Harnessing Involvement for the Future: Boston Involves Young People in the City’s CIP

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

After finding success with other youth initiatives, the City of Boston, Massachusetts, chose to work with the Participatory Budgeting Project, a New York based citizen engagement organization, to involve young Bostonians in the city’s capital improvement planning process. They began by asking for one youth representative from each of the roughly 70 youth service organizations throughout the city, and 50 groups responded with volunteers to create a steering committee for the project. This committee was augmented by staff from the Boston Capital Budgeting Department and consultants from the Participatory Budgeting Project. The effort received $1 million dollars of total capital outlay, which was to be used proportionally on projects or all on one project, depending on the proposals and feedback.

To solicit ideas for capital projects, the project assembled large groups of young people between the ages of 12 and 25, then breaking out into smaller, category-specific groups to focus the discussions. A person acting as a “change agent” (typically closer to 25 years of age) was assigned to each group and tasked with championing the ideas the group developed. The proposals that came out of these discussions had to meet certain parameters: The project idea had to be capital focused (lasting 5 years or longer) and cost between $25 and $1 million dollars. Change agents were encouraged to research the feasibility of their group’s project suggestion, leading to in-person site visits to parks, schools, and other places to talk to young people about what they envisioned, as well as meetings with staff from city departments to gain insight into the practicality and potential impact of the ideas.

Once a group selected specific suggestions, they were sent to the city’s budget department for vetting. Ideas were assigned a yes, no, or “maybe/need more information” designation based on their adherence to the stated goals (e.g., 5-plus years and less than $1million). Need versus impact and other factors were also considered. Projects that were clearly achievable and fell within the identified parameters received a yes and were voted on by the city’s youth.

Ultimately, the city fit seven projects under the $1million dollar cap, including one that provided Google Chromebooks for a local high school and another that funded a skate park feasibility study.

For more information about this program please click here.

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