In anticipation of significant changes over the coming decade, the City of Melbourne, Australia looked to develop a 10-Year Financial Plan for the first time. This was a major decision-making process, so they wanted to provide ample opportunity for the community to put forward their views.
They brought together a panel of 43 randomly-selected residents, business owners and students, to accurately reflect the diversity of the community. Over a six-week period, hundreds of people were able to participate in providing feedback for the panel to review, by attending workshops, discussion groups and events.
Alongside all this, the Council also needed a digital offering that would:
Budget Simulator is an online tool that lets citizens get to grips with real spending decisions, asking them to set their priorities based on Council-provided budget and consequences data.
The Council's report on the exercise explains: 'the purpose of the online engagement component of the project was to allow users the opportunity to identify how they would increase, decrease or keep the same spending for all Council’s areas of service including waste collection, city safety, new parks and gardens, library services and community centres. Respondents were encouraged to balance the budget prior to submitting their choices. They could also provide comments elaborating on their choices.'
More than 400 people took part in the Budget Simulator exercise, setting their preferences for how they would allocate the $400 million annual budget. The panel utilised this community feedback and were also provided with open access to information and experts to assist them to deliver a set of recommendations to the Council.
The exercise also produced valuable qualitative outcomes: there were lots of thoughtful comments from participants, expanding on their thinking. Moreover, the Council felt the exercise was an important education process – showing the public what a Council is responsible for and has to consider in a 10 year plan for a city.
This is a brilliant way to gauge the community reaction and actively consult and facilitate our input into policy outcomes — I hope you will continue to exploit its huge potential in the future!participant comment, City of Melbourne Budget Simulator
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