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Decoding the Budget: A participant’s recount of the November 10 Hacknight Workshop

The Toronto budget is a dense tome. Its development a process that only the brave, the passionate and, for the sake of argument, economists dare to traverse.

At the risk of stating the obvious and making gross generalisations about the rest of the body politic, many Torontonians see the city budget as an important but largely obfuscated part of the democratic engine.  

So…how might we engage the body politic and make the budget meaningful and and accessible?

On November 10, we started unpacking this question and offering up possible solutions. And boy was it was fun!

Undeterred by heavy November rains, nearly 30 people came out to the first Toronto Budget Project workshop. The excitement in the room was palpable.

And…what did we do that stormy night?

We started off by getting our budget gripes onto sticky notes (it was pretty cathartic). These sticky notes were then grouped under four umbrellas:

  • Technical language – the budget is challenging for the average layperson to decode
  • Accessibility/Transparency – the process isn’t easily understandable
  • Participation – people aren’t as involved as they could be
  • Governance – value for money and following through on commitments/priorities

We then had a group discussion about some of the things that had been brought to the fore.

Once we had some themes to work with, we were split up into groups and asked to focus on one of the following areas:

  • influence – how might we influence the budget process?
  • engagement – how might we engage with/in the budget process?
  • access – how might we increase access to the budget process?
  • decoding the data – how might we decode the budget data?

So what ideas did we come up with?

My group focussed on influence and ran through a fast ideation session to come up with possible solutions. We then popped these ideas onto stickies and placed them onto a Desirability/Feasibility, Viability/Impact matrix (that we had drawn on our table).

The ideas closest to the centre were the ones we pitched to the group. We had two ideas that made the cut:

  1. A ‘build your own budget’ game/tool – to give people a greater understanding of the budget so they feel more empowered
  2. A budget meetup tool/initiative –  connects people before they go to city hall to depute so that they can have greater impact

There were tonnes of other great ideas in the room as well. Here’s a small sampling of what people came up with:

  • The American life comparison -interesting stories about people using the budget
  • Create a ‘Reddit for the budget – targeted questioning of the process
  • Develop a taxonomy for the budget

And there were tonnes more.

What’s next?

Now that we have some ideas on paper it’s time to parcel them out and figure out what to hone on. Deconstructing the budget so that it’s more meaningful to body politic will be the big challenge, but if the workshop was anything to go by we’re well on our way to hacking it.


Want a little bit more detail on what was discussed? Take a look at the notes from this workshop at the links below:

  1. Meeting materials (agenda, minutes, analysis)
  2. Sticky notes summary

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