3. Strengthening performance-informed budgeting practices in Flanders, Belgium

While efforts have been made to link budgetary decisions more closely with policy objectives and incorporating performance information into budgetary documents, the transition from a traditional input-based approach to a more comprehensive performance-informed framework is an ongoing process in Flanders. As such, the budget process is still largely focused on the resources allocated rather than on the outcomes or impacts of these allocations. Naturally, the budget process will always focus on inputs up to a certain degree. It is, however, important to shift the discussion around the budget towards the impact of expenditure provided and for departments to state what will be delivered.

Making the budget process more outcome-oriented requires not only procedural and operational changes but a cultural shift in how budgeting is approached and understood within the public sector. Such a transformation involves redefining the mindset and practices of those involved in the budget process, emphasising the importance of aligning budget decisions with priorities and measurable results. Performance-informed budgeting entails new responsibilities for all involved stakeholders and thus requires new skills and competencies such as ability to develop and engage with performance information and take on a more strategic approach to budgeting. Creating a performance culture within the public administration, however, requires long-term efforts. As shown in Box ‎3.1, similarly to Flanders, Estonia adopted a gradual approach to introducing performance budgeting and is continuously building on existing practices and refining the framework.

In the last years, efforts have been made to align the broad comprehensive review timeline with the budget calendar. However, in practice, the results of the review were not ready for them to be fully considered in the budget negotiations. Evidence from OECD countries shows that one of the key factors for the successful institutionalisation of spending reviews is to integrate the process with the budget process and the performance management system.

Spending reviews provide valuable information for budgetary decisions, and it is important that decisions on new spending reviews and on the results of ongoing reviews are taken when budget priorities and fiscal outlook are discussed. It is also important to ensure that there is sufficient time to analyse the results of the reviews in time for budget decisions. Spending reviews must fit within the annual budget calendar and the results from spending reviews should be ready before major budgetary decisions take place.

For Flanders, this means that the results of both broad comprehensive reviews and in-depth reviews should be ready by March. For this to happen, the review process should start in May-June of the previous year to allow sufficient time to analyse the policy area and develop actionable and realistic results. It is important to anticipate the workload and ensure all necessary preparatory steps are taken to launch the reviews well in advance. Importantly, smaller in-depth spending reviews can take less time to be completed and several smaller reviews may run in parallel on a rolling basis during the same year.

Currently, the results of broad comprehensive reviews are mostly reflected in the annual budget. However, in many cases, the results of spending reviews can only be realised over the medium term and should be reflected in the medium-term budget planning Box ‎3.2. This medium-term perspective is essential, as most changes to the composition of expenditure and takes time to implement. Longer time horizons increase the range of options governments can consider compared to a review for a single year. Such options can include redesigning the delivery of public services and proposing legislative changes. Including the findings in a multi-annual expenditure framework reflects the proposed implementation of the findings and provides increased transparency and some degree of certainty about future funding paths.

Flanders has a solid medium-term planning framework. The multi-annual estimates are based on the annual budget where the first year is binding, while the out years are estimates. As such, it is important to build on the medium-term planning framework and ensure that findings of reviews are not only reflected in the annual budget, but also over the medium term.

In Flanders, line departments prepare a large number of performance objectives as part of the budget. In certain cases, eight to eleven operational objectives per strategic objective are presented, which has led to an overflow of data. To address this challenge, the OECD advises that the Department of Budget and Finance place a numeric limit on the number of performance objectives and indicators, as shown in Figure ‎3.1. As a rule of thumb, 1-2 strategic objectives per budget programme, with 3-4 operational objectives that are measured by 1-2 performance indicators should be presented. Guidelines on those limits should be included in relevant templates provided to departments.

Developing appropriate performance indicators remains one of the biggest challenges in performance budgeting across OECD countries. While Flanders is in the early stages of developing performance indicators, it is crucial to ensure the connection between performance objectives and indicators from the beginning.

For performance information to be meaningful and usable in decision-making, the structure of performance information is important, where performance objectives are linked to the overall programme structure, and performance indicators measure progress towards achieving performance objectives, as shown in by the French example in Box ‎3.3.

Performance indicators without clear links to performance objectives are ineffective in guiding discussions on performance information. A clear link facilitates the management of programmes, and both internal and external oversight of the extent to which programmes are meeting their objectives. Table ‎3.1 shows practical examples of performance indicators that are clearly linked to the objectives of programmes.

To avoid an overflow of data and ensure the performance information put forth by departments is relevant and useful, the budget office should engage in discussions with line departments during the budget preparation stage on the quality and relevance of the performance information. During this process it is important to discuss the outcome-orientation of performance information, the links between performance objectives and indicators and if performance information is aligned with the priorities of the ministry and the government, as shown in Box ‎3.4. The relevance of indicators is identified by analysing adherence to specific criteria, alignment with governmental strategies, and interpretability of performance indicators, among other factors.

The Department of Finance and Budget should conduct quality assurance of performance information put forth by line departments to ensure quality and consistency across departments. This quality assurance should be conducted as part of the budget preparation to ensure that the information put forth in the budget documents is relevant in context of the budget. During the quality assurance process, the Department of Finance and Budget should actively engage with departments to ensure that performance information to be included in the BBTs are of good quality, relevant and respect the limit of the number of objectives and indicators to be developed. The main purpose of these discussions is to improve the quality of performance information and ensure it is in line with the priorities of the government and relevant to decision-makers.

Currently, the BBTs, where performance information is presented, are extensive and detailed. In addition, the BBTs for different policy domains are of significantly different lengths and level of detail. This can make it challenging to understand the documents and use information included in the documents for decision making.

Importantly, information included in the BBTs should be relevant to decision-makers. Different type of information can be relevant to different stakeholders, as shown in Figure ‎3.3, and it is important to avoid overloading the budget with information. When performance budgeting is being rolled out, it is quite common that departments want to put a lot of information forth for decision makers to understand all the activities of that department. It is, however, important that the Department of Finance and Budget communicates to line departments to only put forth what is relevant in context of the budget in the BBTs.

Naturally, policy domains require in-depth information to guide the day-to-day operational decisions. On the other hand, parliamentarians should receive performance information that directly relate to budgetary decisions. A more detailed breakdown of performance information can be maintained internally by each policy domain and provided upon request. The goal is to have a BBT that is comprehensive yet succinct, providing all necessary information without overwhelming the reader.

To ensure that performance information is concise and relevant, OECD countries use standard outline for such documents and provide line ministries with binding templates to be completed during the budget preparation stage. Using such templates provides a structured approach to ensure consistency and standardise data collection. This consistency enables a standardised presentation of performance information across departments and can help provide meaningful comparisons across performance objectives and indicators. Templates often include well-defined data fields, ensuring that all relevant aspects of performance are considered. For example, in Iceland, line ministries are required to fill out a standard template for 34 expenditure areas during the budget preparation stage, as shown in Box ‎3.5. The outline of the document is standard across all expenditure areas.

In Flanders, the Department of Budget and Finance should require the use of standardised templates for policy domains t when putting forth performance information as part of the budget. All departments and relevant agencies should be required to use the templates as this ensures a consistent approach and that the performance budgeting principles are respected. The templates should explain what is expected of line ministries, how they should put forth the information, the length of each section, number of objectives and indicators, link to existing strategies or priorities of the government, as well as the responsible authority. Including summary tables in such templates, as shown in Table ‎3.2, helps to improve linkages between performance objectives and performance indicators over time and allows policymakers to quickly assess performance against set targets. Incorporating colour coding into summary tables improves the ease and clarity of assessing the status of targets (e.g., green for targets that have been achieved, and orange or red for those that have not been achieved).

The templates should be updated based on new developments and feedback from stakeholders, such as departments and Parliament. Once available, the template should be integrated into the IT systems to facilitate data collection and monitoring efforts.

There is limited engagement by parliamentarians and other decision-makers in Flanders on performance information in the budget. The budget committee (parliamentary working group on the legible budget) and sectoral committees within the Flemish Parliament currently play a limited role in using performance information to hold line departments accountable.

International experiences highlight the crucial role of sectoral committees in scrutinising performance information from spending entities. The OECD Best Practices for Parliaments in Budgeting (OECD, 2023[4]) highlight that sectoral committees should scrutinise performance information included in budget documentation and reporting documents and provide recommendations to the budget committee.

The budget committee in Flanders should delegate the responsibility of scrutinising the performance of individual chapters to respective sectoral committees by assigning specific chapters of the budget to different sectoral committees based on their areas of expertise and relevance. These sectoral committees are then responsible for a detailed examination of the performance information related to the responsibilities of the committee.

The sectoral committees should actively engage with the corresponding policy domains. This engagement should involve direct discussions and reviews of the performance data, enabling the committees to gain a deeper understanding of how the departments are performing against their objectives and budget allocations. Such an approach would ensure a more focused scrutiny of performance information, leveraging the expertise of the sectoral committees in their respective domains. Additionally, this would relieve the budget committee from the burden of examining the entire budget in detail, allowing it to focus on broader fiscal oversight and co-ordination.

One way to engage parliaments in discussions on performance is during the budget execution stage where performance reports are presented to parliament on a dedicated day. For example, the Netherlands discuss the results achieved during the Accountability Day each year, as shown in Box ‎3.7.

Flanders should organise an 'Accountability Day' in early Spring, mirroring practices seen in other countries. On this day, budget execution reports and actual achievements of the performance targets should be presented and examined in Parliament. This event would not only provide a platform for scrutiny and discussion of the government's achievements but also serve as an opportunity for public accountability.

In Flanders, the information on the results achieved by the public service is not presented in accessible manner for broader audiences to consider. Having performance information accessible and presented in user-friendly manner increases the transparency and facilitates accountability. Tools such as visually pleasing budget at a glance and dashboards are commonly used in OECD countries in this regard.

Budget summaries or "budget at a glance" serve the purpose of conveying essential budget information to key stakeholders. Importantly, these materials are not only beneficial for citizens but can also aid parliaments in grasping critical issues and evaluating the performance of key policy areas and increase their overall engagement with performance information. To achieve this effectively, it is vital to identify the key policy domains to be included in the document. Typically, countries focus on areas such as social security, education, health, and environmental policies within these summaries.

As shown in Box ‎3.8, budget at-a-glance documents include both key financial data and performance information on the expected and actual results achieved by the public service. The integration of visual elements is crucial to enhance comprehension, making the information easily accessible and understandable for a broader audience.

Developing a "Budget at a Glance" document in Flanders can assist in presenting the key achievements of the public service in a manner that is easily accessible and understandable to a wide audience. The focus should be on distilling complex budgetary information into a clear, concise, and visually appealing format, including a concise statement on the key priorities for the fiscal year, budgetary timeline, key expenditure areas and associated performance indicators. It is useful to use infographics, charts, and brief summaries to highlight major accomplishments, spending efficiency, and the impact of various programmes and initiatives. The aim is to provide a snapshot that captures the essence of the budget's impact, making it easier for the public, media, and other stakeholders to quickly grasp the effectiveness of public spending. Such a document not only enhances transparency and public understanding but also serves as a valuable tool for promoting accountability and fostering trust.

Another way to communicate financial and performance information to various stakeholders is through interactive dashboards. Such dashboards are currently unavailable in Flanders. However, as the IT systems mature, opportunities might exist to develop such dashboards as they provide a user-friendly and visually engaging way to present complex financial and performance data.

By leveraging charts, graphs, maps, and other visual elements, governments can make information more comprehensible and engaging for a broader audience. This transparency is a key component of accountability, as it enables public scrutiny and informed dialogue about government decisions and performance. Many dashboards include regularly updated data, allowing for ongoing monitoring of government performance and spending and allowing fostering a culture of continuous oversight, as shown in Box ‎3.9. Dashboards often allow for the comparison of performance data across different entities, municipalities, or time periods. This benchmarking capability helps identify areas of inefficiency or underperformance, prompting governments to take corrective actions and justifying those actions to the public.

Flanders has been improving the capacities of public service for conducting broad comprehensive reviews, in-depth spending reviews and developing performance information. Investing in capacities and raising awareness of the benefits of the reforms across the administration will facilitate the institutionalisation of performance-informed budgeting. It is important that capacities are built both internally within the Department of Finance and Budget and in other departments.

During the 2020 broad comprehensive review cycle, most of the reviews were conducted by external parties. While reviews conducted externally can offer unbiased perspectives on public spending, this approach might result in a lack of ownership over time and thus the lack of integration of spending review outcomes into the budget cycle. Experiences from OECD countries suggest that the process is generally more effective when kept within the administration, ensuring that the recommendations and policy options are feasible and realistic. As shown in Table ‎3.3, when the review function and process are external to the government, there is a risk of these exercises being viewed as external audits and evaluations, rather than as integral parts of the budgetary process. This perception can affect the implementation of the findings.

A sustained approach to building in-house capacities for conducting broad comprehensive reviews and in-depth spending reviews in Flanders is essential to ensure ownership of the results. Over time, there is a risk that externally conducted reviews are seen as audits or external evaluations, and line departments become less engaged, leading to results not being implemented.

To build capacities in-house, Flanders should focus on developing the necessary skills and knowledge within the administration. Initially, this could start with focused training programmes to equip staff with the required analytical and financial skills. Such training should cover areas like data analysis methods, public financial management principles, how to develop budget-relevant policy options. It is useful to hold an information session at the launch of the review when working groups are formed as it provides line departments and other stakeholders involved to get aquatinted with the process and ask any relevant questions.

In Flanders, the development of the performance-informed budgeting framework is a responsibility shared by staff from both the budgetary and policy sections within the Department of Finance and Budget. They play a crucial role in ensuring consistency across various departments and organising capacity-building measures. Despite this, there is not a singular point of contact within the Department to serve as a reference for line departments. This lack of a centralised contact point can potentially lead to co-ordination challenges and inconsistencies in the implementation and understanding of the performance-informed budgeting framework across different departments.

To address this challenge, several OECD countries have established specific units within budget departments or appointed at least one person within the budget department to have a formal responsibility of co-ordinating the spending review and performance budgeting process across the administration, as shown in Box ‎3.10.

Flanders should create a team of 2-3 policy analysts that support the implementation of performance-informed budgeting practices, co-ordinate the broad spending review efforts across the administration, and engage with line departments on the quality of performance information and other operational elements related to the reform. Importantly, this unit should closely collaborate with staff responsible for budgetary affairs to ensure the linkages with the budget process and avoid the performance framework becoming a parallel system. It is important that the staff of this unit is composed of senior enough staff to be able to effectively engage with senior officials from the line departments but also should have sufficient time to overlook relevant process and consult stakeholders on methodological issues upon request.

To strengthen administrative capacities, it can be beneficial to identify good practices within the administration and create a platform where those practices can be shared with peers. Estonia, for example, created a platform where ongoing spending reviews were discussed, and stakeholders within line ministries and the finance ministry could brainstorm on what is needed to improve the process, as shown in Box ‎3.11. A similar format can be adapted for broader performance-informed budgeting reforms.

Flanders should consider establishing an inter-departmental platform where issues concerning the implementation of performance-informed budgeting can be discussed. This allows line departments to share ideas, thoughts, and concerns over the reforms.


[2] Downes, R., L. von Trapp and J. Jansen (2018), “Budgeting in Austria”, OECD Journal on Budgeting, Vol. 18/1, https://doi.org/10.1787/budget-18-5j8l804wg0kf.

[9] Government of Canada (2023), GC InfoBase, https://www.tbs-sct.canada.ca/ems-sgd/edb-bdd/index-eng.html#infographic/gov/gov/results.

[7] Government of Ireland (2023), Where your money goes?, https://whereyourmoneygoes.gov.ie/en/.

[5] House of Representatives (2023), Accountability day, https://www.houseofrepresentatives.nl/accountability-day.

[6] Ministry of Finance of Lithuania (2022), Budget at a glance, https://finmin.lrv.lt/uploads/finmin/documents/files/BIUDZETAS%20GLAUSTAI_2022_EN.pdf.

[1] Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty of France (2023), Missions, programmes, actions : trois niveaux structurent le budget général, https://www.budget.gouv.fr/reperes/budget/articles/missions-programmes-actions-trois-niveaux-structurent-le-budget-general.

[10] Ministry of the Economy, Finance and Industrial and Digital Sovereignty of France (2023), Performance data, https://datavision.economie.gouv.fr/performance/.

[4] OECD (2023), “OECD Best Practices for Parliaments in Budgeting”, OECD Journal on Budgeting, Vol. 23/1, https://doi.org/10.1787/33109e15-en.

[8] Statistics Estonia (2023), Tree of truth, https://tamm.stat.ee/tulemusvaldkonnad/riigivalitsemine/indikaatorid/191?lang=en.

[3] Tryggvadottir, A. and I. Bambalaite (2024), “OECD Performance Budgeting Framework”, OECD Journal on Budgeting, Vol. 23/3.

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