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Moving Through the Budget

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


Prototyping Movement as a Public Process (2021)

Over the summer of 2021, 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 “Moving Through the Budget” (MTTB): a community-based residency that used collaborative storytelling, dance, and movement to engage residents on how the City Budget gets made.
This prototype was a virtual creative residency that combined fiscal education, dance, and facilitated group discussions. Participants were able to creatively process their lived experiences with the Budget before providing feedback to the City. As a small-scale pilot, the 2021 offering 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.

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Eastie MTTB

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Learning from the Pilot (2022)

In 2022, we built on what we learned from the first year of the program to expand Moving Through the Budget in the following ways:

  • We provided two versions of the content to reach more residents: 
    • The MTTB Community Leaders Program: Day-long retreat-style workshops for community advocates. In culturally relevant formats, these workshops invested in community leaders to build a deeper understanding of the budget and serve as a resource to their neighbors. 
    • MTTB Self-Paced Modules: A video series offered in multiple languages that explores the physical experience of learning about the budget and participating in the budget process.
  • There were four workshops — two in Spanish and two in English — rather than one cohort entirely in English. Jenny Oliver returned to the project to design and facilitate the English sessions and was joined by Jasmin Torrejón Chu, who designed and facilitated the Spanish sessions.
  • In-person sessions were offered in both East Boston and Jamaica Plain.
  • We created a workbook in both English and Español to guide participants through budget basics, movement, reflection, and city resources.

Why we did this

By engaging with residents in a new way, we hoped to access new voices and perspectives, leading to more informed, insightful and actionable feedback on the City Budget and Budget-making process.

mttb charts 2023


The Budget is both a financial statement and a reflection of 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, creativity, and advocacy. We saw this as the right opportunity to try a new approach. 

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Movement and dance therapy techniques helped to build trust and the curriculum was designed to balance fiscal education with opportunities for facilitated creative expression, group dialogue, and collective healing. The goal of the program was to provide more supportive services to residents before, during and after asking for their input and advocacy. 

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 see and feel. Community advocates can’t continue to engage without this acknowledgement, so it is crucial to align learning opportunities to moments when resident engagement will lead to concrete outcomes. Providing resources to the people whose input we are seeking before asking for their feedback is also a way of showing that their participation in the Budget process is valued, even if the impact can’t be seen or felt right away.

Creative engagement provides a service. 

MTTB validated movement-based communication as a mode of engagement, providing much-needed relief around challenging topics. Participants reduced the stress associated with a City decision-making process that historically excluded them. By providing this service, residents entered Budget discussions feeling safer and healthier, and prompted deeper communication and creativity of responses. 

Residents want new ways to engage. 

While many MTTB participants were already seasoned and vocal advocates for their communities, with deep knowledge about their needs, they were looking for a different point of entry to share their experiences and be heard. Centering community experiences and creative opportunities empowered local leaders to engage further. The program created momentum and capacity that has the potential to grow

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Video guides

This video highlights the ways in which people can read and interpret the budget materials available.

This video shows how residents can testify in-person at budget hearings in City Hall with the goal of showing the testifying processes in a more clear, accessible, and less intimidating way.

This video details the ways in which people can participate in The City’s budget process, including the timeline of the budget process as well as key moments and opportunities to affect Boston’s budget.

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