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Case Studies / City of Saint Paul Budget Game

Opening a City Budget to Everyone

Screenshot of a Zoom call for the City of St. Paul

The City of Saint Paul's Budget Game helps community members understand and participate in city budget planning. Software for Good's interns created an online version to make the game even more accessible.

The Challenge

What’s in a city budget? And why does it matter? Since taking office in the City of Saint Paul, Mayor Melvin Carter and his staff have sought to help community members understand this important decision-making process. The Budget Game was born as an in-person event where people from all over Saint Paul could gather to share their priorities for what gets funded, negotiate with their neighbors, and learn about budgeting while adding their voices to the discussion.

When COVID-19 shut the city down, the mayor’s team organized virtual events to keep the budget engagement going. And they saw the possibility for an even more accessible Budget Game — online and self-directed, allowing community members to learn and share their opinions at any time.

Our Solution

Software for Good’s software development and strategy interns took on the challenge of translating the Budget Game from facilitated group activity to solo game. Our team researched other educational web-based games, and walked through the Budget Game several times to understand its ins and outs. Our UX intern mapped the journey for game players and designed screens with the city’s branding. On the development side, the team built the database to store each player’s budget priorities as they progress from round to round. They also developed front-end animation that allows people to “flip” cards displaying information about each budget category.

Making the experience accessible and fun required some trouble-shooting. The team researched options for integrating video to allow for group games, before deciding that the first version of the online game could stay single-player. They experimented with JavaScript libraries for displaying and visualizing data, trying different versions of a results screen for the game before settling on an Olympics-inspired podium visual. To make the game more inclusive to Saint Paul’s large immigrant communities, the team set up language translation through Google Translate. They also met with the city’s accessibility coordinator to ensure the game could be played by people with disabilities.

Before the end of the summer, our strategy and human-centered design intern, who joined us through a UX training program from Saint Paul Right Track and Prime Digital Academy, led a series of usability tests to invite feedback on the game.

The Result

Near the end of the summer, the Software for Good interns met with Mayor Carter, Saint Paul’s Chief Information Officer Sharon Kennedy Vickers, and several members of the city staff to present the digital Budget Game. Each intern had a chance to share features they worked on in particular, and the mayor was especially impressed with the work they’d done to make the game inclusive.

“That’s pretty incredible.” — Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter on the auto-translation feature in the online Budget Game

Thanks to our close partnership with the city, their Digital Services team was able to pick up on the Budget Game where Software for Good’s team left off. The game will be rolled out to the public, offering a whole new way for community members to weigh in on the future of the city.

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