Accountability through outcomes budget

Accountability Initiative (AI), in its blog raises concerns over the no-show that India’s outcome budgets have been for the last five years. This is yet another instance where the gap between promise and performance refuses to be bridged. In the first place, I do find it surprising. India has seen vigorous civil society action in the last few years – whether for the enforcement of newly enacted legislation such as the NREGA and RTI, or in bringing justice to crime victims languishing in the courts. Our then Finance Minister, P Chidambaram launched the concept of the outcomes budget and as the AI blog points out, the launch was marked by impressive intent.

Tracking outcomes is a challenge even for the best of organisations with the most sophisticated M&E systems. Even for corporates, the moment the reporting requirements go beyond profit margins and EPS to the so-called double/triple bottom-lines, facts and figures become vague. NGOs also mostly report on coverage (whether infrastructure or trainings) and say little about impact and when they do, the analysis is weak and anecdotal. To be fair, reporting on outcomes is difficult (agreeing on standards, methods of measurement), sometimes impractical (expecting outcomes in a year is often unrealistic) and in general, requires substantial additional capacity and resources.

It is probably not surprising therefore that even though the outcome budget was unveiled five years ago, there has there been little civil society action in getting it implemented, at least not in the manner as seen in the case of NREGA/RTI. A few RTI petitions would be a good way to start…


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