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Moving Through the Budget

We're using collaborative storytelling, dance, and movement to prototype a new, reflective form of engagement with East Boston residents on the City Budget.

WHAT WE DID

Moving Through the Budget (MTTB) is a community-based residency that uses collaborative storytelling, dance, and movement to engage Boston residents on the City Budget. 

The curriculum combines a fiscal education, movement and dance, and facilitated group discussions. These activities prompt participants to creatively process their lived experiences with the Budget before providing feedback.

In 2021, the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics and the Office of Budget Management partnered with choreographer and educator Jenny Oliver and dance movement therapist Stefanie Belnavis to offer MTTB as a small-scale pilot. The pilot focused on reaching residents of a single neighborhood (East Boston) in order to build community and generate conversations among residents with a common neighborhood context. Due to the pandemic, the residency was conducted virtually.

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Why we did this

We believe that movement and dance can help reach community members who have been historically underrepresented in the City Budget process. 

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    Why Budget?
    The Budget is both a financial statement and a reflection the City’s priorities. When residents don’t see themselves reflected in these priorities, it can surface past experiences and emotions that limit their capacity for engagement and advocacy. 
    Why Movement?

    Movement is a part of everyday life, a highly personal yet universal mode of communication. Movement and dance therapy techniques help to build trust for conversations that are more creative, inclusive, and healing. By engaging with residents in a new way, we hope to:

    • access new voices and perspectives
    • create a more informed, trustworthy, and supportive environment for conversations about the Budget.

      OUR QUESTIONS

      #1: Who are we missing? 

      What are the systemic biases and discriminatory patterns that prevent residents from engaging with the Budget? A primary goal of this pilot was to engage groups that were unseen in the budget-making process. We wanted to amplify the voices of those with different levels of access and abilities to participate.

      #2: What do people know? What do they want to know?

      We wanted to understand what people already know about the budget, and what was most useful to them to learn. Another goal was to better understand the knowledge our residents already had, so the City could improve access to the resources they still needed.

      #3: How can we better support mental health and wellness?

      We were interested in how residents could be supported in managing their mental health and wellness in a Budget-making process that can be overwhelming and frustrating to navigate.

      #4: Can a creative approach improve residents’ capacity for engagement? 

      We hoped to learn whether movement and dance could address an unmet need for Budget conversations to support community healing and justice. Did participants feel this creative approach was beneficial to them? Did they feel more empowered and prepared after completing the residency?

      what we learned

      Engagement should feel impactful.

      When residents take the time and energy to learn about the Budget, they expect their feedback to have an impact they can feel. It is crucial to align learning opportunities to moments when resident engagement will lead to concrete outcomes.

      Creative engagement provides a service. 

      Movement and dance held therapeutic value for participants, providing much-needed relief around challenging topics. Participants reduced the stress associated with learning about a City decision-making process that historically excluded them. By providing this service, the City created a healthier environment for Budget discussions and creative problem-solving.

      Residents want new ways to engage. 

      Many participants were seasoned and vocal advocates for their communities. While they already held knowledge about the aspects of the Budget which affected them directly, residents were looking for a new point of entry to share their experiences and needs.

      MTTB participant video still 3 vertical

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