Communicating with the public

Engagement requires cooperation—nurtured by trust building and knowledge exchange—to embark on joint initiatives. Transparency and increased accountability of SAIs are the first steps toward building trust and constructive engagement. In this sense, engaging in active communication strategies is critical to success because it helps to define roles, responsibilities, and expectations.

Transparency entails the public disclosure of information related to government interventions and public management.

In the case of SAIs, transparency specifically refers to the availability and full disclosure of information related to their actions, policies, procedures, and decisions in a timely, clear, and accessible manner.

Accountability refers to the responsiveness by government leaders to justify their actions, as they have been invested with public responsibility.

As for SAIs, accountability embraces all the practices and mechanisms through which citizens —the main beneficiaries of oversight duties in an accountability system—hold those institutions responsible for their actions. It allows SAIs to raise awareness about their work and impact on society.

Communication strategy

To achieve real effect on financial discipline and government accountability, SAIs must ensure that their work reaches a variety of stakeholders who can take action upon audit findings. Developing a communication strategy is the first step toward this goal and entails not only making reports available to the audience but also displaying transparency regarding SAI management and structure and being open to feedback from the public.

Communication can take several forms, depending on the flow of information and ability to response.

  • One-way communication

    This is the traditional form of communication through which institutions (or other agents) offer information to the public—by publishing data on websites or delivering it through different mechanisms. It is a one-way interaction deeply rooted in the principles of transparency and accountability, which are necessary enabling conditions for citizen engagement. Providing objective and complete information can help citizens understand problems, alternatives, opportunities, and solutions, and thereby empower them to take further action.

    Most SAIs engage in this type of communication practice. This has been bolstered by the intensive use of official websites to provide wide access to information regarding SAI mission, activities, and products.

    Example: SAIs of Germany, the United States, and the United Kingdom stand out in this regard. Their portals offer comprehensive information on audit findings in accessible formats and understandable language. They have also embraced social media (blogs, Facebook, Flickr, SlideShare, and so forth) to convey their messages through ICT in real time and to a wider audience.

  • Two-way communication

    Two-way communication is two-way channel/interaction between civil society at large (citizens, CSOs, institutions) and SAIs, which allows civil society to provide feedback on processes and operations to help SAIs attain improved outcomes. This communication pattern is tightly knitted to citizen engagement. In fact, the essence of public participation—as distinct from simply public information—is a two-way communication channel and interaction between the organization (such as a SAI) reaching a decision and the people who are interested in or affected by that decision. By means of consultation, SAIs can reorient their strategies and processes in a way that (a) meets the public’s needs and (b) enables collaboration toward attaining specific ends.

    Example: SAIs of Slovenia, Brazil, and Chile have been progressively moving toward this communication strategy by introducing online citizen feedback mechanisms (citizen complaint forums, chatrooms, and the like). Similarly, the SAI of Georgia posts online chats and blogs concerning issues of interest on its website, and the Netherlands´ Court of Audit gathers knowledge and insights from citizens on forums such as LinkedIn.

Communicating and Promoting the Value and Benefits of SAIs: An INTOSAI Guideline

For SAIs to effectively communicate their value and benefits to stakeholders and promote stakeholder participation in the auditing process, SAIs should consider developing communication strategies and supporting policies such as the following:

  • Promote a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities in the public sector and in broader society
  • Explore ways of being visible, building relations, and gaining understanding and support in the public arena
  • Make professional information accessible to the public
  • Communicate with the public and other interested parties as both a producer and a receiver of information

ISSAI 12. PRINCIPLE 6: Communicating effectively with stakeholders

  • SAIs should communicate in a manner that increases stakeholders’ knowledge and understanding of the role and responsibilities of the SAI as an independent auditor of the public sector.
  • SAIs’ communication should contribute to stakeholders’ awareness of the need for transparency and accountability in the public sector.
  • SAIs should communicate with stakeholders to ensure understanding of the SAI’s audit work and results.
  • SAIs should interact appropriately with the media in order to facilitate communication with the citizens.
  • SAIs should engage with stakeholders, recognizing their different roles, and consider their views, without compromising SAI’s independence.
  • SAIs should periodically assess whether stakeholders believe the SAI is communicating effectively.

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