Getting On Board - Guiding Questions

If you are a public official working at an oversight agency, try answering the outlined questions and check if you are ready to engage in citizen participation.


(Section 1 of 6)

Guiding questions

1. Is the SAI chairperson committed to the agenda of citizen participation in the audit cycle?

2. Is citizen engagement part of the strategic plan of the institution?

3. Has the SAI ever conducted internal trainings on citizen engagement?

4. Are SAI staff aware of the importance of participatory practices?

5. Are SAI staff displaying a proactive attitude towards the promotion of citizen-engagement policies?

Policy and Legal Framework

(Section 2 of 6)

Guiding questions

1. Is there a general normative framework for citizen participation in the country (at either the constitutional or the statutory level)?

2. Has the SAI a constitutional or legal mandate to promote citizen participation within the institution?

3. Has the SAI issued internal regulations regarding citizen participation?

4. Is the SAI legally bound to provide information to citizens?

5. Does the SAI formally recognize international standards issued by INTOSAI or other similar organizations?

6. Does the SAI strategic plan -or any other planning document- include provisions regarding the implementation of citizen participation mechanisms?

Institutional Structure and Skills within the SAI

(Section 3 of 6)

Guiding questions

1. Are SAI staff sensitized about the importance of the institutional mission and its value to citizenry, or has there been any training on the subject?

2. Is there an institutional compromise regarding citizen engagement or channels for citizen engagement?

3. Are SAI staff knowledgeable and experienced in citizen engagement?

4. Does the SAI have any previous experience interacting with external stakeholders (for example, CSOs, the media, Parliament or other oversight agencies such as an anti-corruption office, the public ministry, the judiciary, or the ombudsman)?

5. Does the SAI display any mechanisms of engagement with citizens (for example, an office of citizen participation, participatory mechanisms along the audit cycle, or plans of cooperation with CSOs)?

6. Do you consider the level of impact of SAI recommendations and the institution´s capacity to ensure corrective action to be satisfactory?

Communication Channels and Type of Reports Produced by the SAI

(Section 4 of 6)

Guiding questions

1. Is there a national Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law?

2. Is the most relevant information about the institution available on the SAI website (for example, mission, mandate, legal framework, authorities, audit plans and reports, budget -assigned and executed-, personnel, salaries)?

3. Are audit plans and reports accessible to the public?

4. Do audit reports include summaries, special visualizations of relevant information (such as findings), and videos or recordings explaining the main conclusions?

5. Is the information publicized in reusable formats (computer-readable and open data)?

6. Do audit reports gain visibility in the media?

7. Does the SAI measure the impact of audit reports (for example, actions taken by auditees, the legislature, other oversight bodies, the judiciary)?

8. Does the SAI receive feedback on its reports or its work?

9. Are reports disseminated, especially to the identified target groups?

10. Does the SAI respond to citizen inquiries or demands?

Willingness of Civil Society to engage

(Section 5 of 6)

Guiding questions

1. Does civil society generally display a high level of demand of participation?

2. Is there a particular demand for citizen engagement with the SAI?

3. Does citizen mobilization and public debate exist for any particular issues?

4. Does a strong civil society movement exist that advocates for transparency and accountability?

5. Are there any champion CSOs on audit issues?

6. Do civil society groups or citizens regularly require information from the SAI?

7. Does a social audit movement exist, with a possible demand for the SAI’s audit reports?

8. Do investigative journalists often require information from the SAI?

9. Do civil society groups or other external actors use audit reports in their work?

10. Is media coverage of audit findings high?

11. Do any civil society organizations focus on topics related to public policies that are regularly audited by the SAI (for example, health, education, security, human rights, the environment)?

12. Does any previous relationship exist between the SAI and civil society groups?


(Section 6 of 6)

Guiding questions

1. Does the SAI allocate part of its budget for citizen participation initiatives?

2. Do any donors or development agencies exist that could support the SAI and CSOs in participatory auditing ventures?

3. Do any external actors possess the expertise to support the SAI in designing and implementing a citizen participation plan?

4. Is anyone within the SAI capable of developing ICT tools for citizen engagement?

5. Can any existing efforts within the SAI be leveraged?

6. Is funding available to build the capacity of civil society?



Importance: Very High

Why is this important? Citizen-engagement practices by SAIs often face resistance both from the internal bureaucracy and from actors inside and outside the SAI who have benefited from privileged access to data and reports or who have doubts about the effect of citizen engagement on SAIs’ independence. Strong, sustained political leadership is therefore important in overcoming resistance and giving cover to political and other risks for public participation in the audit process.

Examples One of Chairperson Maria Gracia M. Pulido Tan’s first acts during her first month in office at the Philippines’ Commission on Audit (COA) was to put up the Citizens’ Desk. There was a cell phone “hotline,” operated by a dedicated staff, for texted-in reports, comments, and suggestions from citizens. The desk generated a substantial number of positive leads, which COA pursued either in regular or special audits. The helpdesk, along with sustained promotion of the work of COA in various forms of electronic media, helped COA receive a wealth of information on audit evidence and promoted a general willingness among citizens to come forward with that evidence. The Citizens’ Desk is being automated to handle the increasing flow of reports and to track action more efficiently. Once the Citizens’ Desk was up and running, Chairperson Tan worked with a core group to hash out the mechanics of the second component, the participatory audit itself.

Policy and Legal Framework

Importance: High

Why is this important? An appropriate policy and institutional framework offers an ideal context for the effective implementation of a program on citizen participation with the SAI. The existence of a normative framework on citizen engagement—consisting either of general legislation that reaches the SAI or internal regulations—is a crucial factor for success for many reasons: a. it means that there is a previous consensus on the importance of the issue; b. it offers authoritative arguments to push the agenda forward and to overcome internal and external resistance that may be encountered; c. it builds institutional legitimacy and helps ensure sustainability over time.

Nonetheless, a previous regulatory recognition, although valuable, is not imperative for the implementation of a citizen participation policy. To the extent that the rules do not expressly limit the development of such practices—in fact, such formal constraints rarely exist in any country—those institutions willing to incorporate citizen participation mechanisms or social accountability tools do not need to undertake major regulatory changes (note that this recognition may be based, among other things, on the principles and standards of international organizations such as INTOSAI and of stakeholders working on those issues). In such cases, the implementation of those policies may end up triggering subsequent regulatory recognition, as decision makers acknowledge the benefits of promoting the sustainability of such practices.

Examples In Korea, the Board of Audit and Inspection (BAI) introduced the Audit Request for Public Interests (ARPI) in 1996, pursuant to the BAI’s internal regulations, under which CSOs whose membership exceeds 300 or a group of 300 or more citizens can request that the SAI conduct an audit of specific issues for the sake of public interests. The Anti-Corruption Act of 2002 established the legal foundation for participatory audit under the title of Citizen Audit Request.

In 2013, Costa Rica’s SAI decided to embark on a citizen engagement policy, building upon the services and products it had already developed. Although the implementation of such a strategy was extremely innovative in the functioning of the SAI, a formal recognition of these principles appears in different rules and regulations governing the SAI, including its institutional mission. This turned out to be very useful for those SAI officials who had committed to promoting participatory practices .

In contrast, other countries, such as Argentina, have implemented participatory mechanisms despite the lack of rules and regulations, or normative principles that provide a framework for the incorporation of social accountability tools. For instance, since 2003, the General Audit Office has been implementing participatory planning, although in an informal way (that is, with no legal regulation backing the implementation and by trial and error regarding the methodology). In 2014, the procedure and methodology of participatory planning were finally approved by the Board of Auditors, leading to its institutionalization, or “legal consecration,” which offers additional support to ensure sustainability.

Institutional Structure and Skills within the SAI

Importance: High

Why is this important? Considering that staff may question the importance of advancing citizen engagement and implementing effective strategies, as well as organizing an institutional structure to support such a challenge, are both essential to promote efficient, sustainable, and transformational practices. Creating units or offices specifically dedicated to the planning and implementation of these policies is a meritorious strategy. It is wise to ensure the implementation of cross-cutting strategies within the SAI that are designed to build an organizational culture that highlights the role of citizens in public oversight. Those SAIs that have already deployed such strategies to advance engagement—with CSOs, external stakeholders, or citizens—are in the best position to implement more ambitious and effective participatory practices.

Examples In Colombia, the SAI´s programs of citizen participation (the so-called citizen audits, among others) are implemented through a Deputy Comptroller for Citizen Participation and two departments specifically created to address that mission: the Directorate for Citizen Attention and the Directorate for the Promotion and Development of Citizen Control. The creation of offices with specific functions concerning citizen engagement -and that count with recognized high institutional relevance and prominence- has fostered increased visibility and ownership of citizen participation policies by the institution as a whole.

Communication Channels and Type of Reports Produced by the SAI

Importance: Very high

Why is this important? Public access to information produced by SAIs is an unavoidable requirement of any policy envisioning openness and engagement with the public. Delivery of information upon request is necessary but not sufficient. Active transparency policies are needed, especially those that build upon various channels for disseminating information (the SAI website, the media, social media, and so forth). It is also imperative that this information, especially technical documents (such as reports), is presented in language that can be easily understood by the media and the general public. Likewise, if the information is presented in a re-usable format (computer-readable and open data), the value of data that the SAI makes publicly available will be significantly higher. It is also useful to assess the degree of actual use of SAI products by the general public, especially by key stakeholders such as the media, the academy, specialized agencies, other public bodies (including other horizontal accountability institutions). Likewise, it is important to consider the feedback these stakeholders give to the SAI and the SAI´s willingness to address their requirements.

Examples SAIs of Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom offer comprehensive information on their web portals about audit findings in accessible formats and understandable language. They have also embraced social media (blogs, Facebook, Flickr, SlideShare, and others alike) to convey their messages through ICT in real time and to a wider audience.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) makes full audit reports available on its webpage—sorted by date, topic, and agency—as well as a one-page briefing on its highlights stating what GAO audited, what it found, and what it recommended so that citizens and journalists can easily see the most important highlights of each audit exercise.

Willingness of Civil Society to engage

Importance: High

Why is this important? The nature and characteristics of the demand side are elements to consider when designing mechanisms for citizen participation. The existence of a strong and active civil society as well as high levels of social mobilization constitutes a crucial enabling factor for citizen participation practices within SAIs. Demand from civil society is often high in contexts in which there is already a tradition of citizen participation in public affairs and a regulatory framework that promotes it. When the SAI is widely known by citizens and respected as a relevant institution, participation mechanisms are likely to be effective for meeting citizen demands for accountability. Likewise, mechanisms for participation can also be tools that grant greater legitimacy to the institution and increase its levels of public awareness and effectiveness.

Examples In South Africa, the Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM) is a research and advocacy organization that forms part of the School of Journalism and Media Studies at Rhodes University. PSAM works closely with the national legislature to track government agency responses to instances of financial misconduct and corruption identified by the auditor general, so as to pressure the government to take corrective action. PSAM publicizes audit findings in press releases and via radio talk shows, publishes a scorecard that measures the comparative compliance of various provincial agencies with public finance law, and organizes public campaigns highlighting the large number of audit disclaimers issued by provincial audit entities—all of which has led to stronger financial management practices in provincial government agencies.


(Section 6 of 6)

Importance: Medium

Why is this important? Although citizen engagement mechanisms are not necessarily costly, they do require funding to be put in place. Identifying what types of resources are needed for each project is the first step toward drafting a feasible plan. Most of the time, those needs consist of human resources and expenses for communication-related activities. Necessary resources can come from the SAI’s budget or from external support. For example, some international cooperation agencies provide funding for SAIs willing to improve their performance by implementing external communication and citizen participation programs. However, lack of funding should not discourage the SAI from moving forward. A big change can be made even with little investment of resources.

Examples In countries where the level of Internet penetration is high, the use of ICT can significantly reduce some of the costs associated with external communication and citizen participation initiatives of the SAI, such as in the United States (Fraud Net) and Chile (Contraloría y Ciudadano). In some cases (such as in Italy, Paraguay, and Colombia), a special unit in charge of designing and implementing the institution’s strategy of citizen participation has been created, which requires sufficient resources to pay for staffs salaries and operational costs. Chile’s SAI also allocates resources for conducting investigations based on citizen demand in its annual budget. With the support of the World Bank, the SAIs in Nepal and Tanzania have started a pilot plan of citizen engagement, which includes the creation of civil society multi-stakeholder groups that collaborate with the SAI in the implementation of the plan.


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