AT A GLANCE
Kingston: Let’s Talk, the dedicated online engagement hub for the Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames leveraged Balancing Act, an online budget simulation tool, alongside EngagementHQ, community engagement and consultation platform, to unpack the community’s views on Kingston’s financial future. In addition to bringing the Council’s financial context home to the community, the consultation generated greater awareness around issues involved in setting the budget agenda and brought more residents on board to have their say on local public spending.
Faced with challenging times on the financial front, the Council wanted to be able to receive community input on a set of budget proposals and listen to the community’s ideas for the budget for the coming financial year. In addition, the Council was looking to enhance awareness on what it could mean to generate a budget that could speak to the community’s interests and address the ongoing pressure on resources. Previous budget consultations had been limited to participants who could make it to offline events, and the Council wanted to grow this out into a robust public consultation in a mode that was more accessible and convenient for the community.
In a move that made Kingston among the first UK Councils to apply the Balancing Act tool alongside EngagementHQ, the Council was able to provide the community with an interactive way to understand, review, and contribute to the budgeting process at their convenience and comfort. Budget Simulation within EngagementHQ allowed the community to reflect on where and how resources may be managed and directed and equipped them with the information and means to outline their priorities for public spending. This input flowed into the Council’s budget setting process and informed decision-makers in the domain.
- Kingston Council was able to engage in budget consultation with a greater audience, growing from the previous year, improving participation, awareness, and reach.
- The community was able to get an understanding of the Council’s financial constraints, as well as the scale and range of issues that went into the creation of a balanced budget that worked for the community within the available resources.
- The Council was able to get a picture of community priorities, needs, and expectations around public spending and management of resources.
- With online engagement opening up the budget consultation to a wider audience, the community was able to review a set of budget proposals without having to attend face-to-face meetings.
- The budget consultation captured participation across demographics, with 42% in the 35-44 range, 40% in the 25-34 demographic, and 18% in the 45-54 age group, speaking to the Council’s interest in bringing the younger demographics to the table.
- The budget simulator was viewed 398 times, with 42 people submitting a budget of their own, showing over 200 per cent increase on attendance for previous budget (2018/2019).
- The Council’s commitment to community engagement was reflected in how the simulator received internal buy-in and support from leadership.
- Participants at offline events had a range of reactions to the tool. A majority of participants received the tool in a positive light as engaging and interactive, while some were intimidated by the challenge, and others acknowledged the difficulty of the task at hand.
- The Council promoted the tool in multiple channels, online and offline. For instance, by setting up interactions with the simulator at local libraries, the Council drew library visitors into giving it a shot, with specialist staff at hand to help participants learn about background information, process, and limitations.
- The Council’s integrated approach to combining offline and online methods of engagement contributed to improving participation.
- Using combined methods of engagement, the Council created greater awareness and reached wider audiences, engaging with more people in general on the budget than previously.
From online metrics, it appears that participants have spent an average of 17 minutes on the site, suggesting that they may have given time to absorbing and processing the information provided. But Kingston Council is keen on being more ambitious in expanding participation in more ways. “We’d like to use the simulator again next year and go bigger and better with our promotions and events. We hope to start the planning of this consultation much earlier this time, to give people longer to get involved and for us to be able to speak to as many people as we can,” says Sophie Potter, Corporate Communication and Engagement Manager (Campaigns), Kingston Council.
While business as usual may have been dramatically transformed by the coronavirus pandemic, the Council plans to activate further budgeting conversations throughout the year.
WHO SHOULD CONSIDER
Decision-makers, local and regional government organizations, agencies, providers, planners, and administrators who want to include their community’s voice in the budgeting process, align budgets better with community needs and priorities and help communities understand the complexity and scale of issues around public spending while also bringing clarity on what matters to them.