Brown Medal honoree to share ways to engage citizens in government budgeting

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Josh Lerner, co-founder and executive director of the Participatory Budgeting Project, will accept the inaugural Brown Democracy Medal on behalf of the project at a public ceremony starting at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24, at the Nittany Lion Inn, Ballroom A. Following the presentation, he will discuss how the Participatory Budgeting Project "offers a fundamentally different way to engage with government and meaningfully engages people in the budget decisions that affect them." 

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

The Brown Democracy Medal is an initiative coordinated by The McCourtney Institute of 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. Each year, the award recipient or a representative of the honored organization will present a fall lecture series and interact with students at Penn State, with the lecture eventually being published for future study and teaching by scholars and students.

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."

The Participatory Budgeting Project 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.

In addition to the award's ceremony, Josh will be promoting his new book Making Democracy Fun, which is about the gamification of democracy and how game design can transform our political society and inspire citizenry, at the Schlow Centre Region Library at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct.  23. Lerner finds that when governments and organizations use games and design their programs to be more like games, public participation becomes more attractive, effective and transparent. This talk is free and open to the public.

Lerner has developed, researched and worked with dozens of community engagement and participatory budgeting processes in North America, Latin America and Europe. In addition to teaching at Fordham University and The New School, he has worked as a popular educator with the Brooklyn Center for Urban Environment and as a community development adviser on UNDP projects in Slovaki.  

Based in Penn State's College of the Liberal Arts, The McCourtney Institute for Democracy 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 states 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 the Center for Democratic Deliberation (CDD) and the Center for American Political Responsiveness (CAPR). 

Last Updated January 09, 2015