“There is more and more distrust of government. Public engagement is a way to rebuild that trust.” With these words, Andrea Ringer, a budget analyst with Detroit’s Budget Office, led off a conversation at the Government Finance Officers’ Association conference last week on “Rethinking Public Engagement for Budgeting.”
Ringer was part of a conference panel convened by Kyle Bozentko and Sarah Atwood of the Center for Democratic Practices to discuss the GFOA focus on rethinking budgeting, revenue and financial reporting. Other members of the panel included Yuri Hattersley of Bellevue, WA, and Mark McAvoy of Liberty Lake, WA.
A recurring theme from these speakers was the need to connect with residents on their terms and location. “You have to hear people where they are,” said McAvoy, and ask “why are they passionate about this? Then we can begin to address their interests.” Ringer agreed, saying that in Detroit, budget meetings are held in each district and online, and budget information is posted in libraries.
Another theme was to follow up with residents to let them know they’ve been heard. Asked about “survey fatigue,” Ringer said that it’s more common to find that people are tired of giving input that doesn’t make a difference. “It’s important to close the loop from engagement by summarizing and describe all the ways in which the budget addresses their input,” she said.
A thrd theme was managing expectations. With both the city council and residents, McAvoy said that he tries to get people to “think of this from a strategic perspective—what are your priorities?
That way we can avoid volatility in budget conversations.” Bozentko encouraged audience members to “take a clear-eyed look at where you are, how many resources do you have to commit and what are your goals?”
This conference workshop was part of the Rethinking Public Budgeting project led by Shayne Kavanaugh, which has grown to include aspects that include Rethinking Revenue and Rethinking Financial Reporting. The most recent report on this topic from GFOA can be found here.