Extending Participatory Budgeting with open source engagement tools

Participatory Budgeting enables meaningful community involvement in local spending
decisions. Digital tools can extend the reach of PB processes, increasing awareness,
supporting sustained involvement, and generating more in-person engagement. Digital tools
can also facilitate the management of Participatory Budgeting from start to finish, reducing the
admin burden on sta! and delegates.
Following a successful trial of Shareabouts maps for PB in NYC, we see potential for a suite of
tools to support many aspects of the Participatory Budgeting process, including crowdsourced
maps; text message tools for gathering ideas; a database of past projects; tools to manage
workshop results; generating ballots; and other facilitation tools for moderators. Multiple
partners should develop these tools.
OpenPlans is interested in extending its open source Shareabouts tool to support more online
participation, and to create a database of past projects. Building PB tools as open source will
enable widespread participation from the software community in extending and improving the
tools with each successive project.
For more information, contact Frank Hebbert, OpenPlans. 617 417-8396. frank@openplans.org.
OpenPlans’ vision for Participatory Budgeting tools
Tools that enable more people to get involved. We see tech tools as enabling participatory
budgeting process that are inclusive and e!ective. Technology can facilitate greater
engagement by community members in person or online, and support easier and more
rewarding e!orts by delegates. The management of participation and ideas can be easier,
freeing up sta! for other tasks.
Tools that support ongoing community engagement. Unlike many tech-enabled ideation
and place-based crowdsourcing e!orts, Participatory Budgeting is di!erent because the
process doesn’t stop once the first ideas are collected. We’d like to see PB tools going in that
direction too -- moving from one-time data collection tools, to a suite of tools that support
community engagement around capital expenditure and service projects on a multi-year,
ongoing basis.
Available tools without any tech configuration. To minimize the technical overhead involved
with setting up maps for each participatory budgeting project, we want to see a hosted service
that’s available for any PB process to use, with a simple user interface for setting up a new
map. This service can be centrally managed, making the suite of tools freely available for users
with no technical costs or overhead. Well-designed templates for maps, reports and other tools
will be available for each project.
Open source, community-driven tools. Tech tools for Participatory Budgeting should be
easily available to projects as an on-demand service. At the same time, the underlying software
code should be freely available and open for re-use. Work on the PB toolkit should be driven by
community needs with a public roadmap, and di!erent parts of the PB “stack” should work
together. Over time, a variety of funders, tech partners, and on-the-ground implementations
can participate in moving the tools forward. Keeping the tools open creates the greatest
opportunities for re-use and extension, which maximizes the upfront investment required to get
the tools built.
Shareabouts successfully supported PB in NYC
For Participatory Budgeting in NYC in the 2013-14 cycle, pilot Shareabouts maps were used to
gather community input. Each participating council district had its own map. Across nine
districts, 393 ideas were submitted, with 461 comments, 1,060 clicks of support. The maps
were visited by 2,900 visitors, with a total of 6,600 views of the submitted ideas.
As the PB process developed, the maps kept up: initially showing ideas submitted online, then
updated to show ideas proposed o#ine at workshops. After delegates created a shortlist of
projects, the map was updated again to highlight these. After voting was complete, the maps
showed the winning projects.
Developing Shareabouts for PB
OpenPlans has identified features to support greater use of Shareabouts for Participatory
Budgeting in future years:
PB “maps on tap”
Hosted service version of Shareabouts that enables a PB team to make a new map without any
technical assistance. Simple admin interface to configure welcome text, categories, etc.
Building on previous years
As PB returns to neighborhoods in subsequent years, the maps can help participants review
previous ideas suggested locally or elsewhere. Opening up the database behind the maps will
enable more informed decisions through the process, for example being able to explore the
cost of comparable projects in other cities or districts. The database will show funded ideas,
in-progress and implemented, and ideas that were not selected. This requires improved filtering
and data management tools, and a new data explorer interface.
Better integration with workshops
No matter where you share an idea, it should end up on the map. The database powering the
map needs easier tools for sta! to load in ideas that are suggested in person, either in bulk
(including a geocoding/mapping tool to place locations), or one by one.
Text messages for submissions
Not everyone is able or interested in using a mapping tool. SMS integration for “text to map”
will use a Q&A via SMS to identify an idea, and a location. These ideas then go onto the map
for others to engage with them. Boston’s PB process is using text messaging, so we can guide
development of this feature with lessons from there.
Better support for multiple languages
Shareabouts already supports a translated interface, but participation still happens in one
language. No matter what language you read, you should be able to participate and respond to
comments left by others.
Easier tools for managing submissions
Manage ideas along the pipeline from initial suggestions, to shortlist, to voting. A delegate-
specific admin view, showing projects on the map and list view, with tools to: classify ideas,
make edits, group ideas into a bundle, move projects onto shortlists, add ideas that emerge
during the delegate process.
Reporting tools
New browsing and reporting tools for sta! to understand what is being proposed, who is
engaged and what they are saying. Reports can be interactive, dashboard-style for monitoring,
showing clusters, top topics, participation, and sentiment of comments. Ready-to-print maps
and reports can support meetings and workshop sessions.
Showcasing ideas
Making it easy and fun to explore ideas in a “gallery view” before voting, with additional
images, links, etc embedded in submissions.
Social explorer
See what people you know are supporting and sharing: social subscription features will help
participants see ideas from people they follow on social networks.
Get an email, text, or social network notification when your ideas are commented on, liked or
taken onto the next stage in the process as a proposal.
Connecting ideas on the map to spending priorities, budget allocation games and other
interactive tools to help in developing ideas.
About OpenPlans
OpenPlans is a leading developer of “civic tech”: software tools to support greater community
involvement in decision-making and governance. We work on open source tools, in close
consultation with intended users. We guide feature development and improvements with user
feedback to ensure that we’re building tools that are useful and e!ective.
We are a non-profit organization, pairing software development with advocacy and convening
around open tools, data standards, and new approaches to participation. Our activities are
funded by foundation support and fee-for-service with cities. Find out more at openplans.org.
About Shareabouts
Shareabouts is a mapping platform developed by OpenPlans for public input around urban
planning and neighborhood projects. Originally created in partnership with NYC DOT for bike
share, Shareabouts has been used for a variety of projects since in NYC, Chicago, LA, Miami,
Philadelphia, and many community-led projects nationally.
Shareabouts is open source, built from widely-used open components. The source code and
installation instructions are available on Github at github.com/openplans/shareabouts. Current
features of Shareabouts include:
$ Map view, accessible on desktop and mobile browsers. This design continues to be
improved with user testing.
$ List view of submitted ideas.
$ Easily submit suggestions to the map.
$ Review, vote, and comment on suggestions from others.
$ Show past projects on the map.
$ Social network integration and email acknowledgements
$ Translations
$ User roles to support voting (allows delegates to rate/assess submissions separately to
public voting)
$ For map managers, email updates and reports, and a management interface