International Journal of Government Auditing – October 2014
by Saskia J. Stuiveling, President of The Netherlands Court of Audit, President of the European Organization of Supreme Audit Institutions (EUROSAI)
In June 2014, the IXth EUROSAI Congress convened in The Hague, The Netherlands. At the Congress the Netherlands Court of Audit assumed the Presidency of EUROSAI from the Tribunal de Contas of Portugal.
This year's Congress took "innovation" as its theme: "Innovation," because we as SAIs need to keep up with the ever-changing context of the world in which we function. There is no doubt in my mind that if we do not change we will become obsolete.
In the most recent INTOSAI Development Initiative (IDI) Global Survey (2013), more than 40 percent of SAIs reported cases of interference from the executive in the budget process, thus threatening their financial independence. Just as significant is that fact that 15 percent of SAIs currently do not make any of their reports publicly available. This shows that we must carefully talk to our stakeholders, but we also need to be introspective about our position and our role in society. SAIs do not seek innovation for its own sake, but rather as an indispensable means of maintaining long- term added value. In this effort, we build on the EUROSAI, and indeed INTOSAI, values to embed and enhance the good governance of government entities and their affiliated institutions.
The topic being innovation, this year's EUROSAI Congress was unusual in form. Examples of innovation and best practices were discussed in administrative plenary sessions, as well as in workshops and seminars, at the IT market, and in the "open mic" sessions. More than half of the participating SAIs organized one or more of the workshops. The great diversity within EUROSAI led to a rich variety of presentations and discussions, in both formal and informal meetings. This made the Congress a truly shared experience, hosted by the Netherlands but shaped by the EUROSAI members themselves. The very active role of all SAIs resulted in valuable ideas and suggestions, all brought together in an electronic mind map. This mind map with the outcomes of the Congress, as well as the Congress' conclusions and recommendations, can be found at http://www.eurosai2014.nl
We started preparing this Congress more than three years ago under this heading: "The Expedition." Because we are convinced that at this point in time nobody can foresee which direction developments will take us, we must adapt to a pioneer mindset, helping each other discover and map unknown territory. Sharing ideas and listening to each other is more important now than ever.
The Netherlands Court of Audit wanted the critical and innovative voices of the young generation to be heard at the EUROSAI Congress, which is why we organized the first Young EUROSAI Congress, also on innovation, in Rotterdam, November 2013. More than a hundred young auditors had an opportunity to build up an international network, share ideas, and take part in workshops to discuss innovative best practices with their counterparts. Above all, they had the chance to make their views known to the generation in charge of their institutions.
Did the young have a message for us? They certainly did. The young auditors identified several upcoming challenges for audit offices. These vary from effective communication, knowledge sharing, and independence to achieving a true impact with our work and the growth of data. And these challenges are, of course, all connected. At the Congress' request the initiative of Young EUROSAI is certainly something that will be followed up on in the coming years. The Young EUROSAI report can be found at http://www.eurosai2014.nl
At the Congress it became evident that all SAIs are involved in a constant quest to improve themselves, and to find the most effective working methods and audit techniques. SAIs are also eager to share their experiences and exchange views. In the future we will strive to preserve the mindset of sharing ideas and exploring opportunities, to both improve our work and better serve the public interest. The conclusions and recommendations of the IXth EUROSAI Congress aim to capture this spirit, and build on the input of all the SAIs attending and contributing to the Congress.
The Congress concluded that SAIs should strive to attain an innovative culture of learning and improving, one that offers opportunities to experiment. SAIs should also ensure their relevance by being open to doing different things, using different methods, and tackling new topics. SAIs should share their experiences and dilemmas within EUROSAI and with the wider SAI community. Also, EUROSAI and SAIs have a responsibility to lead by example.
The Congress therefore recommended that EUROSAI look at its own functioning and stimulate innovative, low-cost, sustainable, and web-based ways for SAIs to exchange views, documents, and experiences. A pilot project on the web-based exchange of information is already on its way, but needs further development. In the coming years EUROSAI will seek an independent evaluation of its own governance and modus operandi. The best way to innovate and make further improvements, however, is by just doing it. So the Congress recommends that EUROSAI encourage collaborative audits of relevant topics and foster experimentation with new audit approaches, techniques, and products.
The added value of the work of SAIs depends considerably, but not exclusively, on how their message is delivered, perceived, and acted upon by parliament, government staff, and citizens. The message can take different forms, and be communicated in different ways at different moments. SAIs are increasingly interacting in new ways with their stakeholders, from citizens to governments, and new visualization techniques are becoming commonplace. There has also been enormous growth in the use of social and digital media, and SAIs should adjust to this new digital environment and audience. Therefore, EUROSAI will follow up in the coming years with a joint undertaking that could help SAIs progress in terms of communicating their message in innovative and effective ways.
There is continuous growth in the production of public sector data; this information is becoming more easily available to the public, and accessible from any location. This data is creating opportunities for the general public and other parties to become "armchair auditors," which again creates opportunities for SAIs to both evaluate government performance and enhance public sector transparency and accountability. Open data ensures there is no longer a monopoly on most government information, and thus requires SAIs to rethink their own relevance, traditional roles, opportunities, and needs. The Congress recommended that EUROSAI facilitate a discussion on the opportunities and consequences for SAIs of open data, e.g., on the quality of such data.
Initiatives on the topics of culture and leadership, delivering the message, and open data are currently being developed. I would like to invite you to share your views on these topics with us, whether you are a EUROSAI member or not.
I mentioned the challenges set for our expedition by the young auditors community from EUROSAI. Now, we have asked them to come up with some possible solutions to those challenges. And as the challenges were of a great variety, the possible solutions re covering even more ground! But one of the most outstanding solutions was that we as auditors have to abandon the "zero error culture." We need to experiment, we need to get in touch with both the general public and our classical stakeholders, and we need to give support to new initiatives from the top of the organization. As audit offices we still have an important role to play, but we have to redefine it to meet the demands of the 21st century. In the words of Dutch/American artist Willem de Kooning: we have to change to stay the same.