Leveraging public resources for meaningful improvements in the lives poor and marginalized groups is a huge challenge around the word. We’ve seen progress but also understand the many obstacles. Given that there is no blue print or silver bullet to achieving meaningful change, learning has been central to the International Budget Partnership’s (IBP) approach. This has taken the form of documenting civil society budget campaigns to learn about what factors contribute to success, evaluating our own efforts to determine whether and how they contributed to our stated goals, and engaging in robust internal reflection and debate about how change happens. In 2016, IBP created the Strategy and Learning Team (SALT) to bring together and house our learning efforts and connect them directly to our strategic decision making at organization, program and project levels. SALT shapes overall strategy and learning frameworks, commissions external evaluations, facilitates strategic reflection, and brings in the latest thinking from the field.
Rigorous monitoring, evaluation and learning is incorporated across IBP’s work so that we generate meaningful evidence and insights that can shape our efforts as well as our broader understanding of these complex challenges. This starts with clear theories of change and measurable outcomes. As we navigate processes of change related to more open and equitable budgets, IBP staff and partners engage in regular reflection, as well as a robust evaluation and learning approach that bring additional insights about the work on the ground. Where possible, we seek to document our learning and share lessons with the broader field.
These learning efforts are grounded in a set of questions about how change happens for fiscal governance. These questions are based on the experiences of IBP and our partners over many years and across a diversity of contexts. The questions are also based on our understanding of the complex and context-dependent nature of leveraging budgets to improve the lives of people living in poverty. Some of these questions include:
- What are the root causes of exclusionary fiscal governance processes and outcomes?
- How do we leverage collective citizen action for democratic and equitable budgets?
- How do we navigate and engage with actors in the state, taking into account the bureaucratic, technical and political incentives and capacities that shape their actions?
- What are ways in which public accountability can be strengthened and oriented towards ensure budget processes and policies deliver meaningful resources to disadvantaged populations?
These questions – and our learning efforts more broadly – are based on an understanding that important work around budgets has been done, often against the odds, but that greater challenges remain. It’s clear that there is power in opening up budget processes, but in many ways the field has addressed the low hanging fruit in the areas of transparency, participation and accountability. Across the open governance sector, organizations are increasingly searching for new thinking that will help them leverage openness to achieve tangible impacts for the poor and excluded.
This reaffirms the essentially political nature of the challenges faced by the budget movement. The root causes of poverty are that powerful interests have built social, political and economic structures that concentrate wealth and privilege and exclude the poor and other marginalized groups. Opening up budget processes in a meaningful way so that public resources are spent to address poverty and inequality requires building citizen power and leveraging it through sophisticated strategies and complementary tools.
While we and our partners have learned important lessons, there are still questions that remain unanswered. We must build on our collective experience, while harnessing new thinking about how to address the political obstacles that prevent our work from transforming lives. We acknowledge that the core challenges are complex and contested, but over the coming years, IBP will leverage its leadership in the field to deepen our shared learning and use this to drive even more effective approaches going forward.