Governments translate their policy goals into action through the budget, therefore, engaging in budget analysis and advocacy is one of the most effective ways for civil society organizations (CSOs) to influence decisions about public policies and programs. CSOs seeking to address social and economic development issues, such as poverty, human rights, health, and education, may find that incorporating efforts to influence public budgets into their advocacy would be an effective tool in achieving their objective.
Step One: The Scope of the Problem
The first step is to develop a clear picture of the scope and characteristics of the problem at hand. For example, if your organization is working to reduce the rates of HIV/AIDS infection, you would want to know what the current level of infection is, how it has changed over time, whether some groups of people are more vulnerable to infection than others, and whether there have been any successful efforts to curb infection rates.
Step Two: Budget Implications of the Problem
Next, your organization would need to gauge the extent to which your issue is affected by the government’s budget, in order to determine whether engaging in the budget process would be a useful approach. For instance, you may want to consider answers to questions like:
- Does the national or local government provide programs or services that help to address your issue?
- Does the budget allocate sufficient funds to address the problem?
- Does the budget distribute allocations among programs and services appropriately?
- Are the funds allocated to address the issue actually reaching the intended beneficiaries?
Step 3: Developing Evidence
If a CSO determines that there is a key budget dimension to its issue, it must begin to generate key evidence. The evidence that it will gather serves two distinct purposes. One is to help identify the advocacy objective it will seek to champion, i.e., the specific budget policy or process change it would like to achieve. The second purpose is to use the evidence to develop the argument and the advocacy case that the group will use with policymakers, the media, and others as it seeks to advance the objective.
To determine what kinds of evidence you need to develop and strengthen your proposal, consider questions like these:
- What decisions are made at different stages of the budget process, and who makes those decisions? The evidence that you need will be very specific to the actors you need to influence.
- For example, if your effort is focused on funding programs to reduce HIV/AIDS infection rates, you need to know at which point in the budget and policy process expenditure decisions are made, and who makes them. If you need to convince the members of a legislative health budget committee, you might need to generate evidence showing whether the level of funding for HIV/AIDS prevention has declined, and what impact that decline in funding has had on infection rates. For budget-conscious policymakers an additional compelling point might be about how increased infection rates cost the government in terms of treating new HIV/AIDS patients. Alternatively, you might conclude that the real problem lies not only in budget allocation but in budget execution. You may discover that a significant share of the money for prevention education is being siphoned off by officials as those funds are transferred from the national level to the local. In this case, the evidence that might be most valuable would be data to convince national auditors (also known as the National Audit Office or the Auditor General) to conduct an audit, or to convince officials in the executive to address breakdowns in fund transfers.
- What are the limits and constraints of the budget decision-making process? If you are going to be advocating changes in public budgets, it is important to take note of the internal constraints that govern public budgets. Government budgets are not reinvented every year. They are based on ongoing commitments and allocations that are often nonnegotiable. Because budget policy is always about trade-offs, knowing more about those trade-offs is also a key part of evidence gathering. It is essential to consider where the money will come from to address the problem you want to have an impact on. As part of your advocacy strategy, you will have to develop recommendations about what trade-offs could be made, and the advantages that would come with making them.
To be certain, the budget trade-offs you may end up supporting are not likely to come without political opposition. Who would stand to lose as a result of the changes in allocations? Who may be opposed to your advocacy position for political reasons, or budget concerns. This will help you devise strategies and messages to address their concerns and strengthen your chances of success. All of these are important considerations and questions as budget advocates consider what kind of information and evidence will be important to laying the groundwork for their advocacy strategy.
What makes budgets rigid?
- Many budgets include a large component of salaries, which cannot readily be reduced without making far-reaching decisions regarding peoples’ jobs.
- Many budgets are geared to fund the implementation of existing contracts, which are difficult to change.
- Where budgets include considerable funds dedicated to pensions, social security, and other entitlement payments, there is little leeway to reduce or alter allocations.