Budget advocacy in action: New stories from Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa

What is the value of budget advocacy work at the global and national levels to ordinary people in marginalized communities? Does it matter that their government publicly and consistently discloses budget information? How can ordinary people make sense of and/or use information in a highly technical document like a government budget to improve their living conditions?

Aftermath of a 2017 earthquake in Jojutla, Mexico. Photo by International Budget Partnership.

Following two decades (and counting) of sustained advocacy led by the International Budget Partnership (IBP), public disclosure of government budget information is now a norm in most countries. To date, 115 countries produce and disseminate budget information to the public annually, following international best practice. However, this information remains highly technical and inaccessible to most people, especially minority and marginalized communities. Ultimately, what matters is whether and how efforts to increase budget transparency affect the lives of ordinary people. To translate these efforts into something more meaningful and relevant to ordinary people, the IBP works closely with local civil society partners and citizen groups with deep connections and experience mobilizing people in deprived and marginalized communities, complementing their efforts with relevant budget information that enables people in these communities to engage their governments and demand services. In several countries, the IBP and their local partners draw on publicly available budget information, break it down into formats that is meaningful to communities, and identify governance and implementation gaps that underlie poor service delivery using social audits. Through this process, the IBP and their partners are able to activate citizen action, leading to increased government responsiveness and improvements in public service delivery.

Unpacking the complexity of the budget process and communicating the impact of the global budget advocacy work on service delivery and the lives of ordinary people in a way that is accessible to the general public has been a major challenge for the IBP until now. The IBP has just launched this storytelling platform to do just that: communicate the work of the budget advocacy movement in language that is accessible, meaningful, and relatable. In this first iteration, stories from Beatrice, a single mother in Lindelani, an informal settlement in South Africa; Carlos, a City Council member in Jojutla City, Morelos State, Mexico; and Wulan, a community mobilizer from Indonesia all shed light on how the global budget advocacy work translates into local action and concrete services for people in marginalized communities.

From Beatrice’s story: Planact members gather to strategize about a social audit. Photo by International Budget Partnership.

A major takeaway for me from these stories is that to effectively mobilize and sustain citizen action, one must work on issues that affect people’s daily lives. Also, citizen action is not necessarily collective action; Beatrice’s story reinforces what is common knowledge: that sometimes it takes just one determined individual to effect change. The IBP will be sharing more stories like these on this platform for public consumption and I encourage you to visit the site often for updates. You may just get inspiration for your own work and storytelling.

Also see IBP and their partners’ visioning of the future of fiscal transparency here. I intend to highlight the work of more grantees on this platform in the course of the year.

Joseph Asunka is a Program Officer on the TPA team and leads on our fiscal governance substrategy. You can find him on Twitter @JoeAsunka.

Updates from the Hewlett Foundation’s transparency, participation and accountability team. Part of our Gender Equity & Governance Program https://hewlett.org/