Beyond Budgeting

You can’t make budgeting sexy (although some of my colleagues may disagree) but you can make it more effective. Chattanooga, TN, has developed an innovative process that weaves stakeholders into this essential governmental function. In The Scenic City, Budgeting for Outcomes (BFO) is steeped in the tenets of:

  • promoting a culture of performance and results,
  • realigning dollars more closely with strategic, community priorities, and
  • engaging a variety of internal and external stakeholders

Replicating the entire process described below may not be possible, and Chattanooga is continuously looking for ways to make improvements. But as you read, consider ways that your city might adopt the principles of performance, results and community priorities.

Budgeting for Outcomes

Chattanooga has an open budgeting process, in which any entity is invited to apply for city funding through Budgeting for Outcomes (BFO). BFO requires offer writers to indicate which citywide outcome they hope to influence through their budget request. Applicants must also provide a detailed plan for how the results will be achieved and measured. Measurement includes how they are measuring, who is doing the measuring, and how they are using the data for measurement. The city supports potential budget offer writers through a list of guiding questions and commentary, as well as a series of training sessions.

Andy Berke, Mayor of Chattanooga since 2013, paid an impromptu visit to one of these training sessions, where Tim Moreland, Chattanooga’s Director of Performance Management and Open Data, discussed the importance of managing budgeting metrics year round. Mayor Berke said:

“People talk about the budget like it’s a bunch of numbers, but it’s the greatest policy document that we have, because it has the greatest impact on people’s lives.”

Mayor Berke’s statement captured the spirit of BFO, which is about tying each dollar to specific outcome goals, such as safer streets, growing economy, smarter students and stronger families, etc. This is a nuanced difference from performance budgeting, which emerged as a trend in the 1990s as a result of local governments experimenting with budget reform.

Community Engagement

I co-facilitated a BFO training session this month as part of our What Works Cities engagement, and the emphasis on community priorities was apparent. The first session began with all 70+ participants introducing themselves and their organization or department, and describing what they hoped to achieve with their BFO offer. Time and again, participants made connections with others who were working toward similar outcomes. Even though many of these participants were working in the same areas,they had not been using each other as resources throughout the BFO process. However, during the interactive sessions, a culture of collaboration began to emerge.

For instance, during a coaching session, the Chattanooga Furniture Bank was encouraged to create more ambitious targets, but responded that they were not receiving enough furniture donations. Hearing this, 3-1-1 realized they regularly received calls from residents for furniture removal. Together, 3-1-1 and the Furniture Bank developed a solution in which 3-1-1 added a question to their intake system, which would send a pick-up request to the Furniture Bank, rather than to Public Works. This reduces the workload of Public Works, decreases city costs, and preserves the landfill, all while providing furniture to the furniture bank.

Here was a room full of nonprofits and City departments with their own missions and personalities, working together toward common priorities for Chattanoogans. Before joining GovEx I led a coalition of public and private actors in a common goal to end childhood hunger, so I understand the challenges, and value, in getting to this point. I believe that Chattanooga’s success can be attributed to leadership and staff that cultivate true partnerships–a relationship of trust, coupled with ongoing support from the City.

And the notion of partnership and trust extends beyond applicants. Community members are also equal members of the Results Team that reviews and scores the budget offers, along with representatives from the Mayor’s Administration and City Departments. The resulting ranking becomes the budget recommendation that goes to the Mayor and City Council for approval.

The City saw such value in the perspectives, suggestions, and connections that the community team members provided in past BFO processes, that there will be two community members on each of the FY 2017 Results Teams, rather than just one.
As it turns out, there are many creative–and, yes, sexy–examples of municipal budgeting, which GovEx plans to capture, document, and dissect. In a world of local budget experimentation, Chattanooga’s process stands out as exemplary because it encourages collaboration, and emphasizes the connection between individual programs and citywide priorities.


Are you interested in learning more about Chattanooga’s process, or participating in BFO? Contact bfo@chattanooga.gov or mbaskin@chattanooga.gov.

Does your city have a creative budgeting process? Do you have questions or comments? Contact us! Post questions to our Q&A section, or email us at govex@jhu.edu.