Knowing what citizens want is not enough
Citizens are often asked questions about their vision and priorities. They are asked about what services are important to them and how satisfied they are with current performance. But those are the easy questions! And we already know that given the choice, most people want more and better services but would really rather not pay.
What are they willing to pay for?
This is where the responses get more interesting. When communities are faced with real choices about the costs and benefits of alternative options, their input is so much more useful. In our experience, this level of engagement is more meaningful than just asking about their aspirations.
Willingness to pay questions can greatly enrich community surveys. In the Brookton and Pingelly Shires’ investigation of amalgamation, a willingness to pay question in the community survey run by Key Research helped to shed light on the real preferences of the community. In the case of the Brookton community, this demonstrated the importance of economic development.
It is very easy for citizens to criticise a Council when they don’t have to face the hard decisions. Asking the community to help “balance the budget” over at least the medium term is more challenging.
Going the “whole hog” – how would they balance the budget?
We’ve previously posted examples of participatory budgeting from Western Australia and New South Wales and New York. Recently we have seen a Budget Simulator from Brent Council in the United Kingdom. This tool enables the participant to prioritise across services. If they choose to spend more on something, they have to spend less on something else, or see their rates going up.
Welcome to the real world!
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