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Census Legacies Toolkit

Policy & Budget Advocacy

Policy and budget advocacy is closely intertwined with community development and public health. Community organizations can employ a strategic approach to influence governments’ budget choices, aimed at achieving clear and specific outcomes—e.g., healthier communities, less poverty, or improved governance.

Most forms of advocacy seek to build the capacity and opportunities for community members to participate effectively in decision-making processes that directly impact their lives, especially those who have limited access to, or are completely shut out of, these processes. Often these marginalized communities are the very same Historically undercounted populations that have been identified by the Census . They are shut out both systematically (i.e., these processes are closed to the public, access is limited to those with power and wealth, or the information needed to participate effectively is not released to the public) and through their experiences (i.e., marginalized communities tend to have negative interactions with officials and power structures).


How is inclusive policy and budget advocacy currently constituted? 

At its most basic level, The community is informed of their rights and responsibilities and officials provide relevant information. Community members are informed about decisions that have already been made.

Beyond this basic level, consultation and  involvement- Community voices are being heard and asked for feedback, but ultimate power is still out of the communities hands. 

At a more advanced level, Community members are empowered to make their decisions. One drawback may be that this level of engagement is rarely reached and requires significant resources to achieve.


Achieving an advanced level of inclusive policy and budget advocacy is difficult with limited resources. Participation of the young and very poor is often highlighted as a problem  in terms of representation. Census tables have  baked in diversity and inclusions , which help to address these representation issues and lift up marginalized voices. 

Bringing these marginalized voices into public budgeting not only empowers individuals, but also results in better, more sustainable decisions and outcomes—by providing more complete information on the public’s needs and priorities, enhancing the legitimacy of and increasing buy-in to budget decisions, and strengthening oversight. 

Important First Steps:

Effective policy and budget advocacy can start with smaller concrete steps, such as increased budget allocations and more solid oversight of how funds are spent, which can build overtime. 

Policy and budget advocacy seeks to intervene in decision-making process in three fundamental ways:

Changing Policy: Based on analysis of the problems involved, advocates champion the creation of new laws, new public programs or activities, or changes to existing laws and programs, etc.

Changing the Decision-making System: Advocates also turn their attention to the decision-making system itself, by demanding transparency and access to information, secure opportunities for public involvement, and more transparent oversight over how public funds and public programs are managed.

Empowering People to Make Change: Effective advocacy also involves empowering the people whose lives are impacted by public decisions to understand the issues involved and to be able to take action on their own behalf –

It is by recognizing and paying attention to each of these three advocacy elements and by integrating them together that community advocacy can have its greatest impact on what governments do and, in turn, on people’s lives.