November 2020 Faculty Spotlight
November 2020 Faculty Spotlight
Professor Dan Williams tells us about his new book on participatory budgeting and his approach to remote instruction in this month’s faculty spotlight.
Tell us about your new book, Real Money, Real Power?: The Challenges with Participatory Budgeting in New York City. Can you include some general takeaways from your research?
My research team and I set out to see participatory budgeting in New York City (PBNYC) in action. Most of what I had seen in publication before I set out appeared to have an advocatory slant. I have also looked into the budgetary aspect of participatory budgeting with a professor at NYU. We did not find a lot of evidence that PBNYC changes the overall allocations that city council members make.
The research leading to Real Money, Real Power?, was aimed at seeing the way initial proposals move through the decision process and become decisions. As this is a city budget decision process, we expected transparent access through all stages. What we found instead is that the most significant decision stage, labeled budget delegate meetings where numerous proposals become winnowed into the small number that appear on participatory budgeting ballots, is closed to the public. We then looked to see whether council members give public notice of these meetings and, except one instance over the 8 years we examined, there was no evidence of public notice.
In interviewing people who voted at participatory budgeting pop-up voting locations, we found that of those who stopped to vote – a small share of everyone who walked by – very few were aware of participatory budgeting before they incidentally found a pop-up voting opportunity. We also found preliminary evidence that budget delegates have a much higher success rate than others in getting their preferred projects onto participatory budget ballots.
We discuss these and other matters in the book.
How has working at the Marxe School afforded you with the ability to perform this sort of in-depth research?
This research was supported by a grant from the Howard J. Samuels State and City Policy Center of the Marxe School and the book was completed while I was on fellowship leave. Conducting this sort of research is a real challenge.
What are some of the challenges of switching from traditional in-class teaching to remote and hybrid teaching?
I do not find in-person online lectures to be a beneficial activity, so I use asynchronous narrated slides. Narrating the slides requires production of videos, which can take an enormous amount of work.
This summer I have been unable to conduct substantial research – even though that is what I do in the summer and I have an important project to conduct – because I have been producing the necessary material for teaching two asynchronous courses in the fall.
It might seem that I must have material from the conversion mid-semester in the spring, but that was a hectic time and very little of that material has a shelf-life beyond the spring semester. I have taught online before, although that was some years ago, so I did not have to struggle over what to do. I am sure that other faculty did have that concern.
I set out to make this happen as soon as the spring semester ended although firm decisions had not been made at that time. Fortunately, I have some of the software I need, so I did not have to struggle over access to software. I am almost ready for the fall.