More about being heard: finances and budgets

Pattsi Petrie has shared on her blog an extremely curious experiment carried out with the Champaign County Board on a “participatory budget”. I encourage you to read more directly from her – the opening line is an excellent invitation:

On 4 Sept., the Democratic caucus of the Champaign County Board has arranged to hold an opportunity to engage the county citizens in an open dialogue as to the best means to spend your tax dollar.

Isn’t that what we all want, a way to give some kind of input as to where all those thousands of tax dollars are going? And yet, when our wishes slam into reality, it isn’t necessarily a pretty picture. In fact, it is downright messy! Pattsi’s blog post is a long read, but it spells out the challenges along the way and, to me at least, points out that there is still a significant amount of work to be done, and we all have a social obligation to chip in. But the process of paving the path is exciting!

When it comes down to it, you and I just complain way too much. We are quite blessed, especially living here in America. Yet look at our habits; we saturate social media with our view of what is wrong and trade 140 character tropes; yet what really changes? What are we doing to make the world a better place?

I am not exactly sure what a better “democratic republic” would look like. I am not sure if a well-oiled and well-attended participatory budget session would induce more accountability into a largely misunderstood and heavily manipulated way of transacting business. But I do know to do nothing is unacceptable. Maybe all us whiners should roll up our sleeves and get to work. 🙂 Makes you wonder, what if (as the quote constituent points out) other bodies like the City of Champaign or the school districts did something brave like this? Hmmmm…


Kudos to Pattsi for pushing this idea.


7 Responses to “More about being heard: finances and budgets”

  1. Karen Says:

    Origins in the Workers’ Party (of Brazil). Modest measurable(?) success, but, allegedly much, (even less measurable, if at all) ideological success in the form of ‘existential citizenly rewards.’

    ‘heavily manipulated’ you mention. Charles. I see PB as a viable community organizing vehicle to crowd source votes (heavy manipulation potential high) for special interest groups. PB may be sold as having a non-political ‘front,’ but…

  2. pattsi Says:

    Karen have you read the materials posted on my political web site about the results in Chicago, NYC, and Kansas City. Even if there is manipulation though I do not see this as a huge aspect, is public participation not better than what is occurring right now at Unit 4, the cities, and county? You ought to read more of the research.

  3. pattsi Says:

    P.S. Needless to say I am interested in alternatives that you have in mind a to better engage this unengaged population and means to help the citizens wrap their heads around the fact that this is their money that is being spent.

  4. charlesdschultz Says:

    I recently watched a TED talk with Peter van Manen, which I intend to more fully blog about soon, but in short, he discusses the massive data generation and collection efforts for Formula 1 race cars, and how they require hi-tech, sophisticated real-time analysis tools to quickly discover patterns in an effort to predict disasters and take preventative measures. He then compares using this awesome technology in the NICU to help forecast when babies go into rapid health deterioration.

    One of his quotes that I really love is the need to “turn data into stories.” I think that is what is missing for most of us (whether engaged or not). We have tons of data, tons of numerical facts, but we lack a proper context in which to conceptually frame the information in such a way as to be able to translate it into something more meaningful and actionable.

    I confess, I speak from a position largely consisting of naivete and ignorance, but I believe as a society we have entered into this so-called “Information Age” while foolishly throwing away the oral story-telling traditions of our ancestors. As a result, a few master story tellers are able to perform what seems like magic when they take a mountain of figures and compel the audience to act upon changes. And a number of well-intentioned and hopeful Big Ideas are sitting around waiting for such a story-teller to transform them into history-making epic sagas.

    Karen, I like the idea of the PB, and as Pattsi implied, I believe she is trying to bring something similar to Champaign. It’s just a really slow adoption rate. 🙂 And as much as I like the idea, I don’t think it is a panacea. I think it will work really well for some people.

  5. charlesdschultz Says:

    PS – Unit 4 has posted the preliminary FY 2014 budget

  6. pattsi Says:

    I am getting old and cranky. So much so, that my patience for people mentioning that this or that will not work or be a panacea or whatever WITHOUT any constructive suggested alternatives. I read this all the time, I hear this all the time, but I never hear “I wonder how we can make this go, and maybe even improve upon an idea.”

    As for data–data collected in the manner done so within Champaign county is a joke. It is just points on a graph with absolutely no meaning. The data is not randomly collected==whether put into a visual or story form. Yet with this non random data points, policy is being formulated and arguments being constructed. The other day, I had finally reached the tipping point on the lazy methodology of online surveys being used by every entity in the community. So I decided to participate. Then I participated again Then I participated again, Then I participated once again. In other words, there is no IP block for my computer, but that does not stop me from going to the CPL and use the 50 public computers there. My point being the survey is skewed twice–those who go online and then no controls as to how often an individual can participate. Then I sit in meetings where these data points are used for policy.

    I mentioned this aspect to a Urbana Community Development employee–the response was “oh, no one would do this.” The individual is a degreed urban planner. As a former professor in that discipline, my level of dismay is a 10.

  7. charlesdschultz Says:

    I said I like the idea. 🙂 I am all for trying it out.

    Chuck and I have been trying to get people involved for several years, just as you have Pattsi. And we have found it only “goes” for a very small number of people.

    One of the few alternatives I can think of, opposed to online surveys and self-selected sampling with no limits, is to have lots and lots of very small, very local mandatory “town hall meetings” (ie, maybe down to the level of every census block group). I know they tried this out east a long time ago (Pennsylvania? 200 years ago?) with interesting results. But in today’s society and with our degree of sprawl and isolationism, this idea just isn’t practical for most people.

    Another alternative, maybe even more impractical, is to have a law that says you can’t complain unless you have a badge that prove you voted. Never mind, scratch that, plenty of people vote and complain without being productive.

    Society needs to change. Our processes are way too mechanical, too many rules and regulations, not enough humanity in what we do, all in the name of being “efficient”. So my final impractical suggestion is to throw out all the rules and start over.

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