“Your City Your Priorities” Community Budget Engagement Program

Client Need

The City of Thousand Oaks is located in Ventura County, CA, approximately 35 miles from downtown Los Angeles. With a population of approximately 130,000, the City is home to many families and retirees. It was incorporated in 1964 and is often referred to as a model master planned community. In addition to typical city services, it proudly maintains thousands of acres of natural open space and provides a world-class cultural arts center. 

At a time when the City of Thousand Oaks was forecasting future budget deficits amidst concern about its ability to maintain future service levels, staff sought a consultant to facilitate a dialogue between residents and the City to better understand community priorities for future spending. The goal of the Community Budget Engagement program is to educate and consult with  residents about the public budget to produce meaningful insights, allowing for the City to most effectively plan for the future in partnership with its residents. 

Our Approach

To reach a broad cross-section of Thousand Oaks residents, we took a digital engagement approach augmented by pop-up workshops at a farmer’s market and shopping mall. These input-gathering methods were supported by a robust outreach strategy, which included a utility bill insert, newspaper ads, newsletter, press release, and social media campaign.

We began by conducting a stakeholder analysis, defining target audiences, developing a project messaging framework and project logo that would establish a recognizable look for the project this year and in the years to come.

We collaborated with staff to create a project webpage on the City’s website, which included a splash page with background information, FAQ, email subscription, calendar of events, and a link to online budget tool.

We also worked with staff to select the best-suited digital engagement platform. Together with the City we selected Citizen Budget from Open North and developed a series of questions designed to ascertain public priorities regarding the municipal budget. The platform included visualized information about the municipal budget, a slider that allowed residents to adjust the budget for each listed service and to understand the potential impacts of their choices before submitting their final budget, and open comment fields.

The pop-up workshops were designed to parallel the online platform and provide engagement opportunities for those who may not feel comfortable providing feedback online. To inform residents about the budget, we included a trivia spin wheel and offered prizes. To collect input on their budget priorities, we designed an analogue version of the online engagement tool using multi-colored balls and labeled buckets. To draw in families with children we also included piggy bank coloring games, hop scotch, and a bucket toss game. We hosted the pop-up workshop at the farmer’s market, the Mall, and several other community events.

Finally, to get the word out about the online engagement opportunity, which was challenging at first, we designed and conducted a robust marketing campaign that included social media, digital ads, print ads, posters and flyers, and press releases.

Outcomes

  1. Project logo and style guide to be used for all future community budget outreach.
  2. Over 550 participants provided feedback via an online budget engagement tool (created using Citizen Budget from Open North), which allowed community members to adjust budget amounts for eight spending categories (police, roads, library, etc…) and learn about the potential impacts of each choice.
  3. Over 1,000 participants at pop-up workshops at the mall, farmer’s market, and other popular City events, which included a real-life version of the online budget engagement, a trivia wheel, budget fun facts, and games for kids.
  4. Marketing campaign, including digital ads, print ads, social media, radio ad, PSA video, utility bill insert, flyers, and posters.

Details

  • Client: City of Thousand Oaks
  • Dates: December 2016 – May 2017
  • Services: Community outreach, digital engagement, pop-up workshops, marketing
  • Team: Cristelle Blackford, Jenna Tourje (Michael Baker Intl.)

Images

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