Early 2013 the maire of Stad Kortrijk (Belgium) was looking for more innovative ways to engage citizens to participate in the council policy and investments. A bit like private organisations are looking to engage their people in portfolio management and strategy settings we thought and challenged the maire to organise Budget Games. An active way to allow people to participate in priority setting and have some serious debates on the items at hand. Stad Kortrijk engaged with Co-Learning to fully organise their (and for Europe) first Budget Games ever for Aalbeke and due to that success Stad Kortrijk engaged with Co-Learning to train them to design and facilitate this by themselves. We went for our tandem coaching principle for a second edition in Heule 2014.
Stad Kortrijk is a reasonably sized city within Belgium with about 75.000 citizens in different sub-parts like Aalbeke, Heule, Marke... When we engaged Vincent Van Quickenborne was recently elected as its mayor and looking for some different ways to engage its citizens, sport, culture and other institutions within the city council decision making process.
The challenge Stad Kortrijk and Co-Learning collaborated on was: "How can we engage 100's not to say 1000's of people in priority setting decisions?". Traditionally one would send out an inquiry to every citizen and send out city personnel to go door by door and acquire information that is then consolidated and consulted by city council members to make decision. Something that isn't very transparent to all and leaving a lot of power to city council people and their interpretations. We wanted to come with something more innovative with a higher level of transparency towards the citizens and modified our "Buy a Feature" workshop design (done in private organisations) towards a larger, maybe even more sensitive, setting of Budget Games.
What we did
Co-Learning took the full lead in the first Budget Games edition for Aalbeke which required a lot of preparation with city personnel and council members. During the process we used many collaborative workshops to come to all necessary artifacts to run a successful Budget Games event with 10's of people. These workshops provided learning to both Stad Kortrijk as Co-Learning and adjustments to our standard workshop design as used in private organisations. For this first session Stad Kortrijk had a lot of work to bring awareness to its citizens that this would be a highly important event and unlike the name suggests, not a game.
For this first session Co-Learning required more skilful facilitators than available within the company and used its large network to recruit extra experts (from its public workshop design & facilitation events) for the event day itself while keeping a strong hand on the event design and preparation. It turned out to be very successful and Stad Kortrijk wanted to continue with this technique for other regions and extended their collaboration with Co-Learning to educate their staff to design and facilitate similar events in the future. The second Budget Games event for Heule was used to use our tandem principle coaching approach for their staff, extended with some very customised and targeted internal courses. Facilitation for that event was completely arranged with Co-Learning and Stad Kortrijk personnel and became even a bigger success, more than 100 people participated and the priorities achieved from the sessions were accepted by the city council and been put in practice at the time of writing this down.
Co-Learning has written a dutch book that described the full spectrum of preparing and facilitating a Budget Games in order to spread the word and inspire other organisations to do the same. It is amazing to be part of giving back power to the citizens and let them decide on topics that concern their front door, their kids soccer club and so on.
Thanks to all the hard work of Stad Kortrijk we got 60+ attendees for the session in Aalbeke that could decide on 17 different tenders and 2 different cost saving programs. During the workshop the citizens came with an extra cost saving opportunity the city council could follow up on. Active debate and the active setup of the workshop led to a smile on people their faces even though the decisions made were not easy at all. Thanks to the first session the second session in Heule had 100+ attendees and, even though a small hiccup, ended with similar feelings and smiles by its participants.
The best benefit is that those decisions were made by citizens, they became the advocates of what was decided and the city council acquired more credit about what is done versus what is not going to be done. Discussions and debate were delegated from city council members to its citizens now - empowerment!
Afterwards Stad Kortrijk also used this technique for children in schools: https://demos.be/blog/budget-games-voor-kinderen-uit-kortrijk