Citizens as Investors and Co-producers

Guest post by Hollie Russon Gilman (@hrgilman)

Crowd sourcing continues to transform daily interactions. The wisdom of crowds continues to find new and exciting permutations. This ranges from crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter to mapping election violence with Ushahidi. The latest frontier is civic and community engagement crowd funding. Neighbor.ly and Citizenvestor are both popular civic crowd funding platforms. They enable citizens to donate their ideas and money to issues they care about. Citizenvestor is focused primarily on public goods where as Neighbor.ly is more expansive. Both platforms effectively visualize and communicate ideas and the resources that would be necessary for implementation. The platforms underpin the idea that citizens express their preferences through their monetary choices. 21st-century citizens vote with their dollars – not their feet. Crowd funding provides a low cost and inherently social way to vote on projects.

These platforms effectively connect local level issues to a national audience. By convening disparate types of projects, these platforms enable the cross-pollination of ideas and pooling of resources. Recently, Citizenvestor designed a custom made tool for crowd sourcing how to spend $1 million in public monies in the first youth-driven Participatory budgeting process in Boston. This process, called Youth Lead the Change is leveraging social media to engage young people. People can “like” ideas to decide their favorites. These ideas will be incorporated into a larger pool of ideas that will be sifted into viable budget proposals. Youth can volunteer to be “change agents” and work closely with city agencies to turn ideas into projects to be voted upon. Boston residents ages 12-25 will vote upon proposals.

Participatory budgeting has explored other online submission platforms. These ideas have been funneled into offline action requiring more intensive participation in the form of creating budget proposals.

There are a few critical differences between civic engagement crowdfunding and participatory budgeting. First, while all crowd funding platforms tie online engagement to offline activity. Participatory budgeting also requires in person engagement from a more diverse group of residents. Second, many civic projects that receive funding are onetime events. In contrast, participatory budgeting is an ongoing annual process. Finally, some civic projects work directly with government but few are about public decision making. At its core, participatory budgeting is a collaborative governance process that engages citizens as co-producers of public policy decisions.

As this field continues to emerge, perhaps there will be more opportunities to crowdsource decision making and take a hybrid approach that combines voting with dollars and with feet.

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