Participatory Budgeting Project selected for Brown Democracy Medal

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- A national organization that empowers citizens to exert greater control over public spending was selected as the first recipient of the Brown Democracy Medal, an award that will be presented annually by the McCourtney Institute for Democracy in Penn State’s College of the Liberal Arts.

The Brown Democracy Medal was endowed in 2013 by Penn State alumni Larry Brown (Class of 1971, history) and Lynne Brown (Class of 1972, education). The medal spotlights the best work being done to advance democracy in the United States and internationally. Under the award program, the McCourtney Institute for Democracy will recognize practical innovations, such as new institutions, laws, technologies or movements that advance the cause of democracy. In addition, future awards will highlight contributions in democratic theory that enrich philosophical conceptions of democracy and empirical work that promises to improve the functioning of democracies. Along with the medal, recipients will receive $5,000, give a public talk at Penn State and have an essay published by a prestigious university press.

The inaugural medal winner, the Participatory Budgeting Project (PBP), is a nonprofit organization that promotes “participatory budgeting,” an inclusive process that empowers community members to make informed decisions about public spending. More than 46,000 people in communities across the United States have decided how to spend $45 million through programs that PBP helped spark over the last five years.

The program has been hailed by the New York Times as “revolutionary civics in action.”

Participatory budgeting invites citizens to collectively determine how millions of their tax dollars are spent. Josh Lerner, executive director of PBP, said that participatory budgeting “offers a fundamentally different way to engage with government, and meaningfully engages people in the budget decisions that affect them.”

John Gastil, director of the McCourtney Institute for Democracy, noted that “The Participatory Budgeting Project exemplifies the essential features the award committee was looking for in its inaugural recipient. Political and economic inequality is part of the American national discussion, and participatory budgeting helps empower marginalized groups that do not normally take part in a process that is so critical for democratic life.”

Lerner said, “We are deeply honored to receive the Brown Democracy Medal, in recognition of our work to give thousands of people real power over real money. In just a few years, we have shown how a small nonprofit organization can bring together hundreds of partners to build a new model for local democracy.”

He will accept the medal on behalf of the PBP on Oct. 24 at a ceremony held at Penn State’s University Park campus. More information is at http://www.participatorybudgeting.org/

The Brown Democracy Medal review committee considered dozens of applications from across the globe, including creative policy innovations in Australia and Iceland. The committee evaluated submissions based on the criteria of the innovation’s novelty, its effectiveness and potential for diffusion across different societies and cultures, its nonpartisan orientation and the recency of the democratic innovation.

The McCourtney Institute for Democracy at Penn State promotes rigorous scholarship and practical innovations to advance the democratic process in the United States and abroad. The institute examines the interplay of deliberative, electoral and institutional dynamics. It recognizes that effective deliberation among citizens has the potential to reshape both the character of public opinion and the dynamics of electoral politics, particularly in state and local communities. Likewise, political agendas and institutional processes can shape the ways people frame and discuss issues. The institute pursues this mission, in part, through supporting the work of its partner units, the Center for Democratic Deliberation (CDD) and the Center for American Political Responsiveness (CAPR). 

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Last Updated April 23, 2014