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Budget Talks: Then, now, next

A look at how technology can bring citizens closer to the policymaking process using the example of Budget Talks, an Ontario government program launched in 2015 to inform pre-budget consultation
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Budget Talks: Then, now, next
Alex Conliffe
Former Director, Policy Innovation Platform
Andrew Do
Policy Analyst
Heather Russek
Director of Policy Innovation

About this Report

Officially launched by the Ontario government in February 2015 to inform the pre-budget consultation process, Budget Talks is a program centered on an online platform that allows the public to submit, vote on, and discuss policy ideas.

Originally designed to perform the first of those three functions – idea generation – it has since evolved to incorporate elements of deliberative democracy by including an explicit link between citizen participation and government decision-making. The following report examines the evolution of Budget Talks, identifies impacts to date, examines internal visions for the future of the program, and speculates on three plausible scenarios for the next iteration of the initiative.

This analysis is rounded out by a series of recommendations and guiding design principles that internal stakeholders can use to inform strategic decision-making going forward. The insights arrived at in this report are informed by stakeholder interviews, a literature review, a co-creation workshop, and an analysis of internal documents.

Read this report to help you:
  • Review the impact of Budget Talks to date
  • Understand how policymakers are grappling with a host of interconnected social, economic, and environmental challenges that require new tools and input from a larger pool of stakeholders
  • Explore best practices and learn how technology can bring citizens closer to the policymaking process

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Key findings from the report:

  • Public servants are longing to be part of something big: As one participant put it, Budget Talks has the potential to become “a reminder of why we became public servants in the first place,” providing a sense of pride stemming from bringing broad communities into the policymaking process.
  • Budget Talks is an expression of the possibilities of civic participation: Overwhelmingly, citizens and public servants see benefit in opening the policymaking process to wider participation. Budget Talks may have a role to play in renewing public interest in policy making and civic engagement.
  • Budget Talks has all of the ingredients needed to become a breakthrough digital engagement strategy: Despite some internal disagreement about the direction of Budget Talks and the need for more resources to carry out the project, it has the required infrastructure (i.e., people, technology, public support, political buy-in, a culture of iteration) to become a best-in-class example of successful digital public engagement.
Alex Conliffe
Former Director, Policy Innovation Platform
Andrew Do
Policy Analyst
Heather Russek
Director of Policy Innovation

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