Members of the City Council’s Participatory Budgeting decided Thursday afternoon that Evanston needs to hire a consultant to run a planned participatory budgeting exercise.
“That sounds pretty reasonable,” Ald. Devon Reid (8th) said of the idea of spending perhaps $100,000 on a consultant to guide the process in which residents would be invited to engage in deciding how the city will spend $2.5 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds.
Ald. Jonathan Nieuwsma (4th), Ald. Bobby Burns (5th) and Mayor Daniel Biss, the other members of the committee, agreed that the city will need outside help to shepherd the process along — especially given that they hope to have final decisions on spending the funds by the end of the summer.
They plan to ask city staff to seek proposals from the Participatory Budgeting Project, with offices in New York and California, and the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois at Chicago and perhaps other vendors.
Burns suggested the city may also need to work with a software vendor to make the data collection process run smoothly.
Thea Crum from the Great Cities Institute spoke to the committee, suggesting that it would best to collect community feedback during the summer. “Popup voting,” she said, “is much more successful when it’s warmer. “
That way, she said, the city could leverage events like farmers markets that are already going on — so it doesn’t have to be a participatory voting-only event that the city would be trying to draw people to attend.
Burns suggested that if the test with the ARPA money was a success he could see participatory budgeting becoming a permanent part of the city’s budget process.
The committee plans to hold its next meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 3.