Zero-Based Budgeting (or ZBB for short) is an alternative approach to resource planning, decision-making and financial management. Rather than starting with estimates for the current financial year, as with incremental budgeting, the starting point for ZBB is nil or zero. For each product or service, the total estimated costs should be fully offset by projected income. In the context of ODL institutions, this means that estimated expenditure for each course or programme must be balanced out by income from student fees, government grants and subsidies, or other sources.
With the ZBB model, all spending requests must be costed and justified in detail. These are then assessed against requests from other departments before a decision is taken on which should go ahead.
ZBB operates as follows:
STEP 1: Developing Decision Packages
A decision package is a document that explains a proposed activity, its goals and objectives, what benefits are expected, how performance will be measured and all costs that will be incurred. In addition, a decision package should outline what alternative courses of action have been considered and why these were rejected.
STEP 2: Ranking Decision Packages in order of Priority
Before each manager submits the decision packages on behalf of her/his department, they must first be ranked in order of priority. Once all the decision packages have been submitted to a central decision-making body, they are then ranked in terms of the priorities of the institution as a whole. The costings in each decision package are also reviewed to ensure that they are not excessive or unrealistic.
STEP 3: Allocating Funds
Where activities are not self-financing and require a contribution from central funds, then whatever resources are available can be allocated to the various activities on the basis of their ranking. When this central fund has been exhausted, then no further decision packages are approved.