The chief playing field for budget advocacy is at the national and subnational level. However, advocates can’t even get in the game if they don’t have access to basic information, and in many countries that access to information is either minimal, nonexistent, or even dangerous. In many countries, civil society organizations (CSOs) have found that a strategic way to open up the budget process and gain access to budget information is to join international advocacy efforts to establish standards or norms of good practice and leverage external pressure for governments to improve.
Governments do not operate in isolation from their neighbors or the rest of the world, particularly in countries that rely on aid. Most governments, in a competition for international assistance and global goodwill, desire to be seen by investors and donors as stable and well-functioning. Pressure from donors to demonstrate good governance and adherence to international standards and norms are all powerful motivators for governments. Therefore, engaging in advocacy efforts (through coalitions, alliances, networks, or platforms) to change international standards around a common issue can be an effective way for CSOs to change the policy environments in which they work.
To reframe international and domestic debates in order to establish new norms, standards, or conventions around transparent and participatory public budgeting, advocacy at the regional or global level requires tools and processes for sharing and producing information, reaching consensus on positions and strategies, and taking coordinated action. In some, if not most, cases, one organization is the initial driver of an international initiative, but to have a broad and sustainable impact, leadership and decision making quickly must be shared among the participating groups. However, for an initiative to function well, it is helpful to have a body that is responsible for coordinating information exchange, initiative processes, and communications.
In addition to setting up a secretariat or identifying one or several of the participating groups to serve as the coordinator for the initiative, useful tools and processes can include:
- Websites, newsletters, blogs, and listservs
- Online forums or platforms for real time communication and joint work
- Decision-making processes and bodies
- Mechanisms or structures for producing and disseminating initiative reports, communiqués, media releases, etc.
Examples of Budget Advocacy at the International Level
The International Budget Partnership’s Open Budget Initiative (Initiative) is a global research and advocacy effort aimed at strengthening national and subnational budget processes, practices, and institutions to make them more transparent, participatory, and accountable. Another primary objective of the Initiative is to promote and monitor international good practice with an eye to establishing a set of norms or standards for transparent and participatory public budgeting. Nearly 100 CSOs in as many countries around the world participate in the Initiative by:
- Completing the Open Budget Survey—this involves researching the types of budget information their governments make available to the public throughout the budget process, as well as the strength and independence of key oversight bodies (legislature and supreme audit institutions)
- Disseminating the findings of the Survey in their individual countries and in their regions
- Engaging in advocacy to make their government budget processes, practices, and institutions more open and participatory and to increase the capacity and willingness of the public to participate in budget processes
- Conducting research on public budgeting at the subnational level
The work of the Initiative is coordinated by the IBP, which oversees the Open Budget Survey and all other research efforts, maintains online forums for partners to communicate about their research and advocacy, conducts trainings and capacity-building workshops, provides materials and technical assistance for advocacy and dissemination efforts at the regional, national, and subnational level, and coordinates media outreach at the international level.
Publish What You Pay (PWYP) is a global civil society coalition that helps citizens of resource-rich developing countries hold their governments accountable for the management of revenues from the oil, gas, and mining industries. Around the world, PWYP members have mobilized to monitor and research their countries’ extractive regimes and budget processes and reach out to governments, companies, and international financial institutions (IFIs) to advocate for greater revenue and expenditure transparency. In addition to developing and promoting standards for transparency in resource-rich countries, PWYP members have access to or help to provide capacity building around the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative processes, contracting and taxation regimes, auditing and accounting processes, IFI lending and disclosure policies, as well as a wide range of other issues, including more recently, expenditure-side work to track revenues from government coffers to point of destination. PWYP maintains a listserv and website with a resource center to keep members and other stakeholders up to date on what is happening with transparency and extractive industries globally.