Denver Experiments With Participatory Budgeting
Is it just us, or did cities not seem to need any help in building their budgets when their coffers were flush. Now, as deficits grow, cities seem to be increasingly relying on citizen participation to make the tough decisions about where to cut. The latter case is certainly the environment into which Mayor Michael Hancock has launched "a two-part community engagement strategy to gather public input on important financial issues facing the City of Denver."
As Fulton and Haller describe, both phases of Mayor Hancock's strategy incorporate new technologies to elicit feedback. In the first, "A series of public forums put keypad polling devices in the hands of city employees and Denver residents to test the best ideas for how to address the City's financial challenges." The second saw the launch of a new interactive website, Delivering Denver's Future, which "gives residents a unique opportunity to weigh in on how to fix the city's broken budget."
The site is based around a workbook tool which allows users to "explore a series of specific budgetary questions, such as whether or not employees' pension contributions should be increased. While participants go through the process of making tough choices about cutting expenses or raising taxes with each option, they see a chart that automatically updates to indicate how much of the $94 mil. budget shortfall they have solved."
Fulton and Haller report that, to date, "the process has reached 500 people through the public workshops and 700+ citizens have voiced their preferences through the online budgeting website."