To conduct budget monitoring and expenditure tracking initiatives, civic groups need to understand the budget cycle and what can be monitored during the four stages. Civic groups should first do an analysis of the political context and existing budget practices to determine what gaps exist, including the amount of information available to citizens. In order for citizen engagement in the budget cycle to be successful, the government must be willing to allow citizens access to budget meetings and publicly share budget documents. If there is not a formal law or policy requiring that budget cycles be transparent, then efforts need to be made to open the processes; otherwise, there will be very little space to gather sufficient information and to effect any concrete changes.

After determining if there is adequate political space to implement a meaningful budget monitoring initiative, civic groups should examine their own capacities. Due to its highly technical and complex nature, it can be challenging to understand the budget cycle, fiscal requirements and standards, budgetary proceedings, and the materials produced.

In order to prepare for effective data collection, civic groups should aim to understand:

  • The different stages of the budget cycle;
  • How citizens can engage in the budget cycle at different stages;
  • How to analyze budgets;
  • Budget advocacy methodologies for specific contexts;
  • How to collect and analyze budget monitoring data for advocacy;
  • How to track specific expenditures;
  • How to collect and analyze expenditure tracking data for advocacy; and
  • Citizen-based public service delivery evaluations.

For budget monitoring initiatives, the methodology and action plan will need to align with the annual budget cycle. For budget monitoring or budget advocacy initiatives, groups need to wait for the beginning of the budget cycle to carry out activities. Similarly, for expenditure tracking, groups would have to wait for the budget execution and oversight stages. Meaningful monitoring of allocations and expenditures requires that the budget itself is transparent and fully published, ideally in a machine-readable form. Along with setting monitoring objectives, groups need to clearly define the audience for monitoring findings and consult the end users during development to make sure that tools are user friendly and accessible.

Data Collection and Analysis Stage

After determining the appropriate point of entry into the budget cycle, groups should then develop the monitoring tools. They can create monitoring forms to collect data while observing budget hearings and obtain budget documents during the budget formulation and approval stages. If the political space allows, groups can monitor both executive and legislative hearings. In some cases, budget documents are disbursed during hearings, while in others, groups must request them from government officials. The key documents that monitoring groups should request are the executive budget proposal, supporting budget reports, documentation of any budget laws, and reports developed by legislative budget committees.

Groups can also collect information on citizen priorities through interviews, questionnaires and public discussions. Using information collected with these tools can determine the extent to which citizen priorities are included in the final budget, and during which stage of the budget cycle priorities are cut.

Groups have also used investment tables to track expenditures on public projects and service delivery throughout the execution process. These simple spreadsheets inventory the objects of your monitoring efforts. The data collected in investment tables will depend on the availability of information, the legal requirements in your country and the goals of your monitoring efforts. Seeking advice from a data scientist or person with experience in your type of monitoring is highly recommended.

Tip: In the case of public tenders for construction projects, an investment table could list the following information as column headings with each tender on its own row:
  • Tender Name or Reference Code
  • Tender due date
  • When did the tendering procedure start?
  • Have the opinions and needs of stakeholders been considered?
  • What was the planned cost in the procurement plan?
  • What was the budgeted cost?
  • What was the contracted cost?
  • What tendering procedure was used? (open, limited or other)
  • Has the online public procurement system been used?
  • Are any tendering criteria discriminatory or eliminating competition?
  • Was there a prior notice on the official government website for the tender?
  • Have the terms of reference been published in the call?
  • Who was the winner of the contract?
  • When was the winner announced?
  • What type of contract was awarded?
  • Was the winning company selected according to the legal conditions?
  • Have there been official complaints?

Online tools can ease the process of data collection, especially when trying to quickly ascertain the shared priorities of a large group of people. More information on practical steps and best practices for online data collection and analysis can be found in the Data Collection chapter of Section II of this guide.

Monitoring Communications Stage

Civic groups can publish regular monitoring reports on their budget monitoring and expenditure tracking analysis, findings and recommendations and then use these reports to conduct follow-on advocacy activities. For example, based on their findings and analysis, some groups have developed proposals for specific changes to the budget or budgetary practices. In some instances, this might look like a “budget platform” that lays out a set of citizen priorities for budget committees to consider while developing a budget. Groups can also use monitoring reports and other communications products to raise citizen awareness of the budget process and discrepancies in expenditures and to encourage government officials to make budgetary information more open and accessible for citizens. Because of the complexity of the budget cycle and documents, it is important to present the findings and analysis in a concise and easily understandable manner. Some groups often build websites that publish information on budgets and expenditures to show trends in a visual, easy-to-understand manner.

Advocacy tactics to ensure the desired change to budget or budgetary practices is considered include:

  • Proposals or budget platform presentations during budget meetings;
  • Face-to-face meetings with officials;
  • Letter-writing campaigns; and
  • Public forums for local public officials and citizens to discuss budget priorities.

Recommendations for Program Implementers

  • Implement budget monitoring, budget advocacy and expenditure tracking initiatives through longer-term projects of at least 18 months. Successful budget monitoring initiatives are planned around the budget cycle and fiscal year of the host government. A longer time frame allows for citizen or CSO engagement throughout the entire budget cycle.
  • Budget monitoring and expenditure tracking is extensive, and groups must have clear goals for monitoring and achievement. That will determine whether to monitor for budget openness or alignment of government priorities with public priorities, or to push for efficiencies in a public project.
  • Civic groups must learn the budget process and spending procedures in their country to monitor the budget and track expenses, particularly for monitoring public procurement, where many laws and regulations can create a large bureaucracy.
  • Civic groups interested in monitoring for budget openness should first refer to various indexes and monitoring tools developed by other organizations around the world, as many of the same practices apply in any context.
  • Issue-based groups should partner with watchdog organizations monitoring the budget process to use their data and methodological experience as the basis for their own issue-focused monitoring.