Inspired by Michael Bieruts 100 Day Project, 100 Days to a Better RVA strives to introduce and investigate unique ideas to improving the city of Richmond. View the entire project here and the intro here.

  • Idea: Participatory budgeting and CityFund.
  • Difficulty: 3 Its tough to forfeit power and money.

The United States is a federal republic. At different levels of government, voters elect representatives who make a majority of the decisions. Direct democracy is occasionally used for referendums, initiatives, and recalls (although almost never in Virginia). At times, direct democracy can be a powerful tool for deciding difficult issues and getting citizens involved.

Around the world, some cities are allowing citizens to allocate a small portion of the budget to projects based on direct voting. Participatory budgeting in Richmond could give citizens a direct voice while encouraging them to get involved in the important happenings of local government. 


Participatory budgeting evolved out of the leftist workers movement in Porto Alegre, Brazil in the late 1980s. In some Brazilian municipalities, it now accounts for 100% of new capital spending projects and 15% of total budgets. 

In places like the 49th Ward in Chicago, participatory budgeting only allocates around $1.3 million, but the idea has been incredibly popular. Its now spreading to other wards. Since its adoption in 2009, citizens have voted through a dozen or so ideas including planting 100 trees in one neighborhood and a mural project for underpasses. 

In practice, a small board of citizens run a steering committee where ideas are introduced and prepared for an annual ballot. Citizens can vote for a fixed number of ideas on the list and top receivers get funding. It sounds unnatural for elected officials to voluntarily forfeit power and dollars, but boosts in public approval are excellent motivators.

The process has many advantages including promoting government accountability and transparency, strengthening social networks, boosting participation and informing voters, and it puts infrastructure spending more in line with public opinion. 

But it hasnt always gone perfectly. Vallejo, California introduced the idea as it emerged from Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Some fear that their system is smoke and mirrors aimed at freeing up funding. For example, if participatory budgeting allocated money to fixing potholes, then other money allocated to potholes is now free to be spent on cleaning up toxic waste. Either way, the projects funding is now close to nothing and public opinion has tanked, but Vallejo made a few mistakes. They levied a new sales tax to finance the project, and their budget of $3 million represented a large chunk of the budget for a town of only 54,000 people.

In Richmond, similar funding could be appropriated for four times the population. Participatory budgeting could happen on the city-wide level or at the district level. Theres certainly no shortage of ideas that could go on the ballot: the Floyd Avenue bike boulevard, bike lanes, new trees, or public art. 

Furthermore, when people get involved, they are more likely to share ideas. The best idea for Richmond is probably out there in the imagination of someone who has never been asked to contribute. Participatory budget could help unleash this untapped force. 


Government has unique skills, tools, and resources. There are plenty of worthwhile projects that are beyond the responsibilities of government but can only be built or executed by government. Whats needed is a platform to match money and motivation with capabilitya Kickstarter for cities, lets call it CityFund.

In London, Spacehive raises money for public projects and offers assistance with getting planning permission. A system run through the city would be even more attractive. There are so many ideas lying dormant in dust covered studies on shelves in City Hall; Id be more than willing to pitch in $10 to make some of the ideas in the Richmond Riverfront Plan become reality. 

Care would have to be taken to hold the government accountable for funding important services with taxes, but the system could help Richmond realize its potential without putting the burden of luxury infrastructure on all citizens.


One of the biggest responsibilities of government is the allocation of funds. Its a difficult process that requires knowledgeable full-time workers, but the public needs to carve out a larger role while taking on more responsibility for being informed. Participatory budgeting would be a step in the right direction of tapping into the potential of the people while encouraging involvement. CityFund would simply mean more cool stuff. 

Love this idea? Think its terrible? Have one thats ten times better? Head over to the 100 Days to a Better RVA Facebook page and join in the conversation. 

Photo by: Cooperweb

LLOYD The Greenup County School District will be getting some expert help in budgeting, hiring, planning and tracking resources thanks to a grant from the Kentucky Association of School Administrators.

Consultants will work with school officials to align spending more closely with educational goals and to track whether money has been spent effectively, according to Matt Baker, director of district-wide programs.

Let's look at both costs and benefits

Of the many articles that are published on, one particularly got me to think about a popular topic I've had to deal with quite a bit in last 10-15 years, namely, Information Technology Budgeting. This article, titled "Keep an eye to value in the IT budgeting process", and is authored by Rob Livingstone, Owner and Principal, Rob Livingstone Advisory.

The main point the author is trying to make is that while IT costs can be relatively easily forecasted and formally budgeted, the value that these costs will (and should) bring to the organization are not as simple to forecast. However, value and benefit of these IT capital expenditures should be tied to the underlying expenses. The author then goes on to recommend several key activities that will help the organization in tying these two pieces together.

This reminds me of how we can use KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and drivers in our planning and budgeting process. IT capital expenditure budgeting is a great example where KPIs and drivers should be used.

In my blog post "Do you Budget for Technology Spending?" dated May 30 2014 (link goes here), I touch on the topic of using drivers in the planning solution for IT budgeting. KPIs are used to define these drivers and the appropriate expense results are dependent on these drivers. For example: IT spending $s per FTE (Full Time Equivalent).

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In that blog post I also made reference to a software solution titled Budget Maestro, published by Centage Corporation, where drivers (based on KPIs) can be easily placed without any programing, formulas, macros or links. The output is directly driven by these values and always follows the pre-determined business rules established for them.

To take it one step further and in conjunction with the topic of the above referenced article, KPIs can be developed to establish drivers that will affect revenue streams in the revenue module of the planning application. In Budget Maestro this is as simple as defining the driver and tying the revenue line to it. As mentioned before, this step does not involve any programing or formula work, which is one of the features that stands out in Budget Maestro and makes it much more practical to implement and maintain by many organizations.

To use a simple example, a revenue line can be defined and tied to a driver based on IT capital expenditures. This driver can be the number of outbound sales calls made based on equipment capacity budgeted for in IT capital expenditure. That in turn, and using an established KPI called revenue per outbound call, will drive the forecasted revenue on that line, which becomes part of the organization's budget and will roll up according to the enterprise structure in the system.

This is one of many examples that demonstrate how seemingly complex planning challenges (eg, forecasting value derived from IT capital expenditure) can be overcome with use of KPIs and drivers.

Employing an advanced planning and budgeting software solution, such as Budget Maestro makes it logical and straightforward to employ these KPIs and drivers. An obscure concept of forecasting and measuring value derived from use of technology becomes manageable and with useful and hopefully tangible results.

Chicago Ald. John Arena (45th) will kick off the 2015 participatory budgeting process in his ward later this month.

Through the participatory budgeting process, residents in the 45th Ward will decide how to spend $1 million of the aldermans menu money for infrastructure needs. The 2015 participatory budgeting cycle represents the third straight year the alderman has used the community-driven budgeting system in his ward. 

Arena is set to hold the first of several neighborhood assemblies for his wards participatory budgeting process at 7 pm on November 17 at the Filament Theater, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave.

The alderman will hold four additional neighborhood assemblies this month:

November 18, 7 pm, Congregational Church of Jefferson Park, 5320 W. Giddings Ave.
November 19, 7 pm, Hitch Elementary School, 5625 N. McVicker Ave.
November 20, 7 pm, Independence Park Fieldhouse, 3945 N. Springfield Ave.
November 22, 10:30 am, St. John Lutheran School, 4939 W. Montrose Ave.