Crowdsourcing the Budget
Commons Lab, Woodrow Wilson Center, October 2012
In the midst of California’s severe budget crisis, essential services faced deep cuts, school years were shortened, and public discontent with the budget process was at an all-time high. Against pressure to make similar, sweeping budget cuts and risk public backlash, the city of San Jose took a novel approach: They gave their citizens control of the reins to help them understand what it meant to run a city. San Jose partnered with nonprofit software company Every Voice Engaged to create a budget simulator game, which groups of citizens would play to express their preferences to the government. While games have often been used by decision-makers to simulate difficult problems and identify an effective solution, the city of San Jose knew that by putting its citizens in the policymakers’ shoes, they could build an appreciation for the tradeoffs that go into designing a budget. This exercise proved highly successful, and elicited levels of civic engagement at the local level that the city of San Jose will continue to leverage for future projects.
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