Budget accountability and participation (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 973)

This report examines the evidence base on budget transparency, accountability and civil society participation



  1. Is there evidence that the following factors lead to improved budget accountability and participation: (a) transparent budgets and budget processes; (b) civil society organisations (CSOs) engaged in budget accountability activities; and (c) the international policy community actively promoting budget transparency, accountability and participation?

  2. Is there evidence that improved government budget accountability and participation leads to more efficient, effective and equitable budgets?

Key findings

Experts agree that the evidence base on budget transparency, accountability and participation is limited and underdeveloped. However there are a growing number of case studies and meta-analyses covering a wide geographic scope and diverse contexts, with a variety of methods and gender sensitivity.

Key findings from the evidence include the following:

  • There are examples of significant success thanks to budget transparency, but positive impacts remain far from systematic or definitive. Four main factors contribute to improvements in transparency, accountability and participation: processes of political transition; fiscal and economic crises; cases of corruption; external influences (Khagram et al, 2013).
  • Evidence on civil society budget work is growing; case studies show how CSO budget activities have been able to improve fiscal accountability and participation, but experts caution that it is premature to reach universal generalisations.
  • To date there is little systematic evidence tracing the impact of the (relatively new) international policy community’s activities on outcomes. Case studies are starting to record the impact of the International Budget Partnership and the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative on improved transparency, accountability and participation.
  • Evidence on longer-term outcomes is much harder to come by. Some experts caution there is no guarantee that improved accountability and participation will result in more developmental policies. Others highlight that there is a growing body of evidence that supports the relationship between public sector transparency and better economic and social outcomes, proving that the best way to manage funds effectively and equitably is through accountable and participatory budget processes.


Carter, B. Budget accountability and participation (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 973). Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, UK (2013) 29 pp.

Budget accountability and participation (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 973)

Published 1 January 2013