The concept of “pocketbook voting” has fallen in and out of favour many times over the last several decades. Given the contention in academic realms about whether and how much people judge their politicians and government on how policies are showing up in their wallets,  it’s easy to see how a weak dollar could make governments fearful of backlash, even on seemingly innocuous projects. 

Interestingly, Australian voters are thought to be uniquely resilient to the tempting pull of pocketbook voting. While public opinion of leadership during trying times always comes down to a complex interplay of factors, it’s reassuring that Aussies look more at the government’s credentials over time than at how present-day decisions seem to relate to short-term, personal wealth.

So, how do we focus on being a “good government” in the big picture?

Continuing to brave the public in tough times tends to have overwhelmingly positive results on general attitudes about democratic processes.  We saw this especially clearly in the 2008 recession. By embracing the risk of negativity and not caving on your public outreach budget for a short-term win, you’ll increase the sense of trust and often even crowdsource better ideas than the ones you thought of originally.

Making Lemonade

The fastest way to lose track of spending is by taking your eye off your project’s specific goal. Who needs to be consulted, for how long, and on which topics? To avoid blowing out your budget on activities that don’t get the answers you need, consider these principles to stretch your resources.

Go back to basics

Everyone loves a gimmick, but when a recession is inbound, it’s often wiser to strip back unnecessary tools. For in-person engagement, prioritise outreach activities that will encourage your audience to come back to you, rather than costly one-and-done events. For digital engagement, prioritise tools that have longevity, won’t need a lot of work to replicate for similar projects, and that can be analysed internally if possible. You’d be surprised how rarely price and payoff correlate, as what you can do with technology doesn’t always match what the user needs or wants.

Consider this –  the user wants just two things: to voice their concerns and to be heard. However you choose to engage, make it easy for your audience to participate and make it obvious that someone is listening to and actioning the suggestions.

Use a sample market

Without endless time and money, you might have a hard time getting a hold of everyone in your ideal market. Consider mapping out key demographics using open-sourced population information and downsizing your outreach. This will reduce the work needed to round up respondents and process results, and you may find by easing back on advertising and focusing your resources, those selected are more inclined to agree to participate.  It’s better to get quality results than to get stuck in the weeds trying to source feedback from the public at large and possibly miss your window altogether because of costs.

Upskill, don’t outsource

An economic downturn often goes hand in hand with staff shortages, so now is a great time to take stock of your star employees. You’ll be surprised how many people have capabilities beyond their job descriptions. Upskilling the hardworking team members you already have is a good way to build up morale around the office as it is often more cost (and time) effective than an external hire.

Poke the Bear

In a recession, people want to talk to decision-makers. For high-profile topics and tense economic times alike, offering genuinely thoughtful engagement activities can stir a surprising amount of organic interest without the need for wide reaching advertising campaigns. Get on the front foot by opening the floor for discussion instead of waiting fearfully for complaints about your corporate budget, changing project timelines, and other things you can’t control to roll in.

Powys County Council did exactly this using Delib’s Simualtor tool, gracefully acknowledging resident feedback to include  a proposal to increase council tax by 5%. If your mum ever told you it was rude to talk about money, consider this Exhibit A as to why to start. By putting the people who would be impacted by the problem in the driver’s seat, Powys County Council honoured the feelings of trust that we expect from a good democracy and initiated a helpful conversation. 

If you’d like to learn more about what Citizen Space can do for your organisation, book a free demo and we’ll walk you through it.