Discover citizens' spending priorities with Budget Simulator

Engage residents with your work
Find out which activities they want you to prioritise
See how they would balance spending vs tax

It's vital to engage citizens in budget setting

Every local authority has to set a budget – and the public need to be involved in that process. Whether it's choosing between difficult cuts or working out how best to use a surplus to serve the public, allocating a budget is one of the most important decisions your organisation can make.

It’s also one of the things that will most provoke scrutiny and controversy from citizens. Consulting on budgets is key. But it's a careful balance to do it well – to engage people, inform them about the options, gain insight on their views and build their confidence in the process.

It’s why we made Budget Simulator: a digital prioritisation tool that demonstrates the trade-offs involved in complex decision-making in a way that’s easy to understand. Since 2004, more than 100 government bodies worldwide have used Budget Simulator to engage tens of thousands of people with their spending decisions.

Budget Simulator makes it convenient, accessible and meaningful

Simulator is an online interactive prioritisation tool that lets people weigh up strategic choices and trade-offs for themselves.

Because it's easy to understand and sets people a stimulating challenge, citizens actively want to take part.

Respondents can experiment with various possible permutations – getting to see what the likely impact of different options would be and to understand the trade-offs at play.

Over 100 organisations have used Budget Simulator to engage citizens in their budgeting processes: for early-stage prioritisation, long-term planning, finalising detailed spending or for scrutiny and review.

Widespread participation for Powys County Council

Facing severe cuts (needing to find savings of a huge £27m over three years), Powys County Council were aware of the critical importance of consulting the public on their budget.

They wanted to bring in a new approach to their three-yearly budget consultation, in order to increase reach (especially amongst younger people) and cost-effectiveness (previous face-to-face exercises had proved expensive and inefficient).

Powys County Council chose to use Simulator to provide an engaging digital response mechanism for their 2016/17 budget consultation. To facilitate the widest possible participation, Powys made their Budget Simulator available in both English and Welsh, and supported it with a broad range of promotional activity.

They were happy that Budget Simulator reached a sufficient quantity and range of people that they could be confident in the data it provided. They also triangulated their Budget Simulator results with findings from other research to increase the depth of information available to their decision-making process.

And the results they collected genuinely informed substantive decisions that the Council made. For example, following the consultation process, they heeded a strong public preference to sustain the budget for short breaks for children with disabilities.

This is a different style exercise for residents to try. The information provided via Budget Simulator will prove valuable for both the cabinet and the council as it will show where residents think the savings should be made in order to achieve the £27m target.

Councillor Wynne Jones, Cabinet Member for Finance, Powys County Council

Raise awareness of your budget decisions

Simulator gets people to weigh up the real choices and trade-offs involved in allocating limited resources. It helps turn 'wish-lists' into considered preferences, with people thinking carefully about which things are most important to them.

Build understanding for the choices at hand

Simulator makes people more well-informed via the process of participation. By making the trade-offs necessary to balance resources themselves, respondents gain a new appreciation of the complexities involved.

Strategic budgeting for growing Mitchell Shire Council

Mitchell Shire in Victoria, Australia, is one of the area’s fastest-growing shires, with a population that has expanded to 55,000 and continues to grow. This has provided the shire’s Council with both challenges and opportunities: creating and upgrading infrastructure has and will continue to boost the area’s economic prospects, but the council has a limited budget to spend on accommodating its growing number of citizens.

In order to make sure they were heading in the right direction, Mitchell Shire employed Budget Simulator to get an idea of citizens’ priorities when it came to their Capital Works budget.

Mitchell Shire residents were able to tell the council where their priorities lay when it came to budgeting for things like roads and road safety, sports and recreation, and parks and playgrounds. Over 200 people responded, and their feedback informed the way the council allocated the Capital Works budget across the different subject areas and projects.

Budget Simulator helped the council to gather insights that were hugely helpful in creating the draft budget. The engagement was so successful, in fact, that they decided to run it again for the following budget cycle.

Our community has assisted greatly in setting our Budget. We had a great result [from Budget Simulator] and the information has been used by Council when drafting the Budget and Strategic Resource Plan to ensure the Council was prioritising with community expectations.

Cr David Lowe, Mayor of Mitchell Shire

£90 million of savings for Liverpool City Council

Like many other local authorities, Liverpool City Council was facing a huge budget challenge – needing to deliver a £90million budget reduction over the course of three years.

This figure took the total amount of required spending cuts to £420 million since 2010, equivalent to a 58% cut in funding for the council.

Such large cuts would unavoidably have a large impact on the amenities and services that the city’s residents had on offer. In light of this, Liverpool City Council decided to run a budget consultation that would involve as many of the city’s residents as possible.

Budget Simulator enabled citizens to take the challenge of ‘balancing the books’, adjusting data to suggest where they thought £90million of savings could be made.

Within the first week, almost 3,500 people visited the Budget Simulator. By the end of the process, over 500 participants had completed the budget-balancing challenge in full, providing the council with a wealth of insight into people’s spending preferences.

Budget Simulator provided some great insights into residents’ key concerns and priorities. 43% of those who took part said they would be “willing to see an increase in up to 10% in council tax if it were ring fenced to help protect children’s and adults’ services for the most vulnerable”.

Overall, the exercise provided Liverpool Council with valuable suggestions that will be used to inform future decision-making. And the process provided residents with a greater understanding of the difficult financial decisions the council must make over the coming years.

We want to hear your views on how you think police resources should be allocated across the County. We want to hear from you on the things that matter to you the most. What decisions would you make if you had control over policing in your area? Are there things that you would do differently?

Northamptonshire Police, Fire and Crime Commissioner (PFCC)

Make difficult decisions easier to understand

Complex information is made clearer and more navigable by interactivity. Simulator lets people adjust simple sliders and see real-time feedback through points and consequences, giving them a hands-on grasp of the issues.

Your public engagement needs to be two-way: listening to people as well as informing them about your plans. Simulator gives you usable data about people's priorities, which can shape your decisions.

Get an accurate model

Set up Budget Simulator to reflect the realities of your situation. Give people the option to set spending however they wish, set them a fixed savings target that must be met or allow them to assign broad prioritisation points.

Stay on top of everything

Control your Simulator quickly and easily with at-a-glance dashboards and settings. Access headline statistics whenever you want to monitor progress.

Generate detailed analysis

Dig into the comprehensive reporting tools to produce insightful findings. Export all data at any time to audit results and run even more analytics.

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