International Journal of Government Auditing – April 2013
Online communication helps close the gap between public organizations and the public by meeting people where they are and serving as an information source for the media. In addition, to ensure that a publicly funded organization is providing the best value for the money, it is essential for that organization to be transparent about its performance and results. Recognizing the importance of online communication, the State Audit Office of Hungary (SAO) supplemented its official website (http://www.asz.hu) with a new website: SAO News Portal (http://www.aszhirportal.hu). This new website is designed to provide fast, fresh, authentic, and unbiased information to the public.
Because SAO News Portal and SAO’s official website were intended to work in tandem, the role of the official website had to be revised. According to the new concept, the official website displays only the important news and events and other content that SAO is legally required to provide. Conversely, SAO News Portal displays a wide variety of information about SAO’s activity and all types of news.
A major goal of expanding SAO’s online communication channel was to encourage SAO’s stakeholders (the public, the media, members of Parliament, and SAO officials) to consider the websites as the primary source of SAO-related news and information. In order to achieve this objective, a new publishing process and method had to be developed. Prior to this effort, SAO had not been focused on releasing news about itself or its work. Therefore, a change in institutional attitude was also necessary.
SAO News Portal contains news about official and unofficial events, audit-related scientific activities, meetings with leaders from other organizations, and audit reports.
The aim of audit-related news is to introduce the objectives, contents, and results of SAO’s audits; therefore, news articles are published from the early stages until and even beyond the last stages of audits. In terms of this process, news items are released when an audit report is discussed by the national assembly or the statements of an audit report are used by a third party (in, for example, legislation or a scientific citation).
Furthermore, the website informs readers about events and conferences where employees of SAO were involved, domestic and international institutional relations of SAO, and also SAO’s social responsibilities, such as its trainee program, integrity program, and good practices seminars. Moreover, the site also highlights the latest developments in audit methodology.
In piloting the SAO News Portal, SAO set out to prove or disprove a set of hypotheses regarding the project. The hypotheses were as follows: (1) errors would increase due to the reduced control level during the publishing process; (2) having to sign the articles would increase the sense of responsibility and the quality of the articles while decreasing the occurrence of errors; (3) efforts made by employees to learn news publishing would deepen their commitment to the task; and (4) a news-oriented way of thinking would change the attitudes of SAO employees, improving both the quality and transparency of their output.
SAO News Portal was launched on February 14, 2011. The test period of the website was 3 months, during which SAO monitored the number of visitors, popular content, and the quality of articles, among other metrics.
Being flexible, fast, and up to date were important principles when the publishing process for the SAO News Portal was being envisioned. These features could not be achieved using the publishing process of the official SAO website. During the development of the official website, safety was the primary objective. Safety requires strict rules that make the publication process time- and energy-intensive. As shown in figure 2, the publishing process for SAO News Portal is much simpler than that of the official website. Consequently, it is also much faster. Another advantage is that there is space for flexibility in the new system.
Before introducing the new process, SAO considered the fact that the simplicity of the SAO News Portal process would, in theory, increase the likelihood of mistakes compared with the official website’s system.
However, despite the decrease in controls, there was no increase in error occurrence. According to our experience, the error rate remained around 10 percent. The most frequent errors were in grammar, long titles, and inappropriate illustrations.
Requiring SAO department leaders, experts, and auditors to provide news about activities such as audits, domestic and international cooperation, and scientific work as soon as possible is unique among international SAI counterparts. SAI staff are the authors, editors, and publishers of their news. (All eligible persons are trained to handle the upload interface.) This concept contributes directly to transparency (the name and SAO department of the author appears at the end of each article). In addition, the error rate results suggest that increased responsibility for having to sign news articles balanced out the reduced control level during the publication process.
In order to sustain the quality of SAO News Portal, employees must be trained for communication. The training focuses on both technical and content-related elements of writing news for the website. After training, participants are able to write, edit, and upload news items illustrated with pictures that draw public attention to the audited topic.
At the end of the test period, 39 employees had been trained to publish to SAO News Portal. After 3 more months, the number of trained employees rose to 60. At the time of this article, 77 employees—more than 12 percent of SAO’s total staff—had been trained to publish to the site.
Based on our experience, self-publishing results in a real increase in commitment to organizational objectives. Even those who previously were reluctant to write news are now proud of their articles and the related illustrations.
Because the news writing training requires a lot of effort from SAO staff, they gradually tend to accept the change and act as news providers. The fact that employees outside of the communication department are required to issue news helps to change the relationship between the employees and their work, and their public statements— particularly a signed text—contribute to the good quality of published content. The author whose work is available to the public tends to feel that the work is important and valuable.
The launch of SAO News Portal led to an increase in the number of news articles published and a change in attitude throughout the organization. During the test period, 148 articles were published, while in the second 3 months this number reached 170. In the first quarter of 2010, by contrast, only 8 articles were published. Altogether, 755 articles were published in 2011. As for the topic of released news, the biggest proportion (43 percent) dealt with audits. In 2012, 734 articles were published and, according to statistics, the number of visitors increased by 70 percent compared to 2011.
The experience confirms the results of social psychology research, in which experts argue that if an organization releases news about its activity and receives proper feedback, the organization’s commitment to and involvement in its goals increases.
In summary, using SAO News Portal enables SAO to
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