This blog is part of an online learning platform which includes the Pathways to New Community Paradigms Wiki and a number of other Internet based resources to explore what is termed here 'new community paradigms' which are a transformational change brought about by members of a community.

It is intended to offer resources and explore ideas with the potential of purposefully directing the momentum needed for communities to create their own new community paradigms.

It seeks to help those interested in becoming active participants in the governance of their local communities rather than merely passive consumers of government service output. This blog seeks to assist individuals wanting to redefine their role in producing a more direct democratic form of governance by participating both in defining the political body and establishing the policies that will have an impact their community so that new paradigms for their community can be chosen rather than imposed.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Budgeting for Community Prosperity requires a Clear View

The word austere has been thrown around in two recent posts, Governance through Community and Second look at Making Cities Work but there has been little discussion so far as to money or budgets.

Although budgets are important and in truth an essential evil, they are a function of institutions and not of communities.  Budgets are not evil in themselves but they often turn into the master of planning instead of a guide to planning.  They do serve an important function, particularly when developed and implemented with a philosophy of transparency as their basis.

One of the complexities facing communities today is that they not only have to worry about their own community's budget but the budgets of state and federal governments as well.  They also have to worry about the regional impacts of budgetary decisions which falls between the local and state levels.  There are reasons to justify this worry.  Not only do communities receive a good deal of funding from or through state and federal agencies, the budget decisions regarding intra-communities infrastructure and other expenditures made by state and federal agencies also impacts communities.  This is a two-edged sword and communities need to be careful in how they use these resources.  Some have not been and are paying the price.

All of this presumes though that the members of a particular community have decided to take the lead in self-governance which is at the heart of the new community paradigms movement.  This is more likely in Innovatitown than it is in Parochialville but even in Parochialville there could be a desire for greater transparency and insight into the budgets that have an impact on their community.  The New Community Paradigms wiki page Budgeting For Community Prosperity offers some resources, though so far resources directly related to community budgeting have not been included.

What can be found are resources offered by California Budget Project or CBP which engages in independent fiscal and policy analysis and public education with the goal of improving public policies affecting the economic and social well-being of low- and middle-income Californians. This organization could serve as a template for local communities developing protocols for greater public inclusion.
The CBP believes that information can help give voice to those who often go unheard in budget and policy debates. “Knowledge,” as the saying goes, “is power.” Since 1995, the CBP has worked to make the budget more understandable and to shed light on how budget and related policy decisions can affect the lives of low- and middle-income Californians.
The California Budget Project is also on Facebook.  The CBP has served as a resource for policymakers, advocates, community leaders, interested citizens, and the media since 1995.

Another organization working to bring greater transparency to California's government and budgetary processes is California Common Sensea Stanford-based nonprofit using Silicon Valley technologies to open government finances to the public, engage citizens in data-driven discourse, and catalyze a grassroots movement for more effective and efficient governance.  

As with many of the resources provided through the New Community Paradigms wiki California Common Sense or CACS is also on Facebook.
CACS is the first organization in history to mine California's vast records and successfully construct an organizational mapping of the several thousand agencies, departments, councils, committees, branches, sections, divisions, and subdivisions—many of them redundant—within California's executive branch. This research base and user-friendly online map will enable CACS to create the clearest case for establishing better governance.
California Common Sense created a Transparency Beta for the City of San Francisco based on its Theory of Change.
Imagine a world in which ordinary citizens are invested in their governments and take ownership of them by virtue of actually knowing a) how government works and b) how their tax dollars are used for public services. We at CACS see that world vividly and are guided by the vision that solutions to major local and state problems will stem from the marriage of transparency and engagement. The innovative technologies we use open up government, expose its excesses, draw its shareholders-particularly young people-into the political process, and improve the efficacy of services on which citizens rely.
Perhaps some organization such as Code for America will create an app that will make it possible for smaller communities to set up Transparency Betas for their own budgets.  However, as important as budgetary transparency and appreciation of where the dollars are going may be, it is not as important as an understanding of where the dollars come from and how they get to where they need to be.   That will be the subject for the next post. 

Past Posts