Civic Activism - Budget Tools

Civic Activism - Budget Tools

01 September 2015

The Civic Activism awards have been made and the eight groups will be using a variety of civic activism tools, developed from a wide range of sources and tried and tested in various situations. 

We'll be looking at these in a series of blogs and first up it is Budget Tools. 

Public budgeting is one of the most important and contentious, and yet least understood, processes in government at all levels. It’s rare that the public feels they have a say in the process.

So enabling and supporting citizens in understanding and influencing decisions about the allocation of public money is absolutely crucial.

To that end, Involve, the open government advocacy group, has put together a 4-piece toolkit.

Alternative Budget initiatives involve a range of organisations – usually a coalition of civil society groups, working with specialist researchers – coming together to analyse an existing budget. The budget is examined through a particular area of focus, for example education or environment, and an alternative is drafted, with fully costed proposals, and shared with the public and media.

Community-led procurement (CLP) enables local communities to participate in the purchase of goods and services  - normally only the purview of the authorities themselves.

A three-part process (preparation, capacity and structure building and procurement), it is thought to better enable public understanding of procurement systems. More information can be found on CLP’s here.

Participatory Budgeting was first developed in Brazil in the late 1980’s, and now occurs all over the world, mostly at local levels (i.e. city, county, state.)

While there are a range of methods, they tend to involve regular meetings and debates, activities that follow the budgeting cycle, and mobilization of networks to train and inform citizens about the process.

Participatory budgeting might involve the development of a list of spending ideas, followed by related proposals and a vote. Most recently, the tool was used by the Surrey County Council in 2014 in a £1 million public transportation project. Read more here.

Social Audit is the systematic evaluation of how public services are being carried out, using public records and feedback.

The aim is to make services more reflective of social, environmental and community objectives. The audits are a good way to increase community participation, strengthen links with government, and service providers and increase transparency and accountability.

They range in size and scope, from the local to the national, and tend to focus in particular on traditionally marginalized groups as stakeholders in the process.

They are often carried out in conjunction with an intermediary group, such as an NGO. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation has a training module on the process as it was used in India.

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