How to Engage Citizens With Your Budget Transparency Video

May 6, 2016 – Brandon Camhi


If governments could win Oscars for budget transparency videos, then Anoka County, Minnesota would be on everyone’s shortlist. The county’s video certainly caught our eye.

The project historically took Anoka’s Budget Department and Public Information Team about a month’s worth of work. But not this year.

Anoka finished the project in just two days using OpenGov’s Saved Views (links to views that answer questions) and interactive charts. OpenGov eliminated the manual labor involved in compiling information for every graphic in the video.

Creating a budget video brings at least three key benefits to your organization:

  • Explain complex yet important issues to citizens
  • Show potential employees that your government is technologically savvy
  • Give staff and managers a broad overview of the budget

We loved Anoka County’s video. You can watch it below, and by the time you’re done, we think you will love it too!

Here’s the structure that makes Anoka’s video so compelling for citizens:

1. State the mission: The video stars Budget Director Patti Hetrick. She briefly introduces herself and describes how Anoka County strives to provide services in a “respectful, innovative, and fiscally responsible” manner. Hetrick emphasizes how seriously Anoka takes the responsibility of spending the viewer’s dollars.

2. Demonstrate value: “During this video,” Hetrick then explains, “we will answer some questions that are commonly asked by our citizens.” Show citizens why the video is relevant, and they will pay attention.

3. Provide a high-level overview: Hetrick shows citizens how Anoka County’s budget has two main parts: revenues and expenses. OpenGov displays government-wide, multi-year expense and revenue data on the screen at the same time – driving the story and bolstering Hetrick’s narrative.

4. Use visual signposts: Anoka used Saved Views to signal new sections. For example, Anoka has separate Saved Views for “What Does Anoka County Spend on Public Safety?” and “What do we spend for Child Protection, Behavioral Health, and Financial Assistance?” These views correspond to sections in the video.

5. Contextualize each section: It’s not enough to just read off the numbers on the screen. Instead, Hetrick shares the story behind the numbers. What were the tradeoffs? Why were certain decisions made? This information helps citizens understand the numbers displayed on the screen.

6. Conclude with a call-to-action: Anoka concludes by directing citizens to OpenGov to learn more about Anoka County’s financials. This saves the county time too: it hasn’t had a single Freedom of Information request for financial information thus far and, according to Hetrick, Anoka would normally have around ten by now.

And finally, keep it clear and short. Let’s face it – people have short attention spans. Microsoft found the average is around eight seconds. The county conveys only essential information in its video; citizens can always go to OpenGov for more information.

Category: Customer Story