Lesson Plan

  • Grades 9-10,
  • Grades 11-12

Student Engagement through Participatory Budgeting


Across New York City, a bold experiment in participatory democracy is underway. Since 2012, the city council has steadily increased investment in a process called Participatory Budgeting, by which community members help decide how to spend part of a public budget. Through an eight-month process, neighbors come together and work with their government to propose, debate and ultimately vote on budget decisions that affect their lives.

This process, developed in Brazil in 1989, now takes place in 1,500 cities worldwide. In each location, PB brings together diverse communities to grapple with big questions at the center of urban development, while creating an opportunity for community members to transform the way they see their neighborhood, their neighbors and themselves.

Public Money delves into New York City’s PB process, the largest in the U.S., involving more than 100,000 people deciding how to spend over $35 million each year. Following the process over one year in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park—a multicultural neighborhood undergoing gentrification—this quietly observed, verité documentary asks, what happens when community members come together to discuss and decide what development should look like in their neighborhood?

Through the film Public Money, students will be introduced to the Participatory Budgeting (PB) model and how this has process provided the residents of Sunset Park, Brooklyn with a voice in local government. Students will then translate the PB process to their own school and develop an Action Plan and Budget proposal that will address an issue in their community. Students will summarize and present their proposals to students and school administration in the form of an Elevator Pitch.

With help from