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Citizens’ Budget Recommendations for City of Cincinnati Budget Process^

Step 1:  City Council Builds Policy Budget


  1. To engage citizens at the outset of the budget process by identifying and understanding their current concerns and hopes for the city, which should ultimately drive the budget;
  2. To holistically inform council on the both consensus and conflicting values held by the public;
  3. To provide the administration with clear direction as to the overall needs that must be addressed in the upcoming budget.


  1. Budget office creates a public survey to identify top community priorities, based in large part on the priorities of Plan Cincinnati as seen through each city department.
    1. This is only the start of the policy budget—this survey is not intended to set final priorities, just give a starting point for live dialog.
    2. The budget office would work with the Planning Department (and through them each city department) to understand current needs in the context of Plan Cincinnati and subsequently design educational materials for use by the public.
    3. Offer both online and in-person survey options (e.g. at city hall, libraries, recreation centers).
    4. Key: Use city website and social media to go beyond a simple survey—to provide information/data, generate interest and participation, stimulate online dialog—that can be used throughout the entire process.
    5. Budget office collates/packages results, delivers to public and City Council.
  2. City Council/Mayor’s Office* reviews survey results, identifies key questions they want the public to consider.
  3. Budget office hosts live public dialogsx so citizens can discuss and weigh priorities.
  4. City Council/Mayor’s Office* use citizen feedback to create a draft policy budget(s) that prioritizes the policies that the administration should follow in drafting a full budget.
  5. Council holds traditional hearings on draft policy budget(s), passes a final policy budget.



Step 2:  Administration Drafts Initial Budget


  1. To put policy budget into concrete terms, providing various options for citizens and City Council to consider, with associated trade-offs and real-life impact;
  2. To encourage collaboration between city departments;
  3. To engage citizens in the analysis of city departments and programs.


  1. City manager frames budget parameters to guide departments in designing their budget options;
  2. City departments engage citizen advisory boardsx to discuss their programs and budget options, using that data to create their proposed internal budgets (more citizen education would be developed by each department);
  3. Public surveys are used to gain feedback from citizens on specific departmental budget issues;
  4. City departments conduct peer reviewx of departmental proposals to propose ways the city manager might resolve conflicts and align the overall budget with the policy budget (may work back through citizen advisory boards);
  5. City manager decides upon full budget proposal to send to Mayor’s Office, including key options and analysis of trade-offs.


Step 3:  Mayor’s Office Adjusts Budget


  1. Allow the Mayor to create a unified vision for the budget.
  2. Identify key questions that must be resolved.
  3. Promote the budget process to increase participation and understanding.


  1. Mayor’s Office revises budget.
  2. Optional: Mayor’s Office identifies key questions/options for the public to consider and deliberate, which could be done through public dialogx
  3. Mayor’s Office delivers budget to City Council.



Step 4:  City Council Engages Public


  1. Allow City Council to put its vision into the budget process, and identify key questions that must be resolved.
  2. Gain understanding of public opinion on specific solutions.
  3. Confront the public with tough choices with full understanding of the trade-offs.



  1. Council reviews Mayor’s budget and identifies key questions/options for public to deliberate.
  2. City Manager and staff develop and promote “issue briefs” which contain information about each key question, including trade-offs of each approach and how those options relate to Plan Cincinnati.
  3. City Council hosts public deliberationx events where citizens will:
    1. Voice their concerns and hopes for the budget;
    2. Consider the questions and options posed by City Council and the Mayor’s Office.
  4. The administration collates the public feedback and designs a final survey around the core questions confronting City Council;
  5. City Council holds formal hearings on final budget proposals; votes.


^These recommendations are based on deliberative feedback from over 150 citizens and city employees over the course of six public events and over fifteen citizen-city leadership meetings.


*The relationship and role of City Council and Mayor’s office should be determined by them.


x These gatherings would be designed and facilitated by an independent professional who specializes in public dialog and deliberation.  The following basic facilitation principles would be utilized:

  1. Connection before content. To build long-term capacity to sustain change, trust and relationships need to be built between individual stakeholders.  Every meeting therefore needs to begin and end with conversations designed to reconcile differences and build trust around city budgeting and services.
  2. Common informational foundation. To save time, build trust, and deepen deliberations, each meeting will be preceded by some kind of “briefing” document that outlines the key issues, solution options, and foundational data.
  3. Clearly defined roles. Also included in the pre-meeting briefing will be a clear definition of stakeholder roles and the decision-making power being allocated to each group (the International Association of Public Participation decision-making spectrum would be very useful).
  4. Small group dialog. By breaking a meeting into groups of 3-5 to answer key questions, people are better able to empathize with other people, understand their point of view, and compromise on solutions.
  5. Miscellaneous facilitation tactics:
    1. Visual aids;
    2. Post-meeting surveys regarding the quality of the dialog process.
  6. CEAT principles of citizen engagement, which are currently being implemented by the city manager.

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