Would the government work better if you had more say?

At Reset San Francisco – we think the answer to that question is absolutely yes, which is why we were so excited when the folks behind the movement for Participatory Budgeting paid a visit to City Hall last week.

Don’t let the boring name fool you – this is really powerful stuff. At its core, Participatory Budgeting is about educating and engaging everyday residents to make important decisions about government priorities.

The movement is winning headlines for experiments in China, where a provincial town educated and empanelled a representative sample of residents to make important budget decisions. It has been tried in Chicago’s 49th Ward – led by Alderman Joe Moore – to make decisions about how to spend more than $1 million in discretionary infrastructure funds. We think it is time to try it here in San Francisco.

Here’s a great video of the Chicago experiment.

Does it remind you of something? To us it looks almost exactly like our own Reset San Francisco community meetings where we bring residents together to look for solutions to San Francisco’s challenges.

Beyond Gov 2.0 Press Releases and Toward Real Power for Residents

San Francisco is pretty good – maybe even the very best – at adopting the rhetoric of Gov 2.0. But are we embracing the core reality – giving residents more real power?

What would happen if we had more say over how San Francisco’s $6.5 billion budget is spent?

Would you have made the decision that MUNI just did to spend $100,000 on an outside public relations firm – or would you have invested that money to make sure the 38 Geary, N Judah, 22 Fillmore or your own MUNI bus or streetcar was on time more often? If you had more say over the budget – do you think the Clipper Card would be such a disaster?

If you were in charge of the school budget, would you invest more in San Francisco neighborhood schools?

What about the infrastructure budget? Would there be so many potholes if you were in charge? Would there be more bike lanes? Would the city be so dirty?

Right now most of these decisions are made for us at City Hall – and usually after just hearing from a narrow group of people who have time to come testify. What would happen if more San Franciscans made these important decisions?

At Reset we think the answer is that we would get better decisions – which is why we are so inspired by these new models of getting residents involved in improving their own communities.