How to decrypt a budget?

Written by
  • lisa
Outdated Content Warning: This content refers to an older version of OpenSpending. See here for information about the next version of OpenSpending and ways to contribute.

If you’ve ever read, or even better tried to explain a budget you’ll be completely aware that budgets are jargon fests.

This would be fine if the budget was just for people who know the lingo, but in the case of a government’s budget, well, that’s really something everyone who votes and pays taxes should have access to.

So how do we make budgets accessible to the public? Well there are lots of examples of journalists, non governmental organisations and governments doing this. One of the masters of the use of innovative budget glossary is the European Union. For instance: What headline would you find appropriate for a programme, which covers €44 bn in direct farm subsidies and a mere € 0.2 bn for conservation annually. Well, “Preservation and Management of Natural Resources” might not be the name you would find the most fitting.

If you want to get started on a budget that is still carrying cryptic headers you might want to consult the extensive World Bank budget glossary. However, merely knowing what the terms mean often doesn’t help understand the bigger picture of how the budget works. For that you have to understand the terminology in context. The World Bank have this covered too with this detailed description of the budgeting process. This is a good starting point for working with budgets.

If you find better or simpler ways to explain and work with budgets and want to let the community of open spending and budgeting enthusiasts know, then please start a discussion thread on the open spending mailing list.