around the world. Participatory budgeting provides not only a more transparent and accountable way of managing public money, but also a means for participants to learn more about their community.

At Bioscience High School, the democratic work began when each grade elected four student representatives to a steering committee. This committee created rules for the process and encouraged their classmates to develop and submit proposals, which were then discussed and voted by all students. Interestingly, the most voted projects were educational in nature: a display for the school’s courtyard, color ink for a student-built 3-D printer and a camera adapter for laboratory microscopes.