Civil society organizations (CSOs) generally do not participate in government budget processes as an end in itself; they do so to have an impact on an issue that concerns them. Advocacy that seeks to influence the policies, practices, and institutions of public budgets is an incredibly powerful tool to affect social change. Many social and development issues, such as poverty, human rights, health care, and education, are directly affected by decisions about how to raise and spend public funds.
“Broaden your constituency. Think laterally about tracks on which to work, push the debate, and expand what is possible.”
Initially, civil society engagement in budgeting was concentrated in think tanks and research institutions and focused on analyzing budget data and using it to inform budget debates. Recent trends reflect the fact that budget analysis itself does not automatically lead to social and political change; the results of this analysis must be used strategically to have an impact on the challenges a country and its people face. Budget analysis and advocacy is being adopted by more and more issue-focused, community-based organizations and movements, as they see its ability to strengthen their advocacy.
Given this shift, coalitions or alliances between traditional “budget groups” (that have strong analytical and public finance skills) and community-based organizations (that have substantial advocacy experience) are able to increase the social and political value of budget analysis and advocacy.
An excellent example of the power of joining forces comes from South Africa, where a coalition of CSOs has been central to post-Apartheid efforts to protect vulnerable children through a child support grant. The coalition has helped expand eligibility and achieved a significant increase in the budget for the grant. They’ve been able to double the age range covered, while ensuring that both the monthly amount of the grant and the level of the means test keep up with inflation. The coalition has worked hard to improve access to the grant through energetic information campaigns, some with the government, and has pushed successfully for more flexibility in the required documentation. These efforts have paid off. More than 80 percent of the children who are eligible for the grant are now receiving it, making a real difference in the lives of poor children.
Key Elements of Building and Working within a Powerful Coalition
- Be clear about the advocacy issue and objective (a lack of clarity is a set up for division later)
- Communicate the social relevance and value of your budget-related advocacy
- Look for organizations, communities, and individuals who are affected by the issue
- Look for organizations, communities, and individuals that bring particular skills or strengths, including expertise, a public constituency, political clout, media contacts and experience, etc.
- Plan carefully and set priorities
- Draw on all the coalitions strengths to take advantage of opportunities
- Communicate roles and responsibilities clearly
- Evaluate progress on the way and adapt your strategy as necessary
Resources and Tools for Building Coalitions
- “Alliances and Coalitions” in A New Weave of Power, People & Politics. The Action Guide for Advocacy and Citizen Participation by Lisa VeneKlassen and Valerie Miller. Learn more about the pros and cons of coalitions, the considerations for building advocacy coalitions and alliances, and general approaches for dealing with conflict.
- Building and Maintaining Advocacy Coalitions in The Democracy Owners’ Manual: A Practical Guide to Changing the World by Jim Shultz and explore when coalitions are valuable, how to recruit members, and the elements to make coalitions work.