Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Institutionalizing Innovation - Case Study

As long as there is scarcity of wealth, there will be a challenge to produce an efficient budget. Finding $29 million is a short-term task of a long-term problem. Group B recommends prioritizing programs based on their creativity to adapt and improve their efficiency.

To start this process, the public needs to be dramatically included into the budgeting process. Public hearings and worksessions are great features, but city officials need to reach out and open a dialogue. Meetings held in school buildings (perhaps immediately after parent-teacher conferences), radio shows, local cable broadcasts and internet forums could try to stir up public awareness. The keystone of a constantly improving government is innovation, driven by widespread awareness and evaluation. An aggressive but positive determination to improve the city through resource management needs to be sold from the top down.

As the public is drawn into the process and budget proposals are made available, the city should announce that it's hoping for a 20% reduction in every program feeding from the general fund. This is about 5% above the $29 million goal, but the padding might be necessary to encourage flexibility.

Special attention should be constantly given to those ideas that will save funds without dramatically reducing services. For example, highlight the library's closed day that saves $320,000 or the Austin Librach's plan to squeeze $800,000- $900,000 from Transportation Planning and Sustainability. Public recognition should be given as a reward.

The goal is to institutionalize innovation. Encourage the Austin Music Network to seek sponsorship, promotions or revenue-generating concerts that could keep its valuable contributions to Austin alive. The community should seek greater state and federal funds by trying pilot programs in alternative energy, in charter schools, or with water treatment and distribution. The budgetary process should set innovation as its priority.

If the volunteered improvements are not enough then, in an open conversation, the council should select those programs least flexible to cut. In this way, incentives for creativity are built into the system.

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