Teaching public budgeting in the age of austerity using simulations

Public administrators are deeply affected by the global crisis in public finances. As public sector revenues remain weak and demand increases for spending and debt reduction, as well as tax reform, the newest cadre of public administration students must learn how to face the challenge of substantial uncertainty in public finances, regardless of whether they serve at the national, regional, or local level. Simulations offer an effective and powerful tool within a safe classroom environment for teaching students about the process and challenges of public budgeting. This article examines two free web-based simulations that can be quickly incorporated into an introductory public administration course. It further addresses differences in using the simulations as role-thinking or role-playing exercises. Observations from students and the instructor provide insight into the advantages and disadvantages of isolated role-thinking versus collaborative role-playing. The procedures included can be adapted for any online budgeting simulation without requiring the instructor to create a great deal of content on their own.