The city is in a fortunate position of having a choice around where spending should be allocated and can even increase spending in some areas if they want to. They wanted to get public input on their budget priorities in order to understand which service areas were most important to citizens and why.
The desire to hear from citizens was nothing new to Austin. In recent years, the budget team have improved on their outreach efforts and increased citizen engagement, but wanted their digital offering to match up to these improvements; they wanted to ensure they had an effective way of getting people involved online.
Austin’s budget team got in touch with Delib and in 2016 started using Budget Simulator as part of what is known as their ‘open engagement’ process; the part of budget involvement where they invite the public to get involved.
For their 2017 open engagement exercise, they produced an introductory video to help generate interest. By sharing it on their social media channels they racked up over 50,000 views and drove significant traffic to their Budget Simulator site. With 1,200 people submitting a response, Budget Simulator gave them a wealth of insight into their citizens’ views and priorities for the city and uptake was vastly improved.
Austin had previously used a very technical online tool, which became an obstacle to participation for many users. They were receiving a lot of comments and negative feedback on the tool itself, rather than getting insightful input from citizens. With people confused about how to use it or what the process for participating actually was, the focus was shifted away from the important decisions at stake.
In contrast, by using Budget Simulator, participants were far more able to engage with the actual content and decisions being made, instead of struggling with poor technology. By providing a response mechanism that was easy and appealing to use, significant barriers to entry were removed and Austin were able to get quality input from citizens.
Austin are using Budget Simulator again this year for a third time, on this occasion focusing on questions around government bonds.
If you’d like to know more, or see Budget Simulator in action, get in touch.