The challenge this conference sought to address was the challenge of relevance. How can supreme audit institutions ensure their relevance by ensuring that audiences engage with outputs, and that impact is secured? By defining our audiences as government, media, and the public, we considered that a supreme audit institution that is perceived to be relevant is seen as independent, valued, trusted, and credible.
There are challenges and solutions in each of these four areas, which provide the building blocks for how supreme audit institutions can remain relevant to its audiences.
By the end of the conference it was evident that the challenges of being perceived as valuable, independent, trustworthy, and credible, are not distinct from each other. Many of the challenges and solutions identified in one of these areas, often permeated to another. The conference has identified four areas of challenge that straddle across these four areas of relevance;
Clarity of our mandate
There is an expectation gap between public auditors, their governments and parliaments. Expectations from politicians of what the supreme audit institution is for and can do, are not aligned with the purpose of the supreme audit institution. Our missions are not understood, and mandates are either unclear or risk reducing the relevance of the work supreme audit institutions do. The current level of independence and the legal frameworks in which many supreme audit institutions are operating are insufficient to carry out the role of a state audit institution fully.
The level of change required to address this challenge will differ between states, some may require promotional activity, and others may require more fundamental legislative changes. What is evident is that institutions need to be more assertive in exercising the powers they have, to create a watchdog that bites as much as it barks.
Audit selection and timing
The selection of audit topics is key to ensuring supreme audit institutions remain relevant in today’s rapidly moving environment. Audit topics can at times appear vastly removed from the daily concerns of most taxpayers. Equally, the timing of audits is a concern. Reporting on spending events is carried out too late too often, and this impacts on an institution’s ability to effect change.
The voice of the supreme audit institution can provide clarity and positively influence events if timed correctly. By allowing more flexibility in our staffing models to allow reactive reports to be resourced and providing for space in our audit plans to allow for unforeseen events, audit findings can be reported at a more appropriate time when greater impact can be secured.
Audiences and communication
To be trusted and credible, findings need to be accessible to the public. To be valued by government, taxpayers, and citizens, reports need to be visible to the public. To be independent we need to be influencers and not influenced.
These challenges can be addressed by improving our understanding of our audiences, so we can better demonstrate the value of our institutions. Better communication with our audiences is essential to remaining relevant.
By using data visualisations, we can make our findings more accessible. By using multiple media channels to communicate our findings, we can be more visible to the public. By providing greater transparency in our publication processes, we can foster greater trust. Through greater collaboration with other public and private bodies, we can influence a wider audience and increase awareness of our work.
The right tools for the right job
Related to the above, to improve how we communicate our message we need the right tools at the right time. This means not just acquiring the relevant software packages to produce better graphics or setting up new websites and social media accounts to disseminate findings more effectively. But also ensuring that staff have the knowledge, skills, and training to be able to utilise these tools to their full effect.
None of the challenges identified above is specific to any single institution. No situation is unique, and there is always other institution that is facing, or has faced, similar challenges. Greater collaboration between supreme audit institutions can lead to better outcomes. That means sharing audit plans, collaborating on specific audits, or just experiencing the working practises of a different supreme audit institution. Whatever the platform, whatever the method, the YES delegation recognises the vast amount of value that comes from just talking to each other.
The above summarises the themes that came from the resolutions that were presented to the expert panel on the final day of the conference (see day three on the conference videos page)
You can read each of the four resolutions by clicking on the links below