Opening Budgets to Improve Accountability

"If people can’t follow the money, then government isn’t open. If people can follow the money, they can hold governments to account. This can help to ensure that public monies are invested in meeting citizens’ needs, especially the poor, and promoting socially inclusive growth, rather than being wasted and lost to corruption.” Open budgets can benefit the poor but civil society groups, governments, and the media must help. Please join Senior Economist Massimo Mastruzzi of The World Bank, and three other experts, co-founder Maxine Tanya Hamada of INCITEGov, Paolo de Renzio of Open Budget Initiative, IBP, and Anders Pedersen of the Open Knowledge Foundation, in a conversation about Open Budgets and innovative ways to use open budget data for poverty alleviation.
Photo © Copyright The World Bank. All rights reserved.

Following the launch of the World Bank’s Open Budgets Portal on December 17, 2013, we are holding a virtual conversation on the importance of open budgets, the challenges around opening up public budgets, and promoting and sustaining the use of budget data being released to the public. The Portal provides high quality budget data from 13 countries and state governments (with others to be added in the future) and seeks to contribute to the global agenda on fiscal transparency and open data. Several developing countries also recently developed their own open data platforms and initiatives, and the trend of opening up budgets continues.

In contexts where budgets are publicly available, how do we ensure meaningful participation, and scrutiny and use of budget data by state and non-state actors to influence government spending decisions and to improve accountability and service delivery, especially for the poor?

To explore and innovate around the challenges around encouraging and using open budget data we have invited several expert practitioners to kick off our conversation on innovative ways to involve the media, civil society, parliaments, and citizens in using open budget data to improve government accountability and service delivery for the poor.

  • Maxine Tanya Hamada Co-founder of INCITEGov, on civil society creating demand for open data and use of data sets.
  • Senior Research Fellow Paolo de Renzio of Open Budget Initiative, International Budget Partnership (IBP) , on the role of the Open Budget Survey.
  • Community Coordinator Anders Pedersen of The Open Knowledge Foundation, on enabling users to explore government spending transactions from around the world.

We look forward to sharing ideas with others working toward using open budget data to alleviate poverty. Please join our experts in answering questions and brainstorming innovative ways to use open budget data.

Maxine Tanya Hamada, Executive Director , INCITEGov, on civil society creating demand for open data and use of data sets.

The Philippines is the civil society capital of the world. Or so we are perceived to be. We have over 170,000 registered organizations and even more grass roots and community-based groups. The Philippines is also the origin of People Power where citizen power effectively changed national leadership – twice! This dynamic and passionate segment of our population has historically provided the bridge between the state and citizens and will continue to shape citizen engagement with government.

Under the present administration, unprecedented reforms opened up national and local budget processes to citizens and organized civil society. Today, a civilian volunteer organization, the People Power Volunteers for Reform (PPVR) based in the province of Bukidnon in the Southern island of Mindanao, leads in ensuring the completion of community assemblies on the third run of a Bottom-up-Budgeting (BuB) process[1]. In these assemblies, citizens and civil society groups identify, in partnership with local government, poverty-reduction projects. These jointly-identified projects get national agency priority and budgets. The robust organizing and engagement strategies of PPVR and its other partner groups, contributed in a way to the loss in the midterm local elections of executives not supportive of the bottom-up-budgeting process.

PPVR and INCITEGov are only two in a broad coalition of national and local networks and institutions working hard to institutionalize the Bottom-up-Budgeting process beyond changes in country leadership. At the national level, the coalition successfully worked for the formal inclusion of a CSO representative on the national oversight executive committee of the BuB process. The Philippine Government on its part launched, which makes information in over 400 data sets across the bureaucracy publicly available. The relevance and accessibility of this open data will depend on the facilitator and bridge-building role of civil society between government and citizens The challenge is to define how these online and offline streams can and should meet.

As we enter the third run of this bottom-up-budgeting process, it remains to be seen if citizen participation in the Philippines can enter a new era - After Open Data (AoD) coming from Before Open Data (BoD).

[1] The Bottom-up-Budgeting, now called Grassroots Participatory Budgeting Process is a breakthrough innovation of the Philippine government that seeks to imbue national planning and budgeting with citizen and community participation, and the ability to respond to on-the-ground needs.

Paolo de Renzio, Senior Research Fellow, Open Budget InitiativeInternational Budget Partnership (IBP), on the role of the Open Budget Survey in promoting accountability and use of open budget data.

Historically, governments have been reluctant to share information about public finances. When the IBP started working about 15 years ago with civil society groups across the world who were interested in using budget monitoring and advocacy as a tool in their work, it was clear that the single biggest obstacle they faced was access to budget information. This led us to set up the Open Budget Survey, which we carry out every two years to measure and compare levels of budget transparency across 100 countries. The results paint a rather dismal picture, with most governments providing their citizens with very limited budget information, though things have been slowly improving. While the idea that transparency in fiscal matters is important to promote government accountability has gained ground internationally, the linkages that exist between the two are still elusive, and even in countries with good levels of budget transparency, governments have not necessarily become more accountable.

There are two things that we learned over the past few years in this respect:

First, governments need to do more than simply disclose information in order to foster accountability. Budget data needs to be timely, detailed and accurate, but most of all it needs to be understandable, useful and targeted at different user groups. Some governments are taking the lead, publishing machine-readable datasets, disseminating information through multiple means, and publishing so called ‘Citizen Budgets’, summaries of budget documents in simplified language that are accessible to a lay audience. Governments also need to provide opportunities for citizens to engage with the budget process at its various stages, as demonstrated in the case of South Korea.

Second, translating transparency into accountability requires different users of budget information – from civil society to the media, to oversight bodies like parliaments and audit institutions – to communicate and collaborate more, share skills and analyses, build coalitions and develop effective relationships, both among themselves and with the executive. Many of the case studies we collected in recent years point to the fact that only through such synergies can the promise of budget transparency become more than just wishful thinking.

Anders Pedersen, Community Coordinator, OpenSpending, Open Knowledge Foundation, on enabling users to explore government spending transactions from around the world.

At OpenSpending we see technology and open data as an opportunity to widen and strengthen the work to hold governments to account.

One of our key experiences at OpenSpending and Open Knowledge Foundation has been to witness how diverse and broad the constituency interested in budget and spending data actually is. In Nepal the local Open Knowledge foundation community has helped bring together citizens, aid workers and journalists to analyse where the public money goes both in the national budget of Nepal as well as in the city of Kathmandu. By using OpenSpending and other open source tools Open Knowledge Foundation Nepal has enabled the public access to budget data, which used to be inaccessible. But even more importantly they have forged new civic community alliances between communities who used to be divided in their pursuit of financial data.

In Japan more than 100 activists from across the country have visualised more than 50 city budgets ( It is striking to witness that the community includes everyone from activists and academics and city officials and academics.

We have witnessed that technology can help expand the group of stakeholders involved in budget and spending analysis. Some of the most inspiring initiatives to analyse national spending in countries like Belarus and Brazil did not come from budget monitoring organisations, but from citizens with technological skills and specific interests in their own city budgets. We believe that fostering the conversation between such tech-savvy activists and well established budget monitoring civil society organisations can foster better feedback to governments and more accountability.

What interventions are needed to turn Financial Management Information Systems (FMIS) from black boxes into accessible expenditure platforms?