Participatory budgeting exemplifies the IdeaMapr approach of Focus, Explain, Interact. To get useful feedback on your city budget, you need to focus questions on specific aspects. Asking citizens whether $191,930,704 is a good budget for the fire department will only overwhelm them and leave you with little useful input to work with. One good approach is to focus on how various departments propose to use increases in their budget. For example, the fire department might want to add a new fire unit to reduce response times.
The second part of the IdeaMapr approach is explaining how these newly funded projects would impact the city. In this example, each “idea” is a proposal to fund a particular project in a department. Each of these proposals includes the purpose of the project and how the project would improve the services offered by the department. For example, increased funding to the library would allow them to offer more digital materials such as e-books, audiobooks, and music. By providing narratives like this for citizens, you give them the context they need to make sense of complex decisions.
The third part of the IdeaMapr approach is to enable citizens to interact with these proposals by “shopping” for items within a given budget. Citizens can choose to fund an expensive project that is very important to them instead of several less expensive options, or choose to cut an expensive project to fund several smaller projects. This question structure allows you to see how much citizens value certain projects over others after they see the relative costs, rather than whether they simply like the idea or not.