Participatory Budgeting wins King County Executive’s Equity, Racial & Social Justice Innovation Award!

• King County Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Anita Whitfield’s presentation of the award for Participatory Budgeting.

The historic Participatory Budgeting effort has received another major award, and this particular accolade brings special significance.

Local Services received a Performance Excellence Award from King County Executive Dow Constantine. The series of awards honor employees and workgroups at King County who bring a Best-Run Government approach to their work, and have made exceptional contributions in performance, leadership, and innovation.

Specifically, Local Services Director’s Office won the Equity, Racial & Social Justice Innovation Award, which recognizes Participatory Budgeting for achieving exceptional improvement results and making the county a place where every person can thrive.

Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Anita Whitfield presented the award to the Local Services this month.

“Together, with the community, they implemented a Participatory Budget approach that allocated $11 million to fund projects in five urban, unincorporated King County communities. And they did it with a strong focus on community engagement and co-creation, while centering those urban, unincorporated communities that have been most marginalized.”

Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Anita Whitfield

The five areas Whitfield referred to and Participatory Budgeting focused on were:

  • White Center
  • Skyway
  • East Federal Way
  • East Renton
  • Fairwood

Historically, members of these communities have had little say in how county funds are invested to benefit their neighborhoods, Whitfield added. Under these circumstances, it has made sense that these communities would “experience their government making decisions for them, as opposed to with them.”

Participatory Budgeting was a first for King County, and now other organizations are asking the county to share the lessons it learned throughout the co-creation process, she said.

Participatory Budgeting Program Manager Gloria Briggs

While the award recognizes the collective work of the Director’s Office at Local Services, much of the credit goes to Participatory Budgeting Program Manager Gloria Briggs, who oversaw this effort from its inception.

Through intentional program design, she reminded everyone involved that the program was centered on racial equity, whether it was through “Land and Enslaved People” acknowledgements before any steering committee meeting to listening and helping guide difficult discussions on racism’s generational damage to black, brown and indigenous communities. Her efforts with Participatory Budgeting were rooted in pushing back on systemic racism that people face on a daily basis.

“While managing this program the past two years, it has been a humbling experience and huge honor to work so closely with community members, all while building meaningful transformational relationships with the individuals involved. When ‘Racism is a Public Health Crisis’ was declared by King County’s Office of Equity Race & Social Justice, I took it to heart and dedicated my work to undoing systemic racism and bringing real change to the way we do business in King County.”

Participatory Budgeting Program Manager Gloria Briggs

A great example of that centering of racial equity came organically. Briggs said the Community Investment Budget Committee – the group that created the framework for the first round of Participatory Budgeting – had to determine how much each of the five communities was allotted in terms of funding. Instead of taking the traditional route of dividing the pot equally, group members listed to how racism and other factors disproportionately affected some areas more than others. Based on those meaningful conversions, the group chose to allocate the majority of the funds to White Center and Skyway – two of the most racially diverse and negatively impacted areas in unincorporated King County.

“That’s one of the beautiful things about Participatory Budgeting,” Briggs said. “It creates a safe space to speak honestly and learn about the hurt racism causes in our communities. It also gives us a way – by repurposing power to communities by choosing how money is spent in their neighborhoods – to address it.”

That process resulted in the first “vote week” in which residents cast more than 2,600 ballots and selected 46 projects across the five unincorporated areas that King County will fund.

“You always hear how government can’t solve everything, especially for complicated and sensitive issues such as the generational effects of racism. Well, Participatory Budgeting provides an example of how local government actually can try to address that issue through public project funding. I could not be prouder of the work and effort of Gloria Briggs and the entire Director’s Office.”

Local Services Director John Taylor

Read the full news release here.