Budget consultation approaches

ByMichele Ide-Smith

Budget consultation approaches

Following the Spending Review, significant spending cuts are becoming a reality for many public services. The issue of how to engage citizens in budget consultations to define local priorities is becoming all the more important.

Redbridge have re-launched their YouChoose application for 2010, which allows residents to balance a complex budget using an interactive tool. The tool reveals consequences of your budget choices as you change the sliders to reduce the budget in different areas. There are four main areas to manage the budget within, which drill down to more detail. For example the consequences of reducing funding for Culture, Sport and Leisure results in libraries being closed. Using the tool requires quite a bit of time and may not appeal to people who have limited time on their hands to contribute their views.

Redbridge budget consultation tool

This week Cambridgeshire Constabulary launched a budget balancing tool. It is similar to the Redbridge concept, but with a far simpler interface.

Cambridgeshire Constabulary budget balancing tool

As a resident I gave it a go and had a few thoughts about the approach.

Personally I find these budget calculators a useful educational tool. They help demonstrate how complex budgets are allocated across different areas and how the spending cuts will dramatically affects budgets and therefore the challenges faced by the public sector. They won’t be for everyone though.

Judging by the comments on the Cambridgeshire Constabulary budget tool, some people find the exercise trivial, whilst others find it useful and insightful. Other people worry about the impact of their decisions and whether they are sufficiently well informed to prioritise budgets. The comments also reveal some interesting political perspectives and, occasionally, what I found to be less than palatable opinions. But that’s what a democracy is all about I guess!

However, as a resident what I would really like to do is enter into an active discussion with other residents, politicians and the organisation whose budget I am making choices about. For me these tools are the start of a consultation and conversation. I know that this approach would require resources for facilitation and moderation, but in my mind the type of decisions that need to be made to address the budget deficit require that depth of engagement. I would like to see these tools linked into hyperlocal websites, or a platform that is designed for deliberation, rather than leaving me wondering how residents’ choices are being reviewed and considered by those setting the budgets.

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9 Comments so far

Tweets that mention   Budget consultation approaches by Michele Ide-Smith — Topsy.comPosted on10:50 am - Dec 1, 2010

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Tim BonnemannPosted on6:58 pm - Dec 1, 2010

Nice post. I’ve added the Cambridgeshire project here: http://participatedb.com/projects/215

The Cowboy OnlinePosted on4:14 pm - Dec 2, 2010

I think these ‘public consultation’ tools would have more credibility with members of the public if they allowed the public to suggest they’d be happy with losing diversity outreach coordinators, five a day advisers, and real nappy advisers, and keep essential services like refuse collection and road maintenance.

Michele Ide-SmithPosted on6:01 pm - Dec 2, 2010

Good point. It’s the way information is provided in the first place and what choices people are given, not just the method of consultation. I’ve never heard of a real nappy adviser! I’d love to see the job description for that…

Michele Ide-SmithPosted on6:03 pm - Dec 2, 2010

Thanks Tim. Have you got the Redbridge one on that list? With my UX hat on, it would be really useful if you had an A-Z index at the top so you can jump to a letter. Or a search.

Tim BonnemannPosted on4:16 am - Dec 3, 2010

Search, tagging etc. is in the works.

alexPosted on3:10 pm - Dec 11, 2010

Hello Michele,

You said ” However, as a resident what I would really like to do is enter into an active discussion with other residents, politicians and the organisation whose budget I am making choices about. For me these tools are the start of a consultation and conversation. ”

Cambridgeshire Police and others are starting this process, but my guess is they are choosing to do it with budgets as that is emotive, and it might help them make a case to their funders to be spared the worst of the cuts. I speak as a cynic with regard to their motivation right now.

Businesses, and public sector organisations that really wish to understand their citizens, customers, place, purchasing decisions and what have you, would be starting now to engage in a two way dialogue. If they are believers in Total Place, then they might invite the local authority, health board, voluntary sector and community as well.

Cumbria is doing something called an eCops day on December 15th

http://www.cumbria.police.uk/online

In Scotland there is a small social enterprise called MyPolice

http://www.mypolice.org/

They have a pilot with Tayside police at the moment. This strikes me as a much more genuine piece of engagement by the force than the budget simulator.

So we have Patient Opinion, and MyPolice. Someone, somewhere may be building MyCouncil.

It’s early days, but the innovators will presumably talk with you, and across each other.

What chance “MyCambridgeshire” for them all in aggregate ?

With what is planned in Suffolk, there might not be any feeling of “My” left in a few years.

Alex

Michele Ide-SmithPosted on9:20 pm - Dec 11, 2010

Thanks for your comment Alex.

MyPolice and Patient Opinion are great examples of feedback tools for public services. I’d be very interested to know more about the MyPolice Tayside pilot, to know how that kind of tool can work at a local level.

I have to admit this post was written very much with my resident hat on, rather than my council hat on. This is a personal blog after all!

I have been involved in developing an engagement site in Fenland (http://wisbech.shapeyourplace.org) which aims to encourage local conversations about public services. The site was developed in partnership with the police, fire service, district council and local community centres. It’s very much early days on that one though.

I’ve been following the Networked Neighbourhoods research on council engagement with hyperlocal sites with great interest as well. But I’m not sure there are specific examples yet showing how hyperlocal sites can work as platforms for budget consultation, given that budgets are currently set for wider geographical areas. But maybe this will change as the Government’s localism policy drives budget decisions down to ever more local levels of governance.

My.Cambridgeshire.gov.uk already exists, but it’s actually a ‘find my nearest’ mapping tool not a budget consultation tool.

alexPosted on5:06 pm - Dec 27, 2010

Michele,

Mypolice pilot is hopefully coming soon from small town of Kinross in LA area of Perth & Kinross.

Happy New Year

Alex

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