Participatory budgeting is an amazing program that provides opportunities for regular citizens to be involved in the allocation of local city funds. However, you have probably never heard of this program, even if you live in a city that currently participates! If cities and the actual organization take advantage of social media to get out the word, participatory budgeting may grow rapidly over the next few years.
Although the concept of allowing citizens to participate in budget allocation may sound strange, it is actually a more democratic and open process. According to the Participatory Budgeting Project website, it will enable “taxpayers to work with government to make the budget decisions that affect their lives.”
This idea may seem new and innovative, but has actually been around since 1989. Brazil was the first country to have cities to use participatory budgeting to engage citizens. Now, it has spread over the world with 1,500 cities taking advantage of the program. It has even spread to cities in the U.S. like New York City and Chicago.
After over 20 years, the program has had a record of success all over the world. In Latin America, areas inhabited by those in poverty are sometimes overlooked in city council budgets. When participatory budgeting is introduced in those cities, impoverished neighborhoods see a dramatic increase in construction of schools, sewage systems, and other beneficial city projects.
With a record of success, it seems that participatory budgeting would be more widespread. However, 1,500 cities is a relatively low number when thinking about the entire world. The organization has a hard time spreading the word about the program and encouraging citizens to start the program in new cities.
How Can Social Media Solve the Problem?
The main problem with the Participatory Budgeting Program is its communications effort. If people in a community do not know about the program, they will not be able to participate and make it truly effective. Furthermore, it is nearly impossible to start the program in a city if nobody there has ever heard of participatory budgeting.
Generally, the problem of community outreach in a city with participatory budgeting can be solved through an extensive campaign of print materials. Most city councils are willing to pay for this, so it will be no extra cost to the citizens wishing to push the program forward.
Getting Participatory Budgeting started in a community is a completely different problem. Since it is not a widely known program, the name needs to be spread to generate interest. This is an area in which social media can provide a major boost. Social media creates networks all over the globe, meaning a campaign relying on social media will be able to reach a broad audience.
To start, the organization should create a good advertisement with a flashy brand/image to go on all publications. This can be pushed out through blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other media sources. If it is flashy but simple, it will be memorable and generate more interest in the program.
Next, the organization needs to encourage more likes on the page. The New York City Facebook page barely has over 1000 likes. By encouraging citizens to share the page with friends, those people can see the status updates on their news feeds. This means that status updates will need to be short and informative. Simple improvements to Facebook will help the organization generate interest and build a community.
Another area to focus on is Twitter. Just like Facebook, the organization needs to encourage more Twitter followers. Tweets sent out should be simple and directly related to the organization or community in some way. Sharing quick updates on current budget meetings is a great way to keep people involved, even when they cannot participate in the actual meetings. Tweeting frequently is a great way to build and maintain interest for an organization like the Participatory Budgeting Project.
Finally, blogging can be highly encouraged, especially by people who have a good reputation in the blogging community. Blogs can be short and sweet, or long and informative. Either way, they should contain essential information about the organization and the communities it is helping. Blogs should be pushed out on social media like Facebook and Twitter, and they should also have keywords to enable people to search for them. Blogging is becoming a popular way of communicating, and many younger people who would be interested in this program may find out about it through blogs.
These are only a couple of suggestions for the use of social media to promote this organization. The main point is that social media has the ability to revolutionize this organization and help it spread even more. The idea of participatory budgeting is a true experiment in democracy that has proven successful. Every community needs to at least hear about this wonderful opportunity to strengthen local democratic government.