Speaking the language of Citizens

Good Practices

Over the past few years, many SAIs have been struggling to ensure effective communication about audit findings. This is a challenging activity because the audience is vast and the average citizen finds the complex language related to public oversight difficult to understand. Most probably, he or she will not read the full reports—especially those concerning financial and compliance exercise, which display highly technical language. VFM audits offer great opportunities to advance creative strategies to deliver the highlights of reports, and recently some SAIs have undertaken innovative practices to bolster the usefulness of their findings. Similarly, CSOs have drawn upon that information to encourage citizen awareness of the key issues those reports tackle.

Acknowledging that audit reports usually address topics that are complex and unfamiliar to most citizens, the Court of Audit embarked on a communication policy aimed at presenting that information to the public in an attractive way. The SAI has therefore developed audit summaries that include images and infographics—and few words—to explain the most important elements of DBFMO contracts (a form of public–private partnership that the government uses for building and infrastructure projects). It is the Court´s responsibility to audit the government’s management of the contracts and provide information to the House of Representatives. In this sense, these friendly summaries are used in all communication of the audit project (report, briefings, presentations, and the website) for ministries, Parliament, and the general public. Similarly, the findings and conclusions of these audits are shared with local audit offices and audit committees by means of a webinar, thereby allowing participation from a distance.

The Commission on Audit of the Philippines has also developed audit briefings on citizen participatory audits (CPAs). Given that CPAs are rooted in citizen engagement and concern service delivery and other issues of social interest, it becomes critical to communicate findings in the most appropriate way, especially to society at large. In this sense, the briefings delivered by the COA are comprehensive and include not only the findings, recommendations, and conclusions but also the audit methodology and the roadmap of citizen engagement, explaining in detail the scope and outreach of participation.

HakiElimu is a nonprofit CSO working in Tanzania that builds upon reports from the National Audit Office to promote citizen engagement toward influencing policy making and practices to advance participation, accountability, transparency, and social justice. The CSO uses information from the Annual General Reports of the Controller and Auditor General (on the audit of the financial statements of the central government and of local government authorities) to draw attention to budget implementation. The intent is to show citizens whether financial management laws and regulations are in place to ensure improved goods and services for the community. Facts and figures from these statements are incorporated in reader-friendly leaflets so that average citizens can see how central and local governments are performing and whether the budget sanctioned by Parliament has been effectively handled in relation to service delivery. Furthermore, HakiElimu also produces leaflets on audit reports that map the most important findings in each region.

Similarly, the Public Participation in the Budget Audit Process Program (PPBA—World Bank) has supported collaborative mechanisms between the National Audit Office and CSOs to produce “Citizen friendly Audit Reports,” as well as to develop a strategic plan for ways to systematically engage CSOs in the audit planning process in Tanzania.

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