January 20, 2012 at 2:59 pm #150148
Our local school division is facing a significant budget shortfall. As a result, we will be holding a series of public meetings to ask citizens what local government programs and services they want to preserve and which ones they would be willing to do without.
We’d like to conduct an interactive activity to convey this point. So far, we’ve come up with the idea of giving each participant a toy dollar bill (like Monopoly money) and letting them post the segments on posters throughtout the room to show how funds should be distributed.
Any other creative suggestions for an interactive budget activity?
January 20, 2012 at 3:53 pm #150172
If you have the time for it — Write each program or prioity name on a movable placard which displays cost (include maintianing school taxes as an item). Next, display them alphabetically on a vertical display. Next, ask by show of hands which items should be moved up (which requires moving others down). Repeat this process until everyone agrees the items are now listed in priority order from top to bottom. If maintaining school taxes at the current level is at the top, go down the list adding costs until you run out of funding and draw a line through the list. Everything below the line gets cut. If maintaining tax levels is NOT at the top of the list, initiate a discussion of how high they would have to be raised to fund the items higher on the list. You may have to run through the excercize a few times for people to fully appreciate the trade offs but it is process that has worked well in other areas.
January 20, 2012 at 4:01 pm #150170
Ohio did a pretty interesting budget interactive exercise – https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/balancing-the-budget-in-ohio
Also check out Budget hero – https://www.govloop.com/profiles/blogs/budget-hero-20-get-your-game
January 20, 2012 at 8:14 pm #150168
It’s very cool that you’re looking for interactive ways to help the community understand the tradeoffs involved. I’ve done a similar activity with the faux-money, where participants could allocate however they saw fit. In this situation, it might be a good idea to have a series of short scenarios prepared, where you could explain what the world would look like with the (rough!) level of funding that was allocated to each section. What does a draconian cut in the capital budget look like? How about keeping salary funds flat? Would it include cuts? Anything you could do to help explain the implications of any allocation could go a long way. This might help with Peter’s activity, too, to explain what the world looks like without the programs below the line.
January 20, 2012 at 9:32 pm #150166
I like the idea of the play money (something you can see, while you discuss, as opposed to debating points you have to keep in memory), but you need to take it past the first step you’ve described.
Based on the description of the scenario, one of the challenges is getting prioritized citizen buy-in for all those things they think are reasonable but not necessarily their personal priority. So maybe you need to give them 3 denominations of money ($10, $5, and $2?) and get them to assign it how they see fit. Some folks will undoubtedly put all their chips/money on ONE thing, but others may realize that, while X is important to them personally, Y actually requires more funding to be accomplished. They can put $5 on X, $10 on Y, and $2 on something else, or $7 on X and $10 on Y, or whatever.
The objective here is to bring them into the same mindset you folks have to adopt; which is a fixed pot of money that has to be chopped up and accomplish a lot.
January 21, 2012 at 8:38 am #150164
What do you plan to do with the input you receive? How will participants influence the decision?
January 21, 2012 at 1:43 pm #150162
Here’s a real-time example along with a clear tool/process:
I am in touch with UNC School of Government if you’d like a connection.
January 21, 2012 at 9:18 pm #150160
For a Transportation Vision Project process I was involved with, the Spokane Regional Transportation Council had consultants (MIG was the firm) develop a full-on game. We did a beta test using a Monopoly-like format in groups, then it was recreated online for individual play.
Since transportation funding comes from a variety of sources, some with restrictions, the game involved selecting the taxing levels/fees you would support, then going to the allocation step. The game tallied it all up and showed you what your choices meant. So if you didn’t want to increase transit fares but wanted more transit projects, for example, you might run out of money and have to back up and rethink revenue sources.
The online version is probably beyond the capacity of most small taxing districts–a lot of specifics and constraints have to be programmed in. But doing it in a table game format might work, with individuals talking to each other about whether to make one choice or another to move forward.
It was complex and could benefit from more development to be more user-friendly, but it was very informative. If you wanted more information about a specific project it was right there in a pop-up.
Contact Staci Lehman, [email protected], if you want more information.
I would caution, though, that asking people “what they want” without being clear about the decisions that are off the table due to state and federal mandates will get you into trouble, as you’ve no doubt already considered.
If you really went for it on the Monopoly version, they could “go to jail” for deciding to defund special education, for example, so they get a sense of the constraints school districts have to deal with. (I have volunteered for the past 4 election cycles on our citizens’ committee for levy/bond campaigns, since 2003, so I feel your pain.)
I can envision this as a card game but can’t quite see how I’d structure the rules.
January 22, 2012 at 9:53 pm #150158
Just saw this on the Human Transit blog–Portland’s Tri-Met is using a survey tool that asks people to balance the budget themselves. http://trimet.org/choices/why-is-there-a-budget-shortfall.htm
January 22, 2012 at 11:16 pm #150156
Interesting to read the comments, too. Very mixed reviews, to put it nicely.
I wrote about it here: TriMet Challenges & Choices Budget Discussion Guide
January 22, 2012 at 11:29 pm #150154
For the second year in a row, the City of San José has invited representatives from neighborhood associations to provide input on the city budget:
From a public participation perspective (how to meaningfully involve people in the decisions that affect them), here are some things to always watch out for:
- How are participants selected? Who gets to have a say?
- What options are on the table and how are they framed? What options are not on the table?
- How will participants’ input influence the decision making? The level of impact, however minimal, should be transparent upfront.
Would love to hear about other group exercises out there beyond “buy a feature”.
January 23, 2012 at 9:24 am #150152
Correction: they’ve been doing this for five years in a row (ever since the current mayor took office), it’s just that this particular format (buy a feature) was first introduced last year.
January 23, 2012 at 1:28 pm #150150
Wow, thanks everyone for the great ideas! Being very new to this position, I am learning a LOT about Civic Engagement, so I very much appreciate your expertise.
Barb, I will definitely follow your suggestion to identify mandated services that are beyond negotiation. Tim, I really appreciate your feedback as well. I’m not sure that our locality has ever done anything quite like this before, and we are partnering with the local school board to host these meetings.
I will be sharing some of these suggestions with management staff this week to determine what direction we’d like to go. I will follow up after we finish our meetings to let everyone know what we decided to do and what lessons we learned.
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