The Open Budget Survey 2017: Expanding and Improving How Budget Transparency, Participation, and Oversight are Measured

By David Robins, International Budget Partnership— Feb 09, 2017

In late 2016 civil society researchers from 115 countries began the research for the sixth biennial Open Budget Survey (OBS), the world’s leading independent and comparative evaluation of the state of transparency, oversight, and public participation in government budget processes. The kick off of the OBS 2017 research is an exciting milestone  and thus a good opportunity to check in on the survey and take a look at what is to come in the near — and not so near — future.

Credit: Flickr / World Bank

In an effort to continuingly improve the OBS, a number of changes have been made for this round of the survey. Perhaps the most prominent of these changes is the addition of 13 new countries: Australia, Burundi, Canada, Comoros, Cote d’Ivoire, Japan, Lesotho, Madagascar, Moldova, Paraguay, Somalia, South Sudan, and Swaziland. These new additions will further bolster the survey’s coverage across countries of varying size, population, and income levels. The new additions from Africa are largely the direct result of an exciting new partnership with UNICEF, which is supporting the OBS research in seven African countries. IBP is also looking forward to collaborating with UNICEF on broader budget transparency reform initiatives in the region.

Additionally, we have taken the opportunity to reevaluate the field and make adjustments to reflect changes in international good practice. With a growing body of evidence that suggests that transparency alone is not enough, IBP has consulted with civil society partners, international institutions, and governments to revise the survey’s sections on public participation in the budget process and the role and effectiveness of formal oversight institutions. These revisions will improve the OBS 2017 and provide stronger and more precise data that align with the most recent thinking on public participation in and the oversight of the budget process.  For example, OBS indicators of public participation will align with GIFT’s Principles of Public Participation in Fiscal Policy.

Another change for the OBS 2017 is in how the survey determines whether a document is “publicly available. While in previous rounds, documents that were produced by the government in hard copy only, and not made available online, were accepted as being “publicly available,” but beginning in this round, only documents published on a government website will be accepted. This change reflects the growing practice of disseminating budget information via a government website, with 96 percent of publicly available documents in the OBS 2015 being available online.

Over the previous five rounds of the survey, governments, donors, and civil society actors have consistently requested more frequent updates on budget transparency. Unfortunately, the depth and comprehensiveness of the OBS research and review process means that IBP cannot reduce the time between rounds. However, after piloting a process for collecting basic transparency data in a subset of countries, IBP and our civil society partners have expanded this exercise across all OBS 2017 countries and begun providing more frequent updates on whether or not national governments make the eight key budget documents available to the public. Though the OBS Document Availability Tracker does not provide data on the comprehensiveness of the content of budget documents, it does serve as a bellwether for tracking improvements and backsliding in budget transparency. The most recent edition of the OBS Document Availability Tracker covers the state of budget transparency as of 30 April 2016. We expect to publish the next update in the second half of March 2017.

While researchers have already started collecting data and answering the survey questions, the OBS 2017 will only take into account the activities, documents, and events that occurred before 31 December 2016. New developments and documents published after that date will not be included in this round of the survey but may be captured in future releases of the OBS Document Availability Tracker.

Every round, IBP invites the governments of countries surveyed to provide comments on the draft questionnaire completed for their country. This step offers governments the opportunity to comment on the findings and potentially provide additional evidence relevant to the OBS. In the 2015 round of the OBS, just over half of the governments provided comments, and IBP is keen to increase this number for the Open Budget Survey 2017.

IBP has begun reaching out to governments, and the actual review will occur over the next few months. Interested governments can contact the OBS Supervisor, Anjali Garg, at agarg[at]internationalbudget[dot]org.

With the research just wrapping up, and the review process set to begin in early 2017, we estimate that the results of the Open Budget Survey 2017 will be published in about twelve months. Can’t wait that long? Then be sure to check out the findings from the most recent OBS Document Availability Tracker or dive deeper into the results of the Open Budget Survey 2015.

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