Work at the national level
Work at the national level mirrors work at the local, although the focus is inevitably on influencing, monitoring and analysing the national budget. As the different aspects of engaging with the budget have been covered extensively in the local level section, this section focuses on some of the specific issues you might face in engaging with the national budget, as well as expanding on how you can analyse and produce statistics.
Budget analysis, tracking and influencing
National Budget documents are notoriously difficult to understand. The documents are often over 100 pages, full of numbers, symbols, cross-referencing and jargon.
Just knowing where to start can be a complicated process.
An important first step is to decide whether you have the skills in your organisation, or whether to partner with another organisation or hire a consultant. In many countries there are academic or research organisations which specialise in budget analysis and it may be more effective to partner with these organisations rather than develop expertise in-house. Even if you decide to link with budget experts to do the analysis work it is still important that you understand key budgeting processes and terminology, so that you feel confident to discuss budget analysis produced by others, and are able to use the analysis in your advocacy and influencing work.
Budget analysis can be broad-ranging or narrow in focus. It might include:
Looking across the whole budget at top-line expenditure per sector (comparing for example, education and health or defence spending);
Looking at the detail within a particular sector (how does expenditure on primary education compare to expenditure on secondary or tertiary?);
Tracking year-on-year changes to the budget (what is the relative priority given to education this year compared to last year?);
Looking at particular groups (what will be the impact of a particular budget head on girls’ education?
Decisions regarding the focus of your budget analysis will depend on a number of factors, such as the aim and time-scale of your work, your relationship with government and your access to information. Budget analysis can be used to influence budget formulation processes, to publicise the budget itself, or to evaluate budget impact.
Acting on budget analysis: In using the results of budget analysis or budget tracking work it is important to be clear about who are the powerful groups or individuals that influence a budget. Power is a relative concept, and someone might be powerful in one situation, but powerless (or at least feel unable to use their power) in another. As well as understanding who the powerful people are, it is important to reflect on what gives them power – as this will influence how you approach your budget advocacy work. For example, the government may be able to prioritise spending between the sectors, but may not believe they have the power to increase social spending (see the role of the IMF, page 123), therefore you may focus on pressurising them to allocate differently between sectors, and working with them on why and how they might renegotiate certain macro-economic policies with the IMF. Alternatively, the media has the power to raise public awareness on budgeting issues, which indirectly puts pressure on the government to act. You may find it useful to share your budget analysis findings with the media, in the form of a press briefing, or high profile event to encourage them to cover your key points.