If you’ve ever worked in finance administration at a local government, then you know citizens and colleagues alike love to complain about how tax dollars are, or are not, being spent. Have you ever wished you could align your internal stakeholders? Or give residents a window into what the budgeting process is really like? Now you can, thanks to the Balanced Budget tool in Ethelo's Citizen Budget platform.
Citizen Budget is Canada’s leading online public engagement for municipal budgeting. It’s used by more than 100 municipalities and powered by Ethelo, a powerful tool that analyzes participant feedback in real-time and determines outcomes that have the greatest level of buy-in and consensus.
Not only do budgets generated through Citizen Budget have high levels of buy-in, but the tool can also be configured to automatically balance budgets that are in surplus or deficit. Participants can track their allocations in real-time and manually make adjustments if they go over budget, or alternatively, they can choose to have the platform automatically balance their budget based on their stated preferences.
For example, if someone indicates that transportation expenditure is very important to them, Citizen Budget will look to balance the allotted dollars by reducing allocation to other areas that are not weighted as strongly. Following this, users can also readjust their spending preferences and have funds redistributed accordingly.
Again, participants also have the option to balance their budgets manually by going back to edit their original selections. Results are updated in real-time in this case as well.
Either way you slice it, participants can complete the budgeting process without feeling overwhelmed by the pressure to balance the budget on their own. If they want to dig into the details and do it themselves, they can, but otherwise the system will do it for them in a way that aligns with their beliefs and values.
This method allows for higher completion rates and less likelihood that people will drop out along the way because they are too confused or frustrated to make everything balance out.
Once everyone has weighed in with their individual budget preferences, Citizen Budget takes that input and generates the overall budget that has the highest level of constituent support. This final collective budget should reflect, at least somewhat, the original budget outlined by each individual.
Beyond this, participants are shown to have more buy-in of the budget outcome given the process was transparent and fair, regardless of how close the budget consensus appears to their personal choices. Involving citizens in this collaborative engagement encourages them to have more of a stake in the results, which in turn produces more content, and informed stakeholders.
The platform can be used both internally within a local government to create inter-departmental consensus, and externally, for those who want the public to have their say on how tax dollars are spent.
Citizen Budget empowers anyone to step into the shoes of the public officials who are responsible for budgeting. They can see the constraints involved, how difficult it can be to balance competing interests and priorities, and come out of the experience informed, and aligned with local expenditure.
This approach can be broadly applied across municipal government projects, from fiscal budgets to carbon budgets, and beyond.