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Citizen Budget

Citizen Budget is an interactive platform that shows citizens the financial impact of budgetary decisions in real time.

By creating a two-way dialogue between municipalities and local communities, Citizen Budget provides both parties with detailed information. Citizen Budget is accessible to residents online and can be integrated through in-person consultation activities.

OpenNorth’s Citizen Budget is a powerful, interactive online budget consultation tool that opens up budget consultations to the entire community while educating residents and collecting their feedback at the same time. Through a 5-7 minute exercise, citizens deepen their understanding on how municipal services are delivered and learn about the costs and trade-offs involved in the budgeting process. The Citizen Budget tool was initially developed By Open North for a local Montreal borough, the Plateau Mont Royal.

This project seeks to empower groups that are traditionally disengaged or marginalized from local democracy by decentralizing the decision making process.

By consulting citizens on important decisions, the exercise demystifies decision making processes, educates them on a range of issues and priorities, and creates more informed dialogue about local issues. Finally, the knowledge and relationships created during the exercises encourage the formation of new leadership and networking opportunities for those who want to engage with their local governments.    

Authors of the projects build, customize and code online consultations for citizens using real fiscal data from municipalities and local governments. They adapt their consultations to specific needs and have 4 different modules:

  • Participatory Budget: Offers an electronic solution for voting: instead of physically collecting votes and adding them together, Citizen Budget is customized to be an online voting platform for city projects.
  • Balanced Budget: Allows citizens to engage with the challenging exercise of balancing the annual budget.
  • Tax: Allows citizens to decide on how tax money is spent.
  • Capital Projects: Consults residents on capital project spending by comparing different scenarios with different impacts.

Open North has been using a mixed methods approach, and, after 5 years of implementation, they did a blind observational/longitudinal study. They started tracking public meetings and documents (in particular related to budgetary deliberations) and established a framework of tangible (qualitative evidence, policy decisions, reports and plans, policies, new institutions, new processes)  vs intangible impacts (participant empowerment, social learning, willingness to participate in the future, increased “trust” in government, improved understanding of government). This approach and research was presented at TICTEC 2018 in Lisbon.

According to Open North, results have been positive and they found clear evidence of the impacts noted above. However, the work on understanding impact is still ongoing. Measuring "increased government trust" has been particularly challenging, since government trust is such a debated concept.

As participatory and online budgeting are relatively new processeses, it has been difficult to measure the effectiveness of these tools. Moreover, there has been no significant research in the area of participatory budgeting to date. Because of this, Open North find there is a gap in the field that theya re trying to fill, as most Civic-technology and Open Data initiatives tend to stay clear of engaging with participatory/online budgets.   

Website: http://www.citizenbudget.com/

Case study date: June 2018

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