About our Budget Hero collaboration

Dave Gustafson
Public Insight Network

Budget Hero game screenshot Since 2008, Budget Hero, which was developed by the Public Insight team at American Public Media (APM) and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has been helping Americans better understand how the massive federal budget works, the various tradeoffs involved, and how fiscal decisions affect Americans and future generations. With debt and deficit concerns dominating political debates in recent years, it’s worth taking another look at how your tax dollars are collected and spent.

In the coming months, thanks to a MacArthur Foundation grant, Patchwork Nation – in collaboration with APM’s Public Insight Network of news sources and the Wilson Center – will be digging into the data generated by people playing Budget Hero to report on how people make difficult choices over balancing short-term needs and long-term debt concerns.

Patchwork Nation has noted repeatedly that there are big differences in the economies and politics of the counties where we live — and has divided them into 12 types. Patchwork Nation is using that data to explore questions like: How different are the spending priorities of the wealthy Monied Burbs and the struggling, rural Service Worker Centers? How much do people in agricultural Tractor Country counties want to lean on spending cuts as opposed to tax increases? And how do the different backgrounds and socio-economic realities of the various communities lead them to different “decision trees” as they balance their priorities.

What you can do:

Go play! See if you can become a Budget Hero, and make sure to sign up for the Public Insight Network, so that Patchwork Nation and other news organizations can understand the personal experiences that shape your views on government spending, but also issues like voter rights, immigration, and economic mobility. That way, we can better report on news stories that matter to you.


Dave Gustafson Reporter
Public Insight Network
Dave Gustafson is a Public Insight Network reporter -- and the first-ever reporter hired to do journalism out of gamification. He embedded with Patchwork Nation, a project of the Jefferson Institute, to report around the Budget Hero game in June. Born in an Industrial Metropolis, he grew up in Service Worker Center and Campus and Careers community types. He now lives in a Monied Burb near Washington, D.C. Most recently, Dave was acting managing editor for digital news at the PBS NewsHour.