Adopting the budget is one of the most important votes an elected governing body makes each year. Allocating limited resources among competing interests is inherently difficult; it is also vitally important to the fiscal health and future sustainability of communities. But the budget generally fails to capture the attention of most of the community.
Except for the few members of the public who eagerly await proposed budget documents each year, most community members either struggle to get interested in the substance of the most important vote their elected officials take--or, perhaps worse, do not even know that this vote is taking place. There are no easy solutions to this problem, which serves as a starting point for an important conversation about engagement throughout the budget process.
A BOLD NEW IDEA
When the City of Round Rock, Texas, was planning its annual budget video to highlight the proposed budget for fiscal year 2017, the communications department came up with a bold new idea. Over the last several years, Round Rock has used a variety of engaging, fun, and quirky budget videos to communicate budget information to the community. In fiscal 2015, the public was introduced to comically over-the-top "Ron Pitchman," who presented "Round Rock's AMAZING Value" in the style of an infomercial. In fiscal 2016, the city used a little movie magic to create "It's MAGIC! (No, It's Not!)," a video highlighting all the great things included in the budget proposal without increasing the city's property tax rate. But for fiscal 2017, the city embraced the thing the Internet was designed to showcase: cats.
When trying to engage the community through videos, the largest limiting factor is the number of viewers interested in taking the time to watch a video about local government budgeting. Rather than try to make financial information itself of interest to the public, the "Purrrrr-fect Budget Video" focuses on acknowledging that the budget is boring to most people, but that cat videos are irresistibly cute and fun. The video is made up of short clips of cats, interspersed with the city's communications director delivering some detailed information on the proposed budget while wearing a series of hilariously garish cat t-shirts. This was Round Rock's strategy for making a video that would be catchy enough to hold viewers' the attention for a few minutes on YouTube or Facebook.
The success of the "Purrrrr-fect Budget Video" isn't rooted in the cute cats or...