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Protocol Toolkit Item: 5b


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A structured protocol that opens discussion and improves transparency within the group as they examine a challenging topic or concern, such as budgets or finances.


  • Chart paper or whiteboard
  • Sticky notes
  • Budget document


60 Minutes


In preparation for this protocol, the facilitator(s) must create a budget spreadsheet or other financial document that is easy to understand and shows all the budget or financial topic components. The budget document should reflect line items, timelines, and/or scope of work. The budget document must be user-friendly and reflect a complete picture. Chart paper or whiteboard will gather participants’ input. There should be enough sticky notes for each participant to have 5 to 10. A piece of chart paper or a whiteboard area should also be designated as a Parking Lot.  Virtual Implementation
  • An electronic whiteboard or slide can be used for virtual meetings instead of chart paper. Options that work well for this protocol include Jamboard and Padlet, but a Google document or Google slides can also work for this protocol.
  • Important Note: Jamboard does have a limit (currently 50) on the number of people who can access and add to a file. Google has a limit of 100 people, and Padlet currently has no limit to the number of people who can access and edit.
  • Breakout rooms will need to be created for teams. If your group is small (under 10), creating breakout rooms may not be necessary.


Step 1:

Introduce Protocol (3-5 min) Share the following information with participants:
  • This protocol will allow the group to examine and analyze a budget document collaboratively. 
  • Participants will have an opportunity to ask questions about the budget document individually and in teams.
  • Facilitator(s) should distribute the budget document and walk the participants through its setup and structure. This step will ensure all participants can read and understand it. 
  Note: This is not the time for participants to ask questions or comment on the information but rather to orient themselves to reading and understanding the document.

Step 2:

Individual Responses to the Budget Document (10 min)
    • Facilitator(s) asks participants to review the budget document thoroughly for several minutes.
    • Participants should write responses to the following prompt on sticky notes:
  • What stands out to you as you look at the information about the budget?
    • Each sticky note should contain one response only.
  • After 5 minutes, participants should place their sticky notes on a chart paper or whiteboard area titled “What Stands Out.”
  • Facilitator(s) should review and combine the sticky notes into related groups, which will be shared as the emerging themes.

Step 3:

Individual Burning Questions  (3 min)
  • Facilitator(s) ask participants to write one or more questions about the budget and what it is showing. Each question should be written on one sticky note.
  • One question should be the participant’s Burning Question—the one question they most want to hear a response to.
  • Encourage participants not to shy away from challenging questions. Difficult questions with answers that require thought are a gift and improve transparency.
  • Participants should keep their Burning Question sticky note and place all others in the Parking Lot area (chart paper or whiteboard area).
Virtual Implementation
  • Participants will write their other questions on the shared electronic document titled “What Stands Out” (Jamboard, Google Doc or Slide, Padlet, etc.). They will share their Burning Questions with a team in a breakout room in the next step).

Step 4:

Team Burning Questions (15 min) Share the following information with participants:
  • Participants will now be put into teams. 
    • Teams can be randomly created or created by natural groupings. There should be, at most, 8-10 people on each team.
  • In teams, each participant takes turns sharing their ONE Burning Question.
  • After each participant shares their Burning Question, the team should decide which question will become the TEAM’s Burning Question and be shared with the whole group.
  • Individual Burning Questions NOT selected should be placed in the Parking Lot area.

Step 5:

Team Burning Question Responses (20-30 min)
  • Each team will share their Burning Question, and the facilitator(s) will provide as thorough a response as possible before moving on to the next team.
Note: If a facilitator does not know or is unsure of the answer to a particular question, they should not feel compelled to provide one. It is recommended that the facilitator be honest about not knowing or being unsure. Facilitator(s) should ask participants for their patience as they seek accurate answers. This type of response will prevent misinformation or misunderstanding and increase transparency and trust. 
  • All teams should have a turn to ask their Burning Questions.
  • If time permits, the facilitator(s) can begin addressing all other questions placed in the Parking Lot. This can be an added step if it fits into the meeting or session timeframe.

Step 6:

Follow Up Responses to Questions (Post-meeting)
  • Facilitator(s) should collect all questions on the Parking Lot and create a document that lists each question and its response.
  • This document should be shared with all participants via email or at the next meeting where budget input and recommendations are needed.

Resources & Further Reading

Examples of Use

  • While this protocol addressed reviewing a budget or financial information, it can be used with any information. 
  • This protocol can help community members analyze, understand, and provide input into state or LEA accountability plans, such as the LCAP, Community School plans or budgets, or Expanded Learning Opportunity Program plans and budgets.
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