In the digital age, the options for engagement platforms are bountiful. The choice is no longer about whether or not to digitize your engagement, but which platforms to employ in order to best serve your community's needs. When it comes to budgeting, which is arguably your municipality’s most important annual public consultation, here are a few things to consider in order to choose your perfect engagement platform.
Transparency, community engagement, and an open, responsive government are becoming increasingly important values to voters. Thankfully for government officials, it has never been easier to make these demands a reality. Many of the online tools available to make these values actionable can be integrated with each other - it's no longer a case of being forced to apply a single platform to all engagements. The quality of consultations can benefit from combining the specialized approaches of different platforms.
Over the past 7 years, Citizen Budget has become Canada’s leading municipal budget engagement tool due to its real-time results, its user-friendly interface, and its overall ease of use. In early 2019, Citizen Budget joined forces with Ethelo Decisions, and the two systems recently became fully integrated into a single platform. The newly upgraded Citizen Budget, powered by Ethelo's unique collective decision algorithms, can not only be used as a stand-alone tool, but can also be integrated into your municipal website or Bang the Table portal.
You may ask, why add the new Citizen Budget tool when you’re happy with your community web portal? Doesn't it have a budget feature?
Citizen Budget is custom-designed for budgeting and for the unique needs of finance departments. It provides an engaging, transparent budgeting experience that fosters community learning and buy-in, and generates a financial plan with the most public support. These features will save your department money, time, and the risk of resistance or opposition. Since this is above and beyond the capabilities of a basic community portal, let's explore what that looks like:
Trust & Transparency
With Citizen Budget, members of the public are taken through a user-friendly workflow that enables them to engage directly in the budgeting process. Each participant is brought into the role of decision-maker, making the adjustments and trade-offs that are needed to generate a balanced budget.
This dynamic and interactive experience produces highly transparent results. Government officials and the public are able to access the results of the community’s engagement results in real-time as feedback comes in. The Ethelo engine provides immediate reporting which reassures participants that their feedback has been counted in an objective and fair way. This transparency builds trust and buy-in, even among people who do not necessarily get everything the asked for - an extremely important consideration when you’re dealing with potentially polarizing budgetary decisions.
The level of detail included in a Citizen Budget engagement means that participants are actively learning about the budgeting process as they participate. They can see the real-life impacts of increasing or decreasing public funding and go through the difficult process of balancing trade-offs and working within constraints to reach a balanced budget. Putting citizens in the position of decision-maker helps them to understand why certain potentially unpopular choices are made. Additionally, the Ethelo platform guides participants through a workflow that touches each budget component, allowing them to understand how each element impacts the others in order to create a clear global picture of how community funds are spent.
Tired of having lackluster turn-outs? What about having to answer concerns that 'special interests' gamed the platform or participants did not represent the community as a whole? Ethelo is the only company that offers assistance for undersized or non-representative participant samples. They provide the support of their marketing team, and can guarantee a specific number of local participants above and beyond what your in-house marketing strategies are able to achieve, resulting in a consultation with more meaningful data, and numbers that get you closer to statistical accuracy.
Unique & Patented Collective Analysis
One of the most distinct upsides of using Citizen Budget is that there is no further data analysis needed. The unique Ethelo algorithm searches through millions of potential budgetary allocations to find those that are the most widely supported and delivers specific decision recommendations that you can act on with no delay. In particular, this big-data approach means Ethelo is able to identify "fair" budget outcomes that leave people roughly equally satisfied, rather than traditional approaches (such as surveys or ballot measures) that create winners and losers. All potential outcomes are automatically evaluated, and the specific budget allocation that best represents the “will of the people” can then be made a reality with confidence in your decision.
Save Time and Money, and Reduce Risk
These features were developed because they provide critical benefits for decision-makers.
The Ethelo engine's real-time results means no more staff-time wasted working on spreadsheets trying to analyze feedback to come up with the best decision. Ethelo does all the mathematical heavy lifting for you - and faster than any human could. This results in huge cost savings, allowing your finance and communications staff to focus on more important things. It also means no more weeks of waiting for reports! Councillors and senior management can see the results immediately and start their decision processes that same day. And the public also gets to see the results, improving community relations and building trust.
The Citizen Budget + Ethelo combination provides another key benefit: risk reduction. When the stakes are high - as they often are around budgeting - decisions can come under great scrutiny. Citizen Budget, especially combined with participant recruitment, provides a democratic “audit-trail” for the final decision, so that any actions taken as a result of public feedback are fully defensible, using best-practices of engagement and analysis. Decision-makers can proceed in confidence knowing they have achieved the optimal outcome balancing real-world constraints and democratic participation.
This process of fore-fronting fairness and transparency is top-of-mind when it comes to crafting quality engagements, which is why this award-winning platform is a great addition to your basic community web portal.
So, if you’re looking to conduct a fair budgeting consultation with more meaningful feedback, higher participation numbers, and a more knowledgeable and contented public, Ethelo’s Citizen Budgeting tool might be right for your municipality.
Want to see the system in action? Register below for our next eDemocracy Webinar on Thursday, February 20th at 11:00 PST. We’d love to see you there!