How to Advance a SAI-Citizen Engagement Strategy || Guidance note.

Over the past decade, there has been growing consensus around the benefits of SAI engagement with citizens and external stakeholders. While international declarations -mostly, INTOSAI standards on the subject (ISSAIs No. 12, 20, 21)- have acknowledged the importance of SAI openness and partnership building, SAIs from all over the world have begun to explore innovative ways to engage with citizens and leverage the capacity of civil society so as to enhance the overall results, relevance, and legitimacy of audit processes. Some pilot initiatives have even become institutionalized within SAIs ́ mandate and organic structure. What makes participatory policies successful? How can effective engagement be shaped? This guidance note builds up on the E-guide on Participatory Audit, developed by the World Bank and the Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ), and offers tools and methodologies for SAIs to develop an effective framework for engagement with citizens. It informs SAIs on how to assess and create an enabling environment so as to put forward citizen participation channels from the onset. Also, it helps them identify the different available entry points for conducting citizen engagement initiatives throughout the audit cycle. This note addresses those SAIs that already acknowledge the value and benefits of citizen engagement, and that aim to set up the mechanisms that best fit their context and capacities. Its practical approach further explores the core questions SAIs will need to answer when designing an engagement strategy.

1. How to assess and advance an enabling environment for engagement?

When setting up participatory mechanisms, SAI must ensure that there is an enabling environment for engagement, or search for the conditions and skills to create it. This means assessing the context and legal framework that can back interaction with external stakeholders, as well as the eagerness and capabilities of those champions willing to embark on this challenge.

1.1. Political will

Political will from the SAI authority is a must when it comes to citizen engagement. Strong leadership can enable participation in several ways. First, by issuing the necessary legal instruments: SAI leaders can build up a citizen engagement framework by generating resolutions that encourage participation through different mechanisms (filing citizen complaints, promoting participatory audits, enabling citizen follow up on audit recommendations, etc.). Secondly, by redefining the SAI structure: SAI authorities can create citizen participation units -also through legal resolutions- or appoint special staff for leading participatory strategies. SAI authorities ́ decisions are mandatory, but what happens when it ́s not just a one-call decision? In some countries SAI are run by a collegiate board, and consensus is needed in order to advance a citizen engagement strategy. In such cases, a champion at the board is critical to fostering SAI openness. Getting buy-in from this colleagues may be challenging, but there are broad benefits of engagement that can turn into an asset for the institution as a whole: enforced legitimacy, strengthened independence, increased acknowledgement of SAI mission and further impact of audit work, not to mention that SAIs who lead engagement strategies can be role models for others and get international support for piloting innovative experiences.

1.2. SAI staff commitment

Even though top-down decisions will not be questioned, for an effective engagement strategy to be framed the benefits of interacting with citizens need to be acknowledged and embraced by the SAI as a whole. This means support from SAI personnel, especially auditors who are in the field and who may initially resent engagement or feel that citizen participation can turn into heavy workload. Conducting consultations within this group or organizing workshops aimed at sensitizing SAI staff on the value of engaging with external stakeholders can prove useful when setting up participatory policies.

1.3. Legal framework

Citizen engagement mechanisms may build up on existing SAI rules and regulations, or be developed from the onset. In any case, there must be a legal framework that can back up such engagements. This is what makes them sustainable and what allows diversification of existing participatory devices. The legal framework can be made up of international instruments, national legislation or SAI internal regulations. Reformers need to identify which existing rules actually support engagement, so that the can be a tool for advancing increased participation, and at the same time take them in as models for issuing new regulations aimed at creating a sustainable environment for engagement with a broad audience.

1.4. Community of practice

When promoting openness to external stakeholders, SAIs often fall short in their strategies for engagement by addressing citizens or the general public as a whole. The audience is not an amorphous mass. Citizens don ́t have the same interests and won ́t jump in just because they are offered a chance to participate. SAIs need to acknowledge that communication with the audience is the first, necessary step for engagement. In this sense, they need to identify those stakeholders that are relevant to the SAI and who can back their work throughout the audit cycle: those who can provide valuable input for audit planning, who can engage in conducting fieldwork, who can amplify the message delivered in an audit report, or who can partner with the SAI by monitoring compliance with audit recommendations. This audience includes a wide variety of civil society groups, such as grassroot organizations, advocacy groups, professional associations, rights-based CSOs, think tanks, university-based research groups, and the media, among others.

Identifying key stakeholders means searching a community of practice who may be interested in engaging with the SAI: those who have been contacted for previous activities the SAI has organized, those who actually or might potentially take in information from audit reports when writing down reports or articles, those who work on specific issues that are under SAI audit scope; in other words, all those agents for whom public audit is relevant to their work. Such community of practice may not be structured or easily targeted, but it definitely exists. For SAIs to see the big picture of all relevant stakeholders and to develop a database, the SWOT approach can turn useful. Such method assesses stakeholders ́ strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. In planning who to address in advancing an engagement strategy, SAIs can follow this matrix to see where the potential for effective engagement is for each identified stakeholder.

Additionally, it is wise to organize workshops to gather such stakeholders -especially experienced CSOs- and SAI staff, and conduct consultations to assess their willingness and readiness to engage. This can turn into a working group that can jointly design an action plan for citizen engagement and act as a bridge between both sides to create the necessary synergies for the plan to be effective.

2. How to assess and advance entry points for engagement?

Citizen engagement in the audit process is about incorporating public concerns, needs, and interests into SAIs’ decision making. It is two-way communication and interaction aimed at enhancing the value and impact of public auditing. SAIs can offer a wide array of opportunities for citizens and external stakeholders to engage throughout the audit cycle. At each stage, different mechanisms can be set up from the onset, or even be developed to supplement existing practices. Check below some entry points for engagement:

2.1. When can participation be most valuable to the SAI?

Deciding on the most suitable stage of the audit cycle to engage requires in-depth analyses on the actual challenges the SAI faces:

  • Are there any gaps in targeting audits?
  • Does the SAI encounter difficulties in gathering information when conducting audits?
  • Does the SAI effectively reach out to relevant stakeholders when delivering reports? Are reports acknowledged by the public?
  • Are auditees responsive to SAI observations? Do they comply with report recommendations?

Answering those questions is critical to defining an engagement strategy. Those SAIs who have already developed participatory mechanisms may need to address their performance as well so as to decide whether new strategies are going to be a continuation of previous efforts of engagement at a different stage of the audit cycle, or if there is a will to embark on innovative experiences.

  • Have CSO proposals been effective in targeting audits at the planning stage? Could those CSOS engage in audit execution as well?
  • Have citizen complaints resulted in significant audit findings? How can the SAI further engage citizens when disseminating those outcomes and recommendations?
  • Have relevant stakeholders attended public hearings where audit reports have been shared? Could they engage in monitoring compliance with audit recommendations as well?

This guidance questions can help SAIs figure out when engagement can be profitable both for the institution and for external stakeholders, and thus avoid wasting resources and efforts where they are not actually needed.

2.2. What type of engagement mechanism to develop?

Once the SAI clearly defines its challenges and decides which stage of the audit process will be open for engagement, there are several options to identify the mechanism that best fits the context and capacities of the institution.

2.3. Who to engage and how?

After selecting the most suitable mechanism for engagement, the SAI will need to develop a working plan. This means identifying the target audience as well as SAI staff who need to be involved in the implementation, and also framing each stage of engagement. Check below an example to engage CSOs in audit planning, which can be replicated following diverse steps when setting up different participatory mechanisms throughout the audit cycle.

2.4. How to address challenges when advancing engagement?

Developing participatory mechanisms doesn ́t come along without challenges. SAIs need to acknowledge that, regardless of the importance of building a detail-oriented framework for engagement, some unexpected outcomes may arise. When designing the action plan, SAIs need to set up clear strategies to address those challenges, and be flexible enough to redefine them as they open channels for engagement.

3. Hands on! Practical guidance to shape an engagement mechanism

The previous sections inform SAIs on how to assess and create an enabling environment, and on how to identify and advance entry points for citizen engagement initiatives throughout the audit cycle. They also suggest different mechanisms and address the core challenges SAIs may face along implementation. Now, it ́s time to start planning how to engage. In this sense, the following sections bring practical guidance to start shaping the engagement framework.

3.1. How to draft a MOU

Engagement can take different forms, but when advancing collaboration with specific stakeholders - especially those with whom the SAI has already worked with, or those the SAI acknowledges as critical partners- it is useful to draft a memorandum of understanding (MOU). A MOU is a formal agreement of collaboration along a specific timeframe signed by each part engaged: the SAI and the partnering CSO. It may build up on existing efforts, but it always acknowledges the relevance of sustained engagement by stating the reasons why it is being signed and by quoting internal regulations or projects that address the core issues underlined on the MOU. Most importantly, the MOU clearly outlines the roles and responsibilities of each side and specifies how they will collaborate along the specified timeframe. Mutual consent is at the core of the agreement. Although parties can back out at any time, the intention to be legally bound prevails. You can consult an example of a MOU (between The Phillippines ́ COA and ANSA-EAP) here, or check the outline of how to draft it below.

Developing and signing a MOU is not mandatory or required to set up engagement mechanisms. Most often, SAIs decide to implement pilot projects and engage a new audience before entering into formal agreements. MOUs are recommendable when engaging with previously identified partners, and for specific practices. Those mechanisms addressing the broad audience (e.g. citizen complaints, participatory planning meetings, thematic workshops) are not subject to formal agreements. In turn, when setting up participatory audits or CSO follow up of audit recommendations, MOUs can be useful given that such mechanisms are demanding, especially for CSOs, who are understaffed for long-term activities that are not funded. In this sense, MOUs offer a chance for sustainable commitment and engagement. It is important to clearly identify who can be the right partner. Trust is a core issue when entering into a MOU. This means targeting CSOs with a solid track record of activities and community engagement related to the purpose of the agreement, that are well-equipped for undergoing collaboration over time, that hold a reputation of strong commitment to accountability issues, and that will take the job seriously and benefit from collaboration with the SAI.

3.2. How to draft a working plan

When developing engagement mechanisms from the onset, planning every aspect in detail is critical for success. Also, it can prove effective in gaining buy-in from SAI authorities and from potential donors who may be interested in supporting innovative, participatory policies. To begin with, you need to clearly identify the mechanism to be implemented and the stage of the audit cycle when it ́s going to be deployed. As mentioned above, this is closely related with the existing gaps and challenges in auditing the SAI actually faces. Why is the proposed practice the one that best fits the solution to the identified challenge? Based on this, the ultimate goal of the mechanism will be directly linked to such challenge, while it can also include specific objectives derived from the overall purpose of the proposed practice. This kind of information is very important, since the activities, outputs and expected outcomes rely on the accurate definition of the problem or challenges and goals to be achieved.

Furthermore, it is important to contextualize the proposed mechanism. Have previous initiatives been implemented by the SAI in this regard? What makes it relevant? How can it be successful? If similar efforts have been put forward by the SAI, they need to be clearly identified and stated in the working plan. This can help gain buy-in from authorities and staff who will need to be involved in the implementation of the mechanism. Also, this type of information is critical when drafting a MOU. Similarly, the existing rules and regulations that can back the practice must be mentioned. How can it contribute to advancing INTOSAI standards? How does the mechanism reflect the mission embodied in SAI ́s mandate? Even if there are no internal resolutions, national legal instruments and international commitments supportive of citizen engagement in the fight against corruption or in advancing SGDs can be quoted to frame a specific legal framework for the proposed mechanism. Most importantly, you need to identify all stakeholders that will be addressed and engaged in implementing the practice. On one side, you should define who must be brought in from within the SAI (staff from the planning department, the citizen unit, field auditors, the press unit, top-level authorities, etc.). On the other side, and building up from an existing community of practice, you must state who the target audience is. Are you suggesting a thematic approach? In that case, you should consider the sectors depending on the highest level of budget allocation or public investment (like road, health, irrigation) or based on service delivery (like health or education). Then you ́ll need to identify all relevant stakeholders who are directly or indirectly addressing that core issue. Recalling on the goals and specific objectives, you need to organize all the required activities to be performed step by step. For each one, identify who will be in charge: as stated previously, you must assign roles and responsibilities based on who is most suitable for the job and whose duty is to perform specific tasks. Also, specify the outputs of every activity. This has a double objective: first, it will help you identify what you really expect to achieve at each step, and second, it will be useful for monitoring progress and measuring results. Besides deciding on a specific timeframe to put into practice the mechanism, you need to define when each activity planned above is going to take place and how long it will last. In this sense, developing a GANTT diagram can prove useful. On each row list all the activities, and in each column specify day, weeks and/or months when you expect to have them completed. This can also help monitor the implementation and contribute to reorienting strategies when deadlines are not met in due time. Different types of resources will be required to cover costs and needs along planning and implementation of the mechanism. As mentioned above, this relates to who will be in charge of each activity, whether a single person or a team within different SAI units or departments (in other words, human resources). Also, you must make sure whether SAI staff will be able to perform all tasks or if personnel need to be hired (e.g. facilitators, consultants, etc.). Additionally, you should identify the infrastructure that will be required (a room to hold a meeting or a workshop, an online system to process citizen proposals or complaints, etc.) and other operational costs (printing manuals or brochures, sending invitations to participate by post, etc.). All in all, you must draft an itemized budget of expected costs and needs, and at the same time identify possible sources to cover them. How should SAI ́s internal budget be allocated? Does each SAI unit count on the required resources to implement the mechanism? Will the SAI need support from external stakeholders or the in international cooperation to put into practice the engagement plan? In all cases, drafting a detail- oriented budget can help both estimate costs and help gain support for the successful deployment of the mechanism. Last but not least, a working plan should state the expected outcomes. This is critical to measuring success and entails building indicators that can assess immediate results (those that are bound to arise once the mechanism is implemented) and long-term impact (what is expected to happen in the long run, that is, what is supposed to address the core challenge previously identified that the SAI is actually facing). By outlining such outcomes, the SAI will be able to develop a comprehensive framework for engagement that can be redefined and reoriented when obstacles or unexpected results arise. Based on these guidance tips, find below the planning dashboard, a tool to help SAIs develop a working plan for specific mechanisms of citizen engagement. It has been filled with information on a proposed practice for engagement in the follow up of audit recommendations.

4. Endnotes

This guidance note has been developed to assist SAIs in developing an effective framework for engagement with citizens. The different mechanisms presented as well as the methodologies put forward aim to provide a battery of options for enhanced effectiveness in public auditing through increased participation. SAIs will find tools to build their own roadmap for citizen engagement, based on the current challenges they face and the context where they are embedded. It is expected that the suggested approach, deeply rooted in the need to find accurate solutions to existing gaps or envisioned opportunities for improvement, can help audit institutions open channels for interaction and collaboration with stakeholders and foster benefits for both. Besides the proposed lines of action, SAIs are encouraged to ́think outside the box ́ and advance innovative practices that can strengthen accountability and participation throughout the whole audit process.


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