Participatory Budgeting

What is participatory budgeting?

According to, participatory budgeting  is a democratic process in which community members directly decide how to spend part of a public budget.

The student council at California State University (CSU) Chico uses a watered down version of this, and CSU Chico consistently has the highest voter turnout of the 23 CSU campuses, at an average of about 20% voter turnout. This is achieved because every club and organization wants the funding, so they all work to engage students and rally them to vote.

Though there is much left to be desired, this high voting turn out is achieved not by a top down student council only effort, but a bottom up school wide effort. This bottom up mobilization captures the essence of democracy.

Many participatory budgeting programs exist that are far more effective than the methods of Chico’s student council.

I personally like electronic and online participatory budgeting programs the best.

Two programs I have experience with are Co-Budget and Budget Allocator.

I contacted co-budget and they agreed to let me have access to the beta version of their software.

With it, you can vote on exactly how your money is allocated using this tool. Basically, I had used budget balancing simulators before, and was wondering “why can’t we vote like this!” Now we can, the people at co-budget created the tool to do it.

You have your sections where money is already allocated, and has to be allocated. Then you have your general fund, which every person is given a portion of to vote with and set up the budget with. You can craft proposals–for the case of student governments, using an appropriately formalized process–and everybody is appropriated an amount where they can choose what proposals to fund and how much of their fee to allocate to each proposal.

You can use this just among a student council, or have every single student on campus vote to set up the budget.

This is true participatory democracy, it makes budgeting easy, fun, and effective, and the effects are exponential.

From CSU Chico’s student council’s website:

Revenue Sharing

Revenue Sharing is a program that was created to provide eligible student organizations funding for a variety of uses. This program allows regularly enrolled students the opportunity to allocate up to $15 of their Activity Fee. The Activity Fee is one of the six campus based fees that all regularly enrolled students pay each semester. Revenue Sharing allocation takes place concurrently with the Associated Students Spring General Election. Voters are provided a list of eligible organizations from which to choose and they are able to allocate $15 to one organization, $7.50 to two organizations or $5 to three organizations.In order to be eligible for revenue sharing funds, a student organization MUST NOT be eligible for IRA Funding, and they must be recognized and in good standing with the University prior to March 28th.

Important Facts About Revenue Sharing:

  • Last year over $54,000 was pledged to recognized student organizations and programs.
  • Funds are from student fees and, as such, use is governed by Title 5 of the California Education Code.
  • Funds are available through reimbursement only.
  • Funds allocated in the 2015 election will be available for expenses incurred after July 1, 2015.”



Jacob Bloom

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