Customer story: City of Wichita, Kansas, USA

Budget Simulator
'screenshot of 'City of Wichita, Kansas, USA
'screenshot of 'City of Wichita, Kansas, USA

Award-winning community engagement

The City of Wichita, Kansas are pretty hot on community engagement. Since 2016, they’ve made it a central component of how the council operates. They run a diverse range of democratic exercises and community outreach projects, including public forums, drop-in breakfast sessions with the mayor, and a whole range of ways for residents to have their say online. They’ve even won an award for their commitment to resident engagement.

One of the online engagement methods they’ve adopted is Simulator. They tried Bill Simulator for the first time in 2019 as a way of getting resident input on property tax bills: Simulator demonstrates the difficult tradeoffs that organisations have to make while delivering a lighthearted and easy-to-use user experience.

Bill Simulator asks respondents to evaluate and prioritise local services in line with how much they’d be willing to pay for their annual property tax. It was a popular exercise, with over 1400 responses. There was broad support for increased spending on fire and police.

The budget team were delighted with the response they received and renewed their Simulator subscription for another year. And then, of course, the pandemic happened.

The cost of a pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic led to a significant loss of income - the City of Wichita faced a $4.7 million budget deficit. This time round they needed to focus on how to make savings to the council’s overall finances, rather than individual citizens’ tax bills. Wichita decided to use Budget Simulator in 2020 instead.

The pandemic also severely diminished their ability to run face-to-face engagement so having good digital engagement tools was essential.

With their experience from having used Simulator the previous year, the team were able to streamline the exercise the second time round, using fewer slider topics so that it was easier for residents to complete. This, combined with the pandemic forcing many users online, meant that the City of Wichita’s budget team were expecting a high response.

It turned out to be even bigger than expected: the Budget Simulator happened to be published shortly after George Floyd was killed by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.

Mobilised to use take part in the Budget Simulator

Response rates to the Simulator more than doubled compared to the previous year, and came from a broader demographic spread than anticipated. They saw a dramatic influx in participants from a younger age group, who felt mobilised to participate in the wake of George Floyd’s death and the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests that swept America and the world. Many of these respondents used the tool to vote for defunding the police. Altogether, Wichita’s 2020-2021 Budget Simulator received 3,165 responses.

Respondents placed a far higher priority in keeping things like libraries and fire/medical response as funded as possible, whereas police emergency response fell towards the bottom of the list, with respondents voting for an average 5% decrease in police funding.

The results were presented at public meetings and to the chief of police.

In a year of massive uncertainty and unrest, Wichita’s Budget Simulator provided a snapshot into the wider state of the nation. Wichita have renewed their Simulator subscription for a third year.

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