Thank you for deciding to bring FirstRoot along with you as you make your journey through a Participatory Budgeting (PB) Cycle at your school!

If you’ve made it this far we’re going to assume you are at least somewhat familiar with Participatory Budgeting and the premise behind it.

This Quick Start Guide will help you create and run your PB program.

What is a “Participatory Budgeting (PB) Cycle”?

Why does FirstRoot talk about “Participatory Budgeting (PB) Cycles” and not “PB Projects,” “PB Events,” or “PB Workshops”?

Cycle n. – “a series of events repeated on a regular basis”

Participatory budgeting is most effective when performed on a regular basis with the same audience (e.g., at the same school, annually). As a group of participants becomes more familiar with Participatory Budgeting, they begin to trust the process more. They see the impact that they’re creating, which creates a virtuous cycle of participation: more students participate, budgets allocated to the students become larger, and impact continues to increase.

This impact is experienced within the school and in the larger community, especially as students graduate and bring Participatory Budgeting into your community and their workplaces.

Each PB Cycle is made up of a series of phases. These phases are executed in sequence, and each must be completed before the subsequent phase can begin.

These phases include:

  • Discover (Planning)
  • Dream (Ideation)
  • Design (Refinement)
  • Decide (Voting)
  • Do (Project Implementation)

When planning a PB Cycle, you’re planning each of the phases listed above and taking into account when your “next” PB Cycle will occur too (when the cycle will repeat itself).

The Discover Phase

The very first phase of any Participatory Budgeting Cycles is Discover. You will be automatically placed into Discover when you create your PB cycle.

Discover introduces two key roles:

  • Administrators: Administrators are responsible for defining the PB program, determining who is eligible to participate, and managing each of the phases. It is common for at least one administrator to be a teacher, with additional student leaders serving as co-facilitators.
  • Participants: Participants can create, refine, and vote on proposals. Participants are typically students.

In Discover, PB administrators will:

  • Establish a theme
  • Define the budget
  • Determine the schedule
  • Invite students and other participants

We shall review each of these activities.

PB Theme

Think of the PB Theme as the Title of your PB Cycle. There are a few reasons the PB Cycle theme is important:

  • A theme inspires ideas – Humans often have a hard time creating something from nothing. It’s far easier for a student to expand upon a concept they identify with than fill an empty space. The PB Cycle theme provides a great jumping-off point for participants to begin ideating over new proposals that positively impact the school.
  • A theme define scope and provides context – PB Cycles can be planned for groups of any size. From student groups and clubs to entire school districts. Defining your PB Cycle Theme helps participants understand the scope of the PB Cycle.
  • A theme may fulfill donor requirements (Budgets with a Purpose) – Sometimes, budgets are earmarked for a specific purpose. A donor may fund a PB Cycle to improve science and technology or health and wellness. In these cases, the PB Cycle Theme should clearly communicate the purpose.

Try to keep your theme below 50 characters for the best user experience. For reference, this sentence is 46 characters.

PB Description

Here’s your chance to expand upon the Theme you just defined to ensure everyone is on the same page and there aren’t any misinterpretations of the Theme.

Keep this statement at or below 200 characters (around 3 sentences).

PB Budget

The budget is the amount of money allocated to the students.

The size of the budget varies based on a number of factors. For example, the budget for a single classroom (typically hundreds of dollars) is almost certainly smaller than the budget for the entire school (typically thousands of dollars). A good rule of thumb is that the budget should be large enough to enable the students to do something meaningful but not so large as to motivate adults to exert undue influence over the process.

The source of the budget funds is typically one or more of the following:

  • The principal’s budget or the the principal’s discretionary fund.
  • The Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), Parent-Teacher-Student Association (PTSA), or equivalent organization (PTO, PTSO).
  • A corporate sponsor.
  • A parent sponsor.
  • A student fundraiser.

We encourage you to be creative in creating the largest budget possible, as the greater the budget, the greater the impact.

PB Schedule

Setting the PB cycle schedule defines the starting and ending dates for each phase. This helps students plan their activities as they know in advance how much time is allocated for each phase

When setting the schedule, is helpful to take into account holidays, semi-annual/annual events that require students’ attention (e.g., finals week, homecoming, college application season), and of course, the school year.

Don’t worry too much about setting the schedule. The FirstRoot app makes it easy to manage your schedule, even while the PB cycle is active. For example, you can easily advance to the next phase or return to a previous phase based on your specific circumstances.

Promoting Your PB Program ✨

An essential activity in Discover is promoting the PB program and registering participants.

  • Promotion – When the Dream phase begins, students should be signed up, knowledgeable of what PB is and what they should expect in the coming weeks. Consider using the Discover phase to introduce PB to students, build anticipation for the future Dream phase, and creating an understanding of the purpose behind the theme.
  • Participant Registration – Students can register their FirstRoot account and join your PB cycle once you create your PB Cycle and send out an invitation. It’s a good idea to have students begin signing up as early as possible so they have more time to invest in submitting proposals during the Dream phase.

Dream Phase 💡

Dream is the phase where students submit and discuss their proposal ideas. By the end of this phase, all student ideas should be submitted.

In addition to submitting their own ideas, students are encouraged to review the ideas of other students and react to them with “likes.”

Administrators should monitor the Dream phase, encouraging students to:

  • submit their own ideas
  • reflect on the ideas submitted by others
  • identify any noteworthy or otherwise special ideas
  • begin researching which ideas are suitable for implementation

How to add proposals

How to add videos to proposals

Design Phase 📌

Design is the process of taking raw proposals and adding the details needed to fully implement a proposal.

A properly refined Proposal is like a detailed shopping list for a chocolate cake prepared by a baker for their assistant: the baker would list each of the required ingredients along with a rough estimate of their cost and a total cost. If the baker has done their job well, their assistant will be able to purchase everything needed. If the baker provides an incomplete shopping list, no one gets cake.

Participants can use three inter-related perspectives to refine proposals.

The first perspective is design thinking, which considers the following factors:

  • Desirability: Who wants this proposal? Why do they want it?
  • Feasibility: Can this proposal be implemented? For example, while several students may want to start a garden, the proposal is not feasible if there is not enough space on the school grounds for a garden.
  • Viability: Can the proposal be implemented within the available budget?
  • Sustainability: Once implemented, can the students and/or the school sustain the solution?

The second perspective is financial analysis, which expands on viability and sustainability to develop detailed projected costs. Each aspect of the proposal must be researched to determine the costs.

The third perspective is civic analysis, which expands on desirability and enables proposals to be prioritized. For example, a proposal that benefits the entire student body may be ranked as more desirable that a proposal that benefits a small subset of students unless that group of students s historically underserved.

The final aspect of Design is developing a draft implementation plan. For example, if a new mural is proposed, who will paint it, how many students are needed to assist, etc.

During Design most of the ideas will be removed based on the design thinking criteria presented above.

The final work product of this phase is a lit of 5 – 20 proposals that can be be voted upon in the Decide phase.

Decide Phase 🗳

Students will use this time to vote for their favorite proposals from within the app. The voting experience allows students to select multiple proposals to spend the entire PB Cycle budget in a way that makes sense to them.

Be sure to provide time for promotion and communication with the students and follow up before phase end to give them ‘one last chance’ to make their voice heard.

Results Ratification Phase 🗳

The voting results from the Decide phase are in and counted but do leave room for interpretation. Administrators will use this time to review the voting results and decide upon the final proposals to be implemented.

Do Phase 🏢

Do is the single most important phase of the PB Cycle. During this phase, ideas are funded and executed upon. Students build trust in the democratic process as a result of the implementation phase and seeing their ideas come to life can make or break the experience for them.

App Overview 📱