What is the chair of the Bridgewater Community Preservation Committee (CPC) talking about in this photo? What is the very colorful presentation board all about? Last night at the Community Preservation Workshop & Public Hearing, a crowd of residents and town officials created nine proposed 5-year budgets using a visual budgeting technique developed by JM Goldson. Forget pie-in-the-sky laundry lists of projects; forget mind-numbing spreadsheets! This technique makes setting realistic budget priorities accessible (and fun!).
Let me explain. Instead of just holding a traditional annual public hearing (the minimum required by the CPA statute, which hardly any one ever attends), the Bridgewater CPC held a combined public hearing and workshop. The very short public hearing section at the end of the evening was meant to fulfill the requirement, whereas the workshop section of the night was to actually engage citizens with an interactive exercise to get real input about funding priorities. The CPC generated additional interest for the workshop by offering a free pizza dinner, free childcare, and door prizes (including 2 canoes, bicycles, and skiis!).
During the workshop each of nine small discussion groups were provided with an "empty" rectangle that represented the $5.5M estimated CPA revenue available for new projects over the next 5 years. The rectangle was to scale and came with a packet of scaled and color-coded shapes that represent project ideas in each CPA spending category. We also provided blank shapes for new project ideas.
The catch was that there was absolutely no way to fit all the projects ideas in the 5-year budget rectangle, so this forced some tough choices and lots of discussion. Each of the nine groups needed to come to consensus about the projects that ended up in the 5-year budget (no voting). After one hour of focused discussion, we had nine 5-year budget proposals! Next steps: Working with JM Goldson, the CPC will compare the nine budget scenarios and determine CPC goals and priority projects to include in the CPA Plan update.(1) A draft plan will be released for public comment in the late summer/early fall.
Using this visual budgeting technique (what we like to call the "CPA Tetris Exercise"), citizens were empowered to create realistic budget scenarios and to directly shape the ultimate priorities included in the CPA Plan in a way that would never happen in a traditional public hearing format.
(1) It is important to note that the CPC process is based on taking in applications for projects and making funding recommendations to the Town Council, therefore this budgeting exercise is simply a way to establish real and thoughtful priorities (there is little point in developing a "laundry list" of ideas that could never possibly be afforded) - the budget scenarios are not meant, in any way, to replace the application process.