Participatory Budgeting


Since 2011, Conteneo has produced several pro-bono Participatory Budgeting and Zero-Based Budgeting programs for the City of San José, CA, through our 501(c)3 nonprofit sister organization, the Every Voice Engaged Foundation (EVEF).

The purpose of this hands-on training is to prepare you to produce, facilitate and/or observe participatory budget events using a varitey of frameworks that have been used successfully in San Jose.  


What you will learn:

  • Participatory Budgeting and Zero-Based Budgeting Processes
  • How to Facilitate and Observe PB/ZBB Budgeting Processes
  • How to Facilitate and Observe Prune the Product Tree

Course Outline:

  • Overview of the PB / ZBB Processes
  • Producer Role
  • Facilitator and Observer Roles and Responsibilities
  • Hands-On Forums - We'll use data from past events to simulate a forum
  • Sequence and timing of the event

Who Should Attend:

Anyone who is committed to improving their communities or making the world a better place. We're especially excited about people who want to learn these techniques so that they can bring them 

Conteneo Software License:

We want to make sure you can practice your awesome skills, so attendees who do not yet have a license to the Conteneo Idea Engine and Decision Engine software platforms will be given a 3-month license to these platforms.

About Participatory Budgeting

Participatory budgeting (PB) is a process of democratic deliberation and decision-making, and a type of participatory democracy, in which ordinary people decide how to allocate part of a municipal or public budget.

A steering committee of citizens oversees the overall process and works with the City to develop guidelines for potential projects and voting requirements (such as ensuring that all projects are for capital improvements).

The process generally involves three distinct phases:

Share Ideas: In this phase residents generate ideas on how to improve their neighborhood, district or other area of interest. In this phase we encourage as many residents as possible to contribute ideas through activities like community meetings and online software tools that facilitate idea capture.

Proposal Generation: In this phase budget delegates review ideas to ensure they adhere to any guidelines and develop the details of the proposal, including cost estimates.

Proposal Selection or Voting: In this phase the potential projects are presented to residents for voting. The projects with the greatest number of votes are selected for implementation.

Once the voting process is complete the City implements the selected projects. 


About Zero-Based Budgeting

A very special version of Participatory Budgeting is known as Zero-Based Budgeting, a technique used in San José starting in February 2016.

The primary goal of Zero-Based Budgeting is to determine how residents wish to spend a budget that remains the same from year to year. Let’s explore this further.

Budget: The total budget is held as constant for the prior year. So, if the City spent $64M on neighborhood services last year then the Budget for the next year is the same – a “Zero” Change.

Project or Program Cost: The initial cost of the projects or proposals, in this case neighborhood service programs, are the amount of money the City spent in the prior year.

Item Funding Policy: Residents can choose to increase or decrease the amount of funds for a given program. This means that if a program is working well residents can fund more of the program and if it is working poorly residents can fund less of it or recommend that it be eliminated by not funding it at all. All items start out with zero funding – the “Zero Base”.

Write-In Candidate: We usally allow residents to add up to two write-in candidates for new programs and ask them to indicate how much they’d like to invest in these new programs.

We’re really excited about Zero-Based Budgeting because it provides residents with a means to shape the programs of the city in a way that better meets their needs over time.