Budget Heroes of 2014 – Who are you? Do you really want to know?

Michael Caputo
Engagement Manager - Public Insight Network
American Public Media

Thousands of Budget Heroes have completed about 35,400 games during the first two months of 2014.

Maybe you’re one of them. We at American Public Media have a few hints about who these heroes are.

Budget Hero envelopeWhile most play the game anonymously, about 350 players were willing to share who they are, the policy cards they played and the badges they earned (badges represent players priorities while managing the budget).

Most players were on the younger side:

  • 206 said they were born between 1990 and 2000.
  • 44 between 1980 and 1989.
  • 32 between 1970 and 1979 .
  • 30 between 1960 and 1969.
  • 21 before 1960.
  • 15 didn’t answer that question.

Of those who answered the question on gender, 193 reported they were men and 154 said they were women. The heroes came from 39 states and the regional breakdown looked like this:

  • 123 players were from the Eastern states.
  • 83 from the West.
  • 75 were from the Northwest.
  • 56 from the South.
  • 2 from Hawaii.
  • 9 didn’t answer that question.

When it came to game itself, the most popular Budget Hero badges for these players were:

  • The “Efficient Government” badge, where a player works to trim the fat of the budget (55 badges were awarded).
  • The “Green” badge, going to those who want to protect the environment (36 badges were given out).
  • The “Safety Net” badge, for those interested in helping people in need (30 badges were awarded).

The top budget cards played by this group focused on spending for seniors and defense:

  • Increase Social Security taxes for the wealthy (played 224 times)
  • Rapidly cut war-related spending (played 220 times)
  • Increase drug costs for wealthier seniors (213 times)
  • Limit malpractice torts (206 times)
  • Raise the Social Security age (203 times)

William Shepard played four of those five cards. A class at Troy University in Alabama introduced him to Budget Hero and Shepard told us in January that the game changed his thinking about the federal budget. A lot.

Troy University Professor Patricia Dunning

Troy University Associate Professor Pamela Dunning

“It was impossible to make an attempt to balance the budget, without deep cuts,” he wrote. He chose, in fact, to reduce discretionary spending by 10 percent, cut foreign aid and federal housing assistance among other cuts.

This lesson of budget give-and-take is why Troy University associate professor, Pamela Dunning, uses the game in her online Governmental Budgeting and Financial Management class. She offers the course as part of the school’s Masters of Public Administration program.

Dunning requires students to meet specific budget goals in the game and file a report on the cards they’ve played and badges they’ve earned.  She said the game leaves students “enthralled and appalled.”

“Enthralled because it’s easy to play, easy to understand and gives them a lot of information,” she said.  ”Appalled because many of them don’t understand how intricate and difficult budget policy can be.”

Before becoming a professor, Dunning worked as a federal budget analyst with the U.S. Air Force at the Pentagon. She’s not interested in using Budget Hero to turn students into junior budget analysts but to “make them good consumers of budget information.”

Dunning said she gets a good idea of why students made their policy choices after reading their reports and engaging them in online conversations. She’ll get to know a new crop of students through Budget Hero when her next online class starts on March 17th.

So how about you? Do you use Budget Hero as a teaching tool or are you a student that has played the game? Tell us more about who you are by clicking here. Would you like to try the game? Then jump in here.

Michael Caputo Engagement Manager - Public Insight Network
American Public Media
A belief that journalism could better connect with those who need the information led Mike to the Public Insight Network in 2006. He served as a PIN journalist for the Minnesota Public Radio newsroom, then he coached and counseled newsrooms around the country on the PIN tools and the PIN approach.

Now as engagement manager, he focuses on the sources in PIN by designing strategies to grow the network, directing engagement with sources and assessing the source experience. He specializes in planning and convening forums that serve journalism, from roundtable discussions to events that can fill a hall.