Seeing Things Differently

Jon Johnson, Chris Fabian and Kathie Novak will serve as presenters for the interactive seminars, "Introduction to Priority-Based Budgeting," and "Advanced Priority Based Budgeting: Applied Learning Seminar," at the Congressional City Conference on Saturday, March 8, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Reprinted with permission from the October 2013 issue of Public Management (PM) magazine, published and copyrighted by ICMA (International City/County Management Association), Washington, D.C.

Challenges facing local governments today require a new way to see. It's as if our vision has been blurred by the extraordinary stress of managing in this complex economic environment. Whether attempting to rebuild in a post-recession climate, or persevering through another year of stagnating or declining revenues, the challenge remains: how to allocate scarce resources to achieve our community's highest priorities. Through the new lens of priority-based budgeting, which provides powerful insights, local governments are making significant breakthroughs.

The June 2008 edition of PM magazine introduced this new budgeting process, which unveiled a way for local governments to spend within their means by continuously focusing on the results most relevant to their communities and the programs that influence those results to the highest possible degree.

The concept involved leveraging each tax dollar so programs with the greatest impact on results were distinguished from programs with a lesser influence. Four years later, priority-based budgeting has proven to be successful in more than 30 communities that have chosen to follow this initiative. Communities that have embraced it have redefined the notion of return on investment-it's a "return on results," a societal return, where each dollar is evaluated in terms of its influence on the community.

A Vast New Perspective

As more communities began reaping the anticipated benefits of this new way of seeing, however, something unexpected also happened. Surprising and new conversations began to emerge. The data assembled by communities to help evaluate their programs' overall priority opened up fascinating revelations about the programs themselves, all of which has created a vast new perspective.

Putting the scoring criteria to use, in particular the criteria having less to do with the program's influence on results and more to do with additional reasons that programs are relevant to the community, raises such questions as: Are the programs mandated? Are there other entities providing a similar service, do they pay for themselves?

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