The GFOA Distinguished Budget Presentation award is an important sign of budgetary excellence in local government. As every government wants to expand its wall of plaques, many are realizing that it’s more about the journey than the designation.
As most finance executives already know, GFOA has updated its criteria for 2021. The new criteria focus on elements that improve understanding of the budget by stakeholders and the public (OpenGov’s playbook provides an in-depth look). The new guidelines also reveal a shift in focus from numbers to process.
The purpose of the budget is to be a policy document and plan, but without real buy-in and collaboration with departments, there is a risk that the budget will have a short lifespan. If stakeholders do not understand key decisions and trade-offs, alignment will quickly be lost and the budget will lose its value for organizing priorities.
Linking data to resources across the document is an important first step towards creating an information ecosystem that helps improve understanding of individual initiatives and key performance. Narrative descriptions are also essential. Involving departments to contextualize their spending improves clarity internally and with the public.
The importance of communicating the budget in a way that is clear to the public is crucial. The budget should function as an educational tool, allowing residents to easily click, read, understand, share, and engage in sections based on their interests. Multi-year winner Ukiah, CA explains the importance of collaboration and communication in their budget process in a recent video.
Over 100 OpenGov Budgeting and Planning clients have achieved the GFOA distinction for their budget books or financial plans. A growing number of them have achieved this recognition for their online budget books, a medium that provides context and enhances interactivity with digital capabilities. These governments are also saving time by automating updates across the budget with integrations between budget and publishing and storytelling software.
OpenGov has seen a growing number of customers adopt online budget books for their ease of use and the ability to dynamically connect data to their reporting and transparency portals. Connected data allows updates to cascade through the document without tedious and error-prone manual updates. Less time to update means more time to provide descriptions and context.
Online interactive budget books aren’t just about efficiency. They can really improve collaboration by allowing departments to showcase their finances and their team’s work to tell a fuller story of what the department does for the community. The format allows for content and narrative descriptions that enhance public understanding of government.
For governments pursuing this distinction, it is important to recognize the intent of the new criteria: to improve budget processes and efficiency. For those who wish to take more collaborative approaches to budgeting and budget bookkeeping, many find travel as crucial as designation.