The Seattle City Council is probably going to get more heat over the Black Brilliance Research Project.
Despite months of work and $3 million from the city's budget, the project's goals are still pretty amorphous, and the presentation researchers gave to the council on Monday didn't do much to answer questions reporters raised earlier this month.
The project, spearheaded by King County Equity Now (KCEN) but contracted through the Freedom Project because of a 501(c)(3) complication, will consist of many individual research projects from a team of around 100 researchers from local communities of color. The research aims to create a list of budget priorities around issues that impact marginalized communities for the council to follow through on, kind of like a budget priority vision board.
Ultimately, this will create the foundation for the participatory budgeting process the council hopes to stand up in 2021 to further engage communities in the bureaucratic sausage-making that is the city's budget. The project will also choose a "steering committee" to guide that work.
While the research project directly involves people of color in a political process that aims to alleviate systemic underfunding in their communities, recent reports raised some doubts about how effective that process will be. Shaun Glaze, the research director with KCEN, has stated the project's broad goals but hasn't delved into specifics or illustrated how the project intends on spending the $3 million from the city. This ruffled some of the council's most prominent critics.
Monday's presentation didn't address those open questions. It remains unclear what the research project's expenses are and what the city's $3 million is paying for. So far, the researchers released a preliminary report in November. They'll release another preliminary report on December 21, and the final research report will come in February. In between reports, the researchers will communicate weekly with Councilmember Tammy Morales.
Other council members didn't seem too concerned about the unanswered details of the research project.
Council President Lorena Gonzalez rebuked the "commentary" about the project by comparing it to other city community research projects in the past. She connected the dots between the Black Brilliance Research Project and the the legislation, it 2015 Equity and Environment Agenda, a community-led task force focused on environmental and social justice issues.
An uncharacteristically enthusiastic Councilmember Debora Juarez asked Glaze with KCEN about short-term and long-term goals but received general sentiments—defunding the police, increasing internet access, remodeling public safety—in return. Juarez said that "at some point" she wanted to hear from KCEN about how the group will "be responding to criticisms and concerns about what this actually looks like."
Whatever happens, the council's attempt at participatory budgeting so far is much more transparent than whatever Mayor Jenny Durkan is doing with her Equitable Communities Initiative Task Force, which has to decide where $30 million will go, has had three private meetings so far, and hasn't reported anything substantive.