Using Budgets for Monitoring

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Budgeting - local and central government issues

I would like to share here a comment made by a participant in our "Building Human Rights Cities" dialogue where the issue of budgeting was also raised as a challenging area for public participation. The comment by Raymond highlights the great potential for citizen participation in the budget process at the local level of city government while still drawing attention to the need for both local and national level action, cooperation and accountability. I'm interested to hear people's reactions to these points raised by Raymond.

Budgeting - Local and central government issues Submitted by atuguba

Dear all,

Briefly, the local government in Ghana is to control 7.5% of all national revenue. This is to be distributed to all the 136 districts in the country. Given that about 50% of our revenue is used to service debts, foreign and domestic, this percentage is a huge proportion of what remains for government.

Local engagement with the budget in the cities is crucial. But even more crucial are the following in our experience in the cities:

  1. Ensuring that the correct amount is given to the local government by central government;
  2. That the formula for sharing is done without discrimination and with some 'affirmative action' for districts historically discriminated against or with special human rights problems.
  3. That the center releases the money and on time -sometimes it does not come at all and sometimes its very late;
  4. That the centre funds the process of building the capacities of the local to manage the money instead of setting them up for failure (including giving strict and unreasonable conditions) as an excuse for keeping the money. Etc etc.

In our experience, action at the local level is great, but with weak national institutions, action at the national level is crucial.


Tools to use budgets

Thanks to Warren Krafchik for highlighting some great resources in his comment - Tools to use budgets to monitor human rights I found the document he cited, Dignity Counts: A guide to using budget analysis to advance human rights created by Fundar – Centro de Análisis e Investigación, International Budget Project, and International Human Rights Internship Program (2004) especially helpful in providing the human rights framework for how to use budgets.

For example the resources shares:

In any country, no matter how rich or poor, there are insufficient resources available to meet all existing needs; this is a central assumption of budget analysis.

The power that budgets provide organizations with was shared in this way:

An ability to engage in the budget process can help human rights organizations in several ways, including:

  • Measuring government’s commitment to specific policy areas, and contrasting that commitment to other lower-priority areas;
  • Determining the trends in spending on program areas, to ensure that programs aimed at meeting human rights commitments receive a growing share of the budget over time.
  • Costing out the implications of policy proposals;
  • Analyzing the impact of budgetary choices on people;
  • Assessing the adequacy of budgets relative to international or local conventions and commitments; and
  • Identifying sources of new funding for proposed policies.

This resource document (pages 21 and 22) provided two excellent examples to help organizations analyze and develop their human rights rational regarding:
the Aspect of right --- the government's Obligation to Respect the right --- the government's Obligation to protect the right --- the government's Obligation to fulfill the right. And then identifying concrete aspects regarding the government's Obligation of conduct and its Obligation of result.

I especially like this catchy - "budget-friendly" slogan: Human rights + budget analysis = POWER!

I'm looking forward to learning about more of these great tools that have been developed by organizations using budgets to advance human rights!

Need to include public finance at university level courses

I have felt that the tertiary education in areas such as public health, community medicine, social work and development studies do not teach public finance as part of the course curriculum. Most of the public finance and budget analysis is taught to economics graduates and so people from other streams of development studies are left out and manage to get themselves trained only when they start working in a policy research organisation. Since the last few years some of the newspapers such as Economic Times have initiated budget analysis for MBA students with finance and quantitative backgrounds however these initiatives tend to focus only on interest areas of the corporate sector. There is need for some competition supported by organisations such as New Tactics to get the students of development sector-related areas to conduct budget analysis, say for sectors such as education, health, social services etc.

Developing capacity and understanding of the budget process

Dear Denny,

You raise a critical point - truly every field of study would greatly benefit from building a basic capacity and understanding of the budget process. As a social worker, I can attest that this area of education has been sorely neglected in my own field. Wouldn't it be wonderful if this information was actually taught at the high school level as part of civic and citizen participation!

Knowledge of the stages of the budget process is particularly important for knowing WHEN to take action. For example, if a group is interested to change policy, the best time to advocate for policy change in the budget is during budget formulation. This is the time when information is being collated and prioritized into the budget document.  I found the information provided in the tactical notebook, Using Government Budgets as a Monitoring Tool, very helpful for thinking about the budget process but also made me think of different actions - tactical possibilities - to participate in each stage of the process.

The budgeting process includes the following steps (see page 15 in the tactical notebook):

  • Budget formulation
    • tactics that provide analysis, research and documentation supporting the need for the policy change and allocation of funds would be helpful here
  • Budget enactment
    • tactics that gain allies and support from parliamentarians/legislators to champion the policy and ensure the passage of the budget allocations, and mobilizing the public to influence their representatives would be helpful here
  • Budget execution
    • tactics that create mechanisms for transparency and prevent corruption in public procurements and bidding processes would be helpful here
  • Budget audit and assessment
    • tactics that monitor the actual implementation and effective delivery of the budgets -  like the "social audits" and "scorecard" tactics we've been learning about are helpful here

Do people agree with the kinds of tactics I'm suggesting here for these phases? What other tactics have you been able to use or have learned about from others that have been effective in these different phases of the budget process?

Using video & humor to get your message out

Hello budget practitioners,

We are now in the middle of our 'Tactics that Tickle' dialogue and I wanted to share a great example of how video and humor can be used to educate and mobilize your audience.

The Aids and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA) presents this video begging the question: where is the money for health? We face an epidemic of extravagance, a crisis of priorities with 2 million avoidable deaths from HIV and TB in Sub-Saharan Africa every year. This is a tragedy of deadly inaction.


Challenges, successes, and opportunities

Please consider the following questions to discuss beneath this theme:

  • What new opportunities do you see today regarding NGOs and CBOs using budgets for monitoring human rights? 
  • What opportunities have come to your organization now that you have implemented this tactic? 
  • What challenges still remain?
  • Share your stories of success!
transparency international and budget monitoring


Idasa's Economic Governance Programme and the Affiliated Network for Social Accountability in Africa (ANSA-Africa) has done some work. In Idasa we have done some review work on education budgets in particular. The IBP has recently released a good guide titled, "Reading the books: Governments' budgets and the right to education" that explores monitoring Goverment's commitment to the right to education. There are other work under the Commonwealth Education Fund, which was not from a rights-based perspective but still very informative. The ANSA-Africa network is now engaging with TI Headquarters and their country Chapters in Africa on a future collaboration on our work on broader service delivery monitoring through various tools like budget monitoring. The focus is not rights-based but particularly in addressing the issues of corruption, poverty and broader improvement of governance in service delivery. I will keep you posted on these developments.

Right to education budget work

Just following on from a number of posts addressing education budgets,  the Right to Education Project website also contains valuable information on 'Budgets and Education Financing'. This can be located at:

Topics covered include:

Understanding budgets

Working at the local level

Linking national and local level work

Work at the national level

Understanding international constraints on the national budget 

The use of social audits to collect your own info

Thanks Warren for bringing up the use of community budget work as an opportunity to counter challenges around access to government budgetary information.  For those that aren't familiar with 'social audits' (like me), I wanted to share a definition that I found on the Open Budget Index site:

Social audits - a participatory process in which CSOs and communities evaluate the use of public resources and identify how best to improve outcomes of public programs and policies.  In addition to analyzing financial information, a social audit looks at the quality of community participation in decision making and how well the projects being assessed serve the needs of the local residents.

This definition came from a document on the impact of the MUHURI example in Kenya.  What really stood out to me when I read this example was how MUHURI was able to engage the local MP to participate and even share documents because he was convinced that it would be beneficial to him and his own political campaign.  I think he got a lot more than he expected, but it actually did end up helping his campaign because his constituency felt that he was open with them.

Regarding the collection of information, in this example the social audit team was able to start off with some government budgetary documents and from there the team carried out site visits and interviews.

Where would a group start with a social audit if there were no government budgetary documents to start from?

Thanks for the interesting dialogue everyone - I am learning so much about this tactic!

Bio Series

I totaly agree with Warren since we started collecting information on our own in regard to Budget it has proven very efficiently that there is a miss much between what is done in the board rooms vis a vie going to the community and have a one to one dialoge on this the same matter, since then there has been more and more interst by the community to take part in this. Now what we have done as a tact is in collaboration with the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) we have been conducting quoterly Bio forums were commuity and academicians drawn from variuos sector will be invited to share there aspiration in regard with the projection and priorities of the Government in disbursing funds then through the facts then this are shared with the Ministry.

Its from this cahneel that we evetually get access to information from treasury and also get an oppotunity to meet the key parsonalities within the Ministry and share our thoughts. 

Determining Who is Responsible for What in ESR Budget Decisions

A key issue that we have found in our work in Northern Ireland (and one that will certainly be familiar to people attempting to carry out work in a federal or other multi-level government context) is  that, while we seek to provide research that can be used for advocacy directed at state bodies at the local/regional level, much of the decision-making with regard to ESR-related budgetary allocation is made at a national level.  Not only is the funding of ESR services frequently defined/limited by the resources allocated to the NI political bodies from UK central government, but a number of key ESR-related policy areas and functions do not come within the exclusive authority of the NI political bodies (for instance, the definition of the social security regime). As a result, in formulating recommendations directed at regional state agencies/bodies, we have had to be careful to address the arguments of such bodies that the determination of the level of resources available to them falls outside their control and that their hands are tied by the constraints imposed upon them by Central Government. This has required us to consider carefully the question of  the identification of duty-bearers and the issue of the employment of maximum available resources at different levels within a multi-level government system.

I would be interested in hearing how others have addressed these issues in their work.

Tools to use budgets to monitor huan rights

Civil society oranization around theworld have been working since the early 1990s to develop expertise and impact in monitoring budgets.  There have always been a strong contingent of human rights organizations at the core of this community.   One of the pioneering orgaizations in the field is Fundar in Mexico (  The following case study, produced by Fundar, the International Budget Partnership and the International Human Rights Internship Project profiles an example and methodology of using budgets to monitor the right to Health in Mexico   Recently, this same partnership of organizations, together with UNFAO, released a bookof four case studies and methods focussing on budgets and the Right to Food (  )  




Fundar's work in Mexico... and others

Thank you Warren, for mentioning the case of Fundar in Mexico. (Fellow dialoguers, please note that the web address is Fundar has been working for over almost ten years now in evaluating the compliance of the government with a series of components of the Right to Health through budget analysis, using very diverse tools and methods.  They have worked with partners at the subnational and local level to evaluate maternal health, tracked medicines and expenditures for HIV/AIDS, and analyzed the equitable access to health services for poor communities through the Popular Insurance Scheme, among others.

Last year, together with Sonora Ciudadana, they brought a case to the Supreme Court arguing discrimination in access to health care for public servants, due to pre-existing conditions. The argument of the state of Sonora was that there are not enough financial resources to take care of public servants who have a pre-existing condition, such as diabetes or hypertension. THe Supreme Court ruled against the state. Sonora Ciudadana plans to follow up by taking more cases to the Supreme Court, so as to achieve a general ruling, at the same time of organizing committees of people affected by this discriminatory clause to "follow the money".

Successes and challenges

I want to continue this thread about about stories of success and the challenges that were ovecome in the process.  A couple of years ago, the IBP together with the Institute for DEvelopment Studies at Sussex University undertook 6 case studies of budget-focused groups that had been working for more than 6 years in the area.  Some of these are human rights-based groups, such as Fundar in Mexico, and IBASE in Brazil.  Others had missions related to democratization in South Africa (IDASA) or poverty in Uganda (Uganda Debt Network).  But, I think many of the strategies for successful are applicable and adaptable accross a range of countries and organizations.  So, I am posting here a link here to short and long versions of these case studies.  The point I like to make about these examples is that budget monitoring can be undertaken successfully by a wide range of organizations in diverse countries - there are many tools, so groups can adapt them to thier organization and country context.   At the end of the case study process, we wrote a number of synthesis papers.  This one is written for practitioners in civil society and talks to internal and external strategies for success.  By the way, all these papers are available in multiple languages.


Involving citizens

Different approaches to monitoring budgets have different potential to involve large numbers of citizens.  Those methods that are geared to monitor budget implementation - as opposed to monitoring policies - have the most significant potential for ths.  This is an important opportunity to break the exclusive nature of budgets and budget analysis skills and draws on te power of communities to use thier connections to service delivery.   The following guide produced by the International Budget Partnership provide 12 case studies of organizations and methods to monitor budget implementation, including expenditure tracking, monitoring procurement, citizen report cards and many others.  



Citizen's access to budget information through ICTs

Thank you Warren from raising the point on involving citizens and the need to go beyond simply monitoring to active engagement of citizens in determining budget priorities. In Kenya, Budget information has become an important tool for empowering citizens in enforcing accountability and creating change in Kenya. One of the positive aspects of the 2007 General elections in Kenya was the use of Constituency Development Fund as a means of measuring performance of Parliamentarians. To this end, over 70% of members of parliament lost their seats.

Several civil society organizations such as the National Tax Association have been actively involved in developing citizen’s report cards (that includes images) as a means of providing citizens with evidence based engagement with leaders, especially in the resource allocation. Budget information has often not been accessible due to either lack of capacity of government to provide such information or due to the lack of access to information laws.


An NTA scorecard for one of the constituency in Kenya layered on Google maps by SODNET & Upande

The INFONET Program of SODNET leveraged on existing technology and developed a mesh-up of SMS, Google Maps and Open Street Maps to create a budget tracking and information tool ( (See also tactic number 9).

The tool currently enables citizen’s (Community Based Organizations and Non-Governmental Organizations) access budget information, especially on the Constituency Development Fund.

While SMS has its limitations, citizens have been able to have a basis of accessing budget information for engaging with local leaders. The success of the tool can be summarized as having been able to move individual citizen’s to act and raise questions to members of parliament and Constituency Development Funds committees.

Sample SMS response on education budget  information

In one of the largest slums in Kenya the Kenya Community Development Agenda (KCODA) as one of these groups has been able to use to the Kibera Journal, a newspaper that they public to inform citizens on budgets. In the same area Pamoja FM, a community radio station further provides development content, especially during the local budget process. Such content is not a priority to mainstream media.

Open Street Maps (OSM) partnered with SODNET and KCODA to develop a MAP ( of the slum area as a means of providing demand information to policy makers and service providers, including development partners and United Nations in rethinking their resource allocation strategies. The OSM methodology involves citizens in creating the maps and layering it with information that is of relevant to them. These tools are currently facilitate discussions among local administration, NGOs, Community Based Organizations, entrepreneurs in developing budget priorities for the area.

Location based information provided by SMS or Maps that are then disseminated through the web, community radio and print at the community level are tool that could creatively involve citizen’s in use of budget information as a monitoring tool.

In Asia, we are aware of the Philippines National Social Watch Coalition utilizes alternative budget report as a tool for empowering citizens, academia, civil society and leaders to engage in monitoring of the official budget. Please visit for more information.

tks - you are right. 

tks - you are right.  Bringing development closer to the people through decentralization can improve community empowerment, service delivery, and accountability.  The problem with the Kenya CDFs is that this happens at the expense of the separation of powers.  MPs act as decision-mkaer and overseers of the public purse.   So, how can a government bring community development closer to the community without violating the separation of powers?   MPs should specialize in holding government accountable on behalf of thier constituents, not replacing the functions of government.  Warren

Government best practice: GEObras, MT, Brazil.

I heard about this while in Mozambique. The Tribunal de Contas, Audit Institution of the state of Mato Grosso, in Brazil, has made great strides in making information available to the public.

The site GEObras, making infrastructure project information extremely available, has become a reference in Brazil. (Unfortunately the interface does not exist in English.) But you can get an idea - you can search infrastructure project by status (completed, started, and paralyzed.) Each project has a space for photos, tender documents, and a link to the exact site of the project on Google Maps. There is a form for citizens to denounce irregularities or make queries, and attach files such as photos.

Basically, it appears that the Audit Institution is opening up its own tools to the public, in an attempt to "crowdsource" infrastructure monitoring. On first glance, it is hard to see where citizens have contributed or commented - photos appear to be mostly by civil servants, but it's a good first step. I think it would be important to highlight best practices by governments too!

Hurray for good government practices


Thank you so much for sharing this great example form Brazil. You are absolutely right, it is very important to show examples where government is taking action in the directions that not only inform civil society but encourage their active participation in taking a role in ensuring services.

I'd like to share an example from our New Tactics database that comes from Korea that also provides a great example of using technology for creating better access of information. The city government in Seoul, South Korea, created an online database to increase government transparency allowing city residents to monitor civil applications. Before the development of the Procedures Enhancement for Civil Applications (OPEN) System, applicants for government permits, such as building permits or other licenses, were not able to understand how their application was being processed - allowing corrupt government officials to demand a bribe to move the application forward. OPEN provides details on the status of applications made regarding 70 municipal government tasks identified as most prone to corruption, including housing and construction projects, environmental regulation and urban planning.

These kinds of efforts initiated by government to respond to citizen complaints and needs are certainly worth highlighting and sharing with other government officials to let them know its possible and it WORKS!

Do others have any good examples to share?

Good government transparency practices

Helena mentioned the Open Budget Index - the 2008 results were resleased in February 2009.  Depsite the discmal overall performance of governments around the world, the survey also found that 8 governments had substantially improved thier performance on budget transparency between 2006 and 2008.   And a further 10 govdernment had improived thier performance in minor, but notable ways.  So, increasing national governments - for a variety of reasons - are paying greater attention to budget transparency performance.  Improving countries include Kenya, Croatia, Sri Lanka, and others starting from a low base, of course, but showing that it is possible to improve in a relatively short period of time.  Moreover, there are governments that score well within every region and the world and income group.  There are good performers out there and we should learn carefully about the causes and consequences of thier improvements in the field.  And keep the pressure on those that refuse to improve!   Warren  

Holding up good government practices for incentives

Warren and Helena,

Yes, the Open Budget Initiative and the Open Budget Survey Report 2008 results is a great way for organizations to think about how they might influence their government's budget, spending allotments and transparency. I especially liked the interactive world map for the countries that were rated. What a great educational tool for all ages!

- nancy

Canadian experiment

Thanks Krsitin for mentioning the Canadian experiment on pushing the government to announce its draft documents.I wonder is the Canadian governement , which is such a democratic estalishment, would arrest tens of citizens for showing interest in knowing what is going on in their country, my question how would it look like in other largely less democratic spots? Would such countries ruling bodies  jail and torture their citizens for such an act?

Canadian experiment

sorry to be coming into this discussion so late in the game.  Regarding the Canadian example, even with full disclosure at the federal (central) level, the information obtained would not be particularly useful in monitoring ESCR.  The reason is that health care and education for example, are governed separately by each of the 10 provinces.  While the federal government transfers funds to the provinces annually, each province will have its own budget and its own social policy.  The degree of transparency also differs from province to province.  To complicate matters even more, provincial authorities commonly argue that the federal government is the only one with obligations under the ICESR.  Therefore even we had all the information we wanted about provincial budgets, it might not facilitate a human rights analysis.

There are other similar complications related to revenue.  Budget work should also require us to study government decisions around generating revenue but certain income opportunities (for example tariffs) are regulated under federal authority.


I am a student at the University of Minnesota and in one of my classes, we are developing a project to address the widespread corruption in Zimbabwe. The idea of distributing an analysis of the government's budget in a form that is more citizen-friendly, as proposed over the course of this thread, is an innovative way of informing people as to the use of public funds and forcing the government to be accountable. However, because there is so much corruption, I wonder what mechanisms are in place to ensure the budget released by the government is accurate? The social audits discussed earlier may be an option, but what resources do citizens have to effectively implement that process? Also, regarding the Canadian example, if a developed country is willing to respond to a protest for information by mass arrests, would the Zimbabwean government respond to an initiative like that described above with even greater violence?


Hello Zaynab: I've been reading all the comments and discussion, albeit a bit late. FYI, I was a featured practitioner in a previous dialogue on "Training for Nonviolent Action." 

The following comments are presented generally as food for thought. You raise an important question and in order to address it, perhaps it would be helpful to re-phrase it a bit. Is your underlying question: What can people do, who have grievances such as corruption or are living under oppression, when their government doesn't hesitate to use repression, including violence, to quell protests, for information or for other demands? This question goes to the heart of the nature of power. There are different forms of power. People do have power and they can make their voices heard, even under harsh conditions. Civic power (also called "people power") comes from significant numbers of people organized together around common grievances, demands and objectives. This power can be expressed through nonviolent civic action, which entails the use of nonviolent strategies and tactics. Nonviolent tactics are the methods of nonviolent civic action. Protests are one kind of nonviolent tactic. Tactics aren’t inherently effective or ineffective, or low risk versus medium versus high risk. It depends on the context. See: (tactical choice) and (dealing with repression).

In other anti-corruption campaigns and movements, when a civic group knew that protests would be met by repression, they created other low-risk actions to exert civic pressure. For example, in 1997, the "One Minute of Darkness for Constant Light" campaign in Turkey mobilized approximately 30 million people in low-risk mass actions, turning off lights for one minute at the same time every night. See: When the MKSS movement in India got no response to serious hunger strikes over demands for information, they strategized and developed new, creative nonviolent tactics that proved to put pressure on the authorities. See:

Scholars have identified over 200 nonviolent tactics, and most campaigns and movements create new ones. They include varieties of civil disobedience, noncooperation, petitions, vigils, strikes, boycotts, monitoring of authorities and spending (highlighted in this month's dialogue), social networking technologies, blogging, coordinated low-risk mass actions, displays of symbols, creation of independent institutions, social/economic empowerment initiatives, street theatre, songs, humor.

Civic power is wielded through the sustained, strategic application of a variety of these and many other nonviolent tactics that are designed to:

  • Strengthen citizen participation and campaign capacity;
  • Disrupt the status quo within systems of corruption;
  • Weaken the sources of support and control for unaccountable and corrupt powerholders; entities, systems, and their enablers; and/or
  • Win people over to the civic campaign or movement.

While it may seem paradoxical at first, if one looks back over the past 110 years, it's often the case that people living under difficult situations are the most effective in mobilizing and harnessing civic power, and in using nonviolent tactics to win rights and justice and fight oppression. There are lots of educational resources on this topic (including on this site) and if you are interested, let me know.


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