Capital budgets are important because the infrastructure and other projects your government agency manages are usually big, expensive, and permanent. Although the budget helps you analyze and track the cost and long-term benefits of hundreds of capital projects, it also serves as a summary of those projects. Undoubtedly, your citizens are going to be passionate about the projects taking place in their backyard and will want more information about how you are spending their tax dollars. With this added pressure to be accountable, how can you educate citizens about capital projects and convince them that you share their vision for their communities?
The value of transparency
Citizen trust and confidence in state and local government has been declining. Open government is essential for demonstrating to constituents that your agency is focussed serving the community, and can be depended on to make decisions on their behalf.
Becoming more transparent can help citizens gain a better understanding of what your government agency is trying to achieve, as well as gain their support for the capital projects you choose to fund. However, how citizens interpret and understand the budget information you provide is just as important as making it publicly available. Unless they have an accounting degree, large volumes of budget data may not make sense to the average citizen, nor improve their perception of how your government agency spends tax dollars. PDF documents may be easy to share, but can be difficult to search for specific information. In particular, capital budgets can be complex due to the difficulty in classifying capital, explaining different funding scenarios or accounting adequately for costs.
Sharing your budget with engaging visuals
Studies have proven that humans respond better to visuals, processing visual information 60,000 times faster than text. Interactive data visualizations are quickly becoming the most sophisticated method of translating budget data into engaging content citizens can use to gain a deeper understanding of the infrastructure and related projects happening in their neighborhoods. By presenting capital budget information using interactive charts, tables, graphics and videos, citizens and other stakeholders can search, filter and drill-down to learn more about your agency’s capital projects. This can enable:
- Improvements in public services by giving citizens access to data about those services.
- Better budgeting and prioritization for public budget expenditures through stakeholder input when used in conjunction with feedback tools, such as face-to-face consultations, surveys and budget simulation tools.
- More informed policy decisions and new opportunities for agencies to collaborate with citizens and local businesses,
Data visualization in action
Many local governments across North America have made it their mission to become more transparent and find new ways to engage with their constituents. Governments like the City of Riverside, California have embraced data visualization as an easy and effective method for sharing their budget and financial information. Riverside launched an online portal called “Engage Riverside” to provide citizens with access to comprehensive government records and reports at their convenience. The portal includes a capital projects map that displays all of the city’s 161 infrastructure projects. Information that was previously difficult to understand or locate can now be explored in an interactive and accessible format. As a result, Riverside citizens have more knowledge and awareness of what the City is trying to achieve for the community.
“Riverside embraces transparency, and this online tool will give residents and business owners the opportunity to become more informed about the budget document whenever they choose,” Mayor Rusty Bailey said in the city’s public announcement.
Transform your capital budget
A capital budget also serves as a summary of the changes and improvements that you believe will have the greatest long-term impact for your citizens. If your government agency wants to reach more people, consider how using integrated data visualization software for your capital budget process can form that connection and construct a story. Create a better understanding with your constituents about how their tax dollars are spent, where funding comes from, and what programs and services your agency provides the community. Collaborative, multi-year budgeting solutions like Questica Budget, which offers end-to-end integrations, can make the process easier to engage citizens, elected officials and staff in the budgeting process. As well, we can help showcase how your agency is managed, and how it works collaboratively to plan for its citizens and communities today and for the future.
To learn more about sharing capital projects using data visualization, download Questica’s free white paper, “Taking government budget transparency and engagement to the next level” or register for one of our webinars to discover how Questica’s government budgeting and transparency solutions can transform your government’s capital budget.