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How Chattanooga, TN Planned their Budget with Resident Feedback

The Challenge

Building an Equitable Budget with Resident Priorities in Mind

All cities face the challenge of allocating a limited amount of discretionary funds, which impacts the daily lives of residents in ways they may not even be aware of. In most cases, it is challenging to really engage more than a handful of residents in budget conversations. Moreover, allocating $317M based on the feedback of the vocal few is not representative of the community at large. Expanding the reach was therefore the main challenge that the City faced, as well as ensuring that residents felt their input was heard and incorporated into the budget.


The Zencity Solution

With Zencity, the City was able to amplify channels of engagement, solicit and analyze resident feedback, and plan a budget more in tune with resident priorities. The City embarked on a multi-layered community engagement process for their budget, with the goal of increasing transparency, tackling distrust in government and ensuring that the budget addressed resident priorities equitably.

The City gathered feedback from 300+ residents who attended Zoom workshops and/or filled out an online survey, which Zencity analyzed. In parallel, Zencity collected and analyzed organic feedback about the budget from 18,827 social media resident interactions across all nine City districts. 

To support this entire process, a customized project dashboard was created within the Zencity platform to track resident sentiment over time. This enables the city to track specific conversations about the budget and assess whether their social posts and other forms of communication are effective. Having access to this data provides an opportunity to identify possible disconnects or misunderstandings and adjust their messaging.


The Impact

The Zencity report, encapsulating insights from various feedback channels to help inform budget planning, was shared with the CFO and Budget Team. More than ever before, the budget was created with relevant resident feedback data and priorities. Expanding the City’s reach beyond the vocal few and gathering feedback through social media channels proved successful. Residents that the City had never seen at engagement sessions participated and were heard. Among others, The City identified strategic priorities that highlighted a need for improved police-community relations, better schools and youth programs, safer streets, stronger economic development, and better mental health resources.

The partnership also helped to close the feedback loop. As the results of the survey were shared online, the City used the Zencity platform to track sentiment around its messaging. Having multiple avenues for resident engagement allowed the City of Chattanooga to get a fuller picture of its residents’ diverse perspectives and needs. By sharing the results publicly, the City was able to increase transparency and allow residents insight into and influence over the budgeting process in their community.

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