Technical Articles

Consultation, Compromise, Consensus: Ingredients of a Successful Strategic Planning Process

XVII INCOSAI, Seoul, October 2001. INTOSAI established a 10-nation task force to develop a strategic plan for the organization.

XVIII INCOSAI, Budapest, October 2004. INTOSAI's 187 member countries adopted the proposed INTOSAI strategic plan unanimously and without revision.

XIX INCOSAI, Mexico City, November 5, 2007. Significant accomplishments in implementing the strategic plan were reported to and approved by the congress.

How did INTOSAI-an international organization that represents national audit offices with widely varying mandates, traditions, and levels of development; includes nations from all corners of the globe; reflects the full diversity of political, economic, and social systems; and works in five official languages-accomplish this in the 6 years between its Seoul and Mexico City congresses? This article describes the process INTOSAI used to successfully develop, adopt, and implement the first strategic plan in its 50-plus year history.

Mandate and Guiding Principles

As it established the task force in October 2001, INTOSAI's Governing Board took note of the concepts of inclusiveness and universality-all members, as principal stakeholders, should be represented directly in the process of developing the plan. To that end, the board elected countries representing INTOSAI's seven regional working groups and three major enterprisewide bodies to serve on the task force: Antigua and Barbuda, Austria (representing the General Secretariat), Burkina Faso, Korea, Norway (representing the INTOSAI Development Initiative), Peru, Saudi Arabia, Tonga, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America (representing this Journal and also serving as task force chair).

As the task force began the iterative process of drafting the strategic plan, the board directed it to consult with and seek the views of the 18 members of the Governing Board; regional secretariats located in India, Panama, New Zealand, Spain, Togo, Trinidad and Tobago, and Tunisia; technical committee chairs; and indeed all 187 member countries. In this way, all member SAIs would help inform the plan, feel part of the process, and ultimately benefit from it. Task force chair David M. Walker, Comptroller General of the United States, reflected this mandate with what he termed "the big tent approach," which correctly acknowledged INTOSAI as a democratic organization that operates through consultation and consensus and respects the equality of each member country regardless of geographic size or economic strength. This approach was an essential element as the plan evolved and was critical to the plan's adoption in Budapest.

At the outset, the task force agreed to meet face-to-face annually and to leverage technology as much as possible; to that end, it established a Listserv that allowed task force members to communicate easily via e-mail. The task force also identified opportunities to piggyback on other planned INTOSAI meetings-regional congresses, committee meetings, and training courses-as venues to solicit feedback as the plan was developed. It also capitalized on the bilateral visits between auditors general, who frequently discussed the evolving plan during their meetings. In addition, this Journal was engaged to help disseminate information about the plan to the broader community. To facilitate its work, the task force determined that English would be its working language, with the understanding that any documents sent to the wider membership for comment would be translated into Arabic, French, German, and Spanish.

Getting Started: Key Questions Frame the Effort

In developing the plan, INTOSAI sought to chart a course for its future by building on the successes of the past. Careful consideration was given to what worked well over the organization's 50-year history, what could be improved, and what changes would be needed to help members cope with the increasing demands and challenges facing national audit offices in the 2lst century. As Sir John Bourn, Comptroller and Auditor General of the United Kingdom, phrased it, "The plan is evolutionary rather than revolutionary."

For its first meeting in April 2002, the task force reviewed member SAIs' own strategic plans as examples. Then, to stimulate thinking on the subject, the task force chair posed the following questions, organized around the standard strategic planning structure of mission, vision, core values, goals, and objectives.

Mission/Vision

  • How would you describe INTOSAI and its purpose?
  • What type of contributions can INTOSAI make to its members and the accountability community?
  • What are the needs that INTOSAI aspires to fill, for whom, and how?
  • What are INTOSAI's major functions and operations?

Core Values

  • What are the essential pillars that define and frame INTOSAI?
  • What are the attributes or qualities that SAls regard as vital?

Strategic Goals

  • What are the fundamental results or outcomes INTOSAI hopes to achieve? From this, what are the strategic goals that best cover INTOSAI's major functions and operations?
  • Are the goals focused primarily on outcomes (such as building expertise) or outputs (such as conducting seminars)?
  • How shall we express the goals so they are in measurable form or a manner that will facilitate future assessment?

Operational Objectives

  • How can INTOSAI's goals be achieved?
  • What actions or activities need to be created, restructured, or eliminated to achieve INTOSAI's goals?
  • What steps should INTOSAI take to align its organization, activities, core processes, and resources to support the achievement of its goals?

Keep It Real, Get It Right

Using these questions to frame the complex and sometimes competing issues that characterize any international organization, the task force began to draft the plan. At an initial 2-day meeting in Washington in spring 2002, the task force prepared draft mission and vision statements and identified three major goals: developing and promulgating professional standards, strengthening institutional capacity, and sharing knowledge. Importantly, the task force drew on various INTOSAI documents-such as The Lima Declaration, INTOSAI's auditing standards, and INTOSAI's Code of Ethics-as well as the recommendations and declarations issued by the triennial congresses over the years. These documents, which affirm such basic principles as independence and impartiality, provided a foundation for the plan. While the plan would be "evolutionary rather than revolutionary," the task force also heeded Chairman Walker's guiding principle that the "purpose of the strategic plan is not to perfect the past but rather to create the future."

Following the Washington meeting, individual task force members were assigned responsibilities for drafting the content of the three central goals. Before the fall 2002 Governing Board meeting, these members drafted specific objectives and activities to support each of the three goals. Their drafts were circulated to members for review and comment and were also the subject of informal discussions with other key stakeholders.

At the fall 2002 Governing Board meeting in Vienna, the task force Chairman presented the first draft of the plan, including the mission and vision statements, goals, and core values. Comments from the Governing Board proved valuable. For example, Portugal, based on experience with its own strategic plan, suggested adding a fourth goal that would focus on strengthening INTOSAI itself. Portugal's suggestion was warmly received by the board, and the task force added goal 4, becoming a model international organization, to the draft plan. During the following months, this new goal became a real challenge, dealing as it did with basic and controversial governance issues that resulted in recommendations to raise annual dues, add an associate membership category, and redefine and modernize the relationship between the Secretary General and the board.

Communication Was Essential

Mindful that the strategic planning process would be as important as the final product itself, the task force built into its work plan a robust outreach and communication strategy to help ensure the participation and commitment of all stakeholders-both internally throughout INTOSAI and externally with potential partners, such as the World Bank. The task force also kept in mind the end user-the staff auditors in member SAIs working on the front line to help ensure accountability and transparency in their national governments.

When the straw proposal was ready, the task force used a variety of methods to solicit input. The draft was presented at various regional congresses, and ad hoc focus groups were held when possible; for example, the draft plan was discussed with participants representing more than 15 SAIs at the U.S. Government Accountability Office's annual international fellowship program. Most importantly, the proposal was circulated to all INTOSAI members. Responses received from more than 50 SAIs representing INTOSAI's seven regions were considered and incorporated as appropriate. This process increased the sense of ownership in the final plan. As one SAI official commented, "I saw my suggested change in the plan!"

In addition to the annual task force meetings, informal working-level meetings, hosted by the United Kingdom National Audit Office, were held to review comments and draft language for consideration by the full task force. Much credit goes to the supporting staff of the SAIs on the task force for this work. From 2002 to 2004, the task force annually reported to and solicited comments from the Governing Board on progress with the draft plan. As further evidence of the board's commitment to the strategic planning process, a special Governing Board meeting was convened in June 2004. This extraordinary board meeting was dedicated to a detailed and comprehensive final review of the plan before it was presented at the Budapest congress.

At the midpoint of the process, the marked-up draft of the strategic plan was a kaleidoscope of colors, strike-outs, and inserted phrases that vividly illustrated the extent of the compromises resulting from the consultative process. The task force Chair summed up the iterative nature of the process with "5 Ps": "When making complex and extensive changes, you go from patience to persistence to perseverance to pain before you prevail!"

Presenting the Plan for Adoption in Budapest: The Message and the Messengers

"Good, better, best; never let it rest. Until your good be better, and your better best." With this traditional children's nursery rhyme, task force member Arah Armstrong, Auditor General of Antigua and Barbuda, set the tone for the formal presentation, deliberation, and vote on the plan by the full membership at the Budapest congress. Noting that INTOSAI has been an effective organization since its founding in Havana in 1953 and that it had become an even more effective organization over time, Ms. Armstrong stressed the fact that INTOSAI stood on the threshold of becoming the best it could be with the adoption of the strategic plan. Her observations were part of a comprehensive presentation of the plan before the general plenary assembly that included remarks in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish from members from Burkina Faso, Peru, and Saudi Arabia, and concluding remarks from the task force Chair.

The multilingual, multiregional aspect of the presentation was not lost on delegates and was further evidence of the inclusive, democratic approach used to develop the plan. Dr. Josef Moser-INTOSAI's new Secretary General and Auditor General of Austria, who had been appointed for a 12-year term a few months prior to the Budapest congress and who had embraced the plan as a needed and welcomed initiative-took the floor to enthusiastically endorse the plan's adoption; this sentiment was echoed by other countries, including some who had been skeptical of the plan at its inception. Then, following questions by two countries requesting clarification on certain points, the plan was put to a vote and unanimously adopted-unchanged and as presented-by the general assembly.

Moving Forward - Setting the Stage for Success

Anticipating the plan's adoption in Budapest, task force members had worked informally before the congress with a number of auditors general to gauge their interest in serving in leadership roles as the new plan took life. In the spirit of volunteerism and service that are the traditional hallmarks of INTOSAI, auditors general stepped forward and offered to help implement the plan, pending final approval of the Governing Board. For its part, the board moved quickly to implement the plan. Before leaving Budapest, the board named auditors general to head up each of the plan's four goals: Denmark as chair of goal 1, professional standards; Morocco as chair of goal 2, capacity building; India as chair of goal 3, knowledge sharing; and Saudi Arabia as chair of goal 4, model international organization. The board also named liaisons for each goal to ensure the board's ongoing engagement with the plan and to enhance collaboration across the goals. Dr. Moser confirmed his commitment to the plan as Secretary General and offered the services of the General Secretariat in its implementation.

Plan Implementation Results in Early Successes

At the Mexico congress, the chairmen for the four goals reported major accomplishments related to the implementation of the plan in their areas of responsibility. Examples included the following:

  • Goal 1: The development of an up-to-date professional standards framework for INTOSAI members that includes 17 International Standards of Supreme Audit Institutions (ISSAI) that were adopted in Mexico. (See www.issai.org.)
  • Goal 2: The issuance of Building Capacity in Supreme Audit Institutions: A Guide and a draft set of guidelines on how to conduct peer reviews.
  • Goal 3: The development of a global communication policy and plan and the launching of a Web-based global collaboration tool.
  • Goal 4: Modernization of INTOSAI's governance structure and increased efficiency in its operations.

For a full report on all the accomplishments related to the four goals, see the January 2008 issue of this Journal (www.intosaijournal.org).

Looking toward the Future

Recognizing that strategic planning is a dynamic, ongoing process, the Governing Board directed goal 4's Finance and Administration Committee to establish a task force comprising the four goal chairs, the Secretary General, the INTOSAI Development Initiative, and the Director of Strategic Planning to update the plan for 2010-2015. The task force was established at the Mexico congress and is chaired by the SAI of the United States. It will adhere to the same principles of consultation and consensus that guided the development of the first plan but will use a more streamlined approach and build on the successes of the current plan. For example, the mission, vision, and goals will remain the same. The Director of Strategic Planning will work directly with the chairs of the four goals to update their goal areas. The full membership of INTOSAI will also be consulted as part of the process. The updated plan will have a new emphasis on developing metrics to measure the outputs and outcomes of the plan. It will also take into account and be consistent with such recent initiatives as the donor funding proposal currently being drafted under the leadership of the Finance and Administration Committee.

Although INTOSAI's strategic planning effort required considerable time and effort on the part of many individuals and SAIs, there is no question about the resulting benefits. Externally, the plan helps INTOSAI present itself to the outside world as a mature and results-oriented international organization and an influential player within the global accountability community. Internally, the plan helps member SAIs successfully face the challenges of the 21st century and strategically focus their energy and resources on commonly shared goals, objectives, and activities.

For additional information, contact the author at drachd@gao.gov. The INTOSAI strategic plan is available at http://www.intosai.org/blueline/upload/13estratplan.pdf.