How does civil society use budget information?

AGORA moderator's picture

In recent years, access to fiscal and budget information has been the focus of increasing international attention. Governments around the world are slowly opening up their budgets to public scrutiny by making increasing amounts of fiscal data available, often through the use of dedicated web portals. This increase in the supply, however, is often not matched by the adequate demand and use of budget information required to bring about some of its intended benefits, such as increased citizen engagement, improved oversight, and enhanced accountability. Similarly, civil society groups often complain that the information that governments do make available is not detailed or useful enough. In order to shed more light on this mismatch it is necessary to better understand how civil society organizations (CSOs) use budget information that is available, what additional information they may need, and for what purpose.

The study 'How does Civil Society use Budget Information' by the International Budget Partnership stems from a pioneer research project undertaken to accelerate learning and experimentation within the “demand side” of fiscal transparency. It brings together the findings from a global survey of civil society groups that use budget information for analysis and advocacy activities. It aims to arrive at a better understanding of how CSOs use budget information, the challenges that they face when accessing it, and the improvements they would like to see in the way governments disseminate it.

 

The paper concludes that there is great demand from civil society for better organized budget data, and great opportunities for governments to stimulate more meaningful uptake of such data through a series of interventions, some of which are relatively simple. It identifies high-value areas that should be prioritized to maximize the effective use of available budget information. This includes the need for governments to improve the level of detail of the budget information that they publish — for example by releasing more local-level and sector-specific, facility-level information, and information on investment projects — but also to review disclosure practices in terms of data formats, the quality of online portals/websites, and the ability of cross-referencing different types of data.

Government capacity and willingness to respond to these demands will inevitably vary across countries, depending on a range of political and technical factors. We hope that the findings from this project will contribute to promoting useful country-level debates, and inspire further research and a stronger focus by the development community into data and capacity needs of civil society when it comes to demand for accessibility and use of fiscal information. Such knowledge would not only help governments to better target their fiscal transparency efforts, but also inform future efforts to establish better enabling
environments for more effective public participation in the budget process.

Cross posted from International Budget Partnership: http://www.internationalbudget.org/wp-content/uploads/ibp-paper-how-civi...