Creating an annual planning, budgeting and engagement cycle that is predictable doesn’t have to be boring – in fact, it can be just the ticket to fostering the culture of civic engagement and community-grounded decision-making you’re seeking, while also saving on the bottom line. Here’s how:

Begin by anchoring the cycle with two key engagement touch points – one in the spring and one in the fall. Spring and fall engagement periods align nicely with the seasons when community members are more likely to engage – they’re neither hibernating nor on summer vacation. Yes, this spring/fall timing means moving your budget process up earlier in the year, but it should also mean you will have a budget in place before you begin the year you’re budgeting for, which should be a bonus in and of itself.

Each seasonal engagement opportunity offers a community ‘town-hall’ or forum kind of event to bring people together, including a potential hybrid in-person/online model (which is something we touched on in a previous blog). And of course, you also host parallel online opportunities, which is best practice and not the topic of this blog.

The spring engagement focuses on community hot topics, priorities and specific project engagement needs, which feeds into and informs Council priority-setting (ideally through the lens of an existing strategic plan), and from there, into the budget process.

Fall engagement focuses on the draft budget, and other project engagement again as needed. Consider combining your budget open house with your annual recognition event (if you host one) given that those you are recognizing are most likely to have been involved in the planning and decision-making leading up to the draft budget, so the most likely to be interested is seeing the financial ‘rubber hitting the road’ outcome.

Winter and summer are then primarily for staff and Council to do the ‘behind the scenes’ planning and budgeting work needed, and they can count on set spring and fall opportunities to connect with the community about the projects or processes they have been working on.

The benefits of this cycle:

  • Efficient – Staff can plan projects around the schedule, knowing they can piggy-back on existing engagement activities rather than having to design, coordinate and host their own events or online sessions. And community members get into the seasonal rhythm of engaging in community decision-making in the spring and fall touch-points, where they can provide input to multiple topics at once based on their interests.
  • Effective – This cycle follows a logical progression where each phase informs the next, leading to better decision-making and more engaged community members as the cycle unfolds, culminating in a budget open house (and online engagement) that actually attracts people who are already informed and invested.
  • Engaging – By covering multiple topics, the combine engagement periods will draw in a larger cross-section of the community, resulting in a greater diversity of perspectives, the cross-pollination of ideas, and more social interaction among attendees.

WCS Engagement + Planning has supported many communities in hosting large community forum events and many smaller open houses. We have seen the effort by staff and the time spent by community members. and think that, with a few tweaks, including timing, it can be even more efficient, effective and engaging for everyone.

For more information, contact Shannon Gordon (sgordon[at] or 604-906-0310).

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash