Boston Budget 2019

The Question

How might we offer Bostonians an easy and equal opportunity to have their voices reflected in the City’s budget decisions?

The Team

  • Karyn Bruggeman

  • Jan Geffert

  • Isabel Schünemann

The Story 

When people understand how and why public money is spent, they can be effective advocates for their families and their communities. This was on display in spring 2019 when Boston residents held rallies and demonstrated for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to dedicate more funding for Boston Public Schools. 

When enough residents raise their voices about a particular concern, change can happen and city dollars can be targeted toward solving developing problems. But the formal process for participating in public budget hearings, or public hearings of any kind, is currently difficult to find out about, navigate, or learn how to participate in as a newcomer. Public hearings offer a direct way of routing specific concerns, which is important when faced with a byzantine city government structure made up of the Mayor and his staff, 13 City Council members, and 72 individual departments each dedicated to unique issues.

To sort out how to improve participating in existing budget hearings, we conducted 35 interviews with everyday residents, 12 interviews with city staff members, and attended 6 public events. 

Our main takeaway was that in an ideal world, educational information about the budget should be blended with proactive solicitations for Bostonians to participate in formal budget hearings and other events. 

We created a prototype that sought to do just that. Our prototype imagined a redesigned landing page for the Budget Office in the City of Boston that included more proactive invitations for people to participate. We also redesigned a page offering tips on “How to Testify at a City Council Hearing” that walked newcomers through the process.  We look forward to seeing how the City of Boston, building on our insights, explores new ways for Boston residents to engage with city budgeting!