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Balancing Act: An Online Deliberative Budgeting Simulator

We want to encourage our members to check out a neat tool developed by NCDD organizational member Engaged Public. Their Balancing Act tool is an online budget simulator that lets citizens experience the challenges and trade-offs of public budgets, and it can be a useful tool to apply in many D&D settings. We encourage you to learn more from Engaged Public’s description below.


We at Engaged Public have been working on public budget simulation since our 2007 launch of Backseat Budgeter, which originally started as a learning aid at Colorado State University and eventually became the tool of choice for thousands of Coloradans who wanted to engage more deeply in their state’s fiscal decisions by trying their own hand at balancing the budget.

Well, we’re excited to announce that we have recently launched Balancing Act, our new and improved online budget simulator for school districts, special districts, towns, cities, counties, and states. Balancing Act is a web-based public engagement tool focused on the budget process. It not only increases fiscal transparency by publishing an entity’s budget in an easy-to-understand fashion with graphics, intuitive descriptions, and contextual details of revenue and spending items, but it also goes a step further with its interactive, built-in budget simulation, where residents can attempt to balance the budget as they see fit, subject to the same constraints decision makers have. These budget priorities are then sent back to the public body to be incorporated into its budget process.

Our partners include the City of Hartford, Connecticut – which integrated Balancing Act into its series of People’s Budget meetings and later expanded its use to the wider public – and the State of Colorado (via the Office of State Planning and Budgeting), which helped release a simulation of its 2015-16 General Fund budget. In time for Tax Day, we also unveiled a tool where Coloradans can view an estimate of their 2014 state income, sales, and gas tax, as well as see what those tax dollars paid for – the Colorado Taxpayer Receipt.

While Balancing Act is not a magic bullet for budget-related public engagement, it has proved effective at increasing the number and diversity of citizens who take part in the budget process, not to mention their appreciation of the often-difficult tradeoffs required in balancing public budgets, particularly in these difficult fiscal times. It has also given public officials valuable qualitative and quantitative data on residents’ own budget priorities in an easy-to-use, downloadable format.

We encourage you to learn more about Engaged Public’s Balancing Act tool by visiting http://abalancingact.com.

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Roshan Bliss
An inclusiveness trainer and group process facilitator, Roshan Bliss serves as NCDD's Youth Engagement Coordinator and Blog Curator. Combining his belief that decisions are better when everyone is involved with his passion for empowering young people, his work focuses on increasing the involvement of youth and students in public conversations.

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