Speaking the language of Citizens

How to develop Citizen Audit Guide and a Citizen Audit Report for improving public outreach and communication with external stakeholders || Guidance note.

Dissemination of audit findings and communicating with different stakeholders are considered critical steps to fulfilling SAI’s mandates according to the International Standards for SAIs (ISSAI 12). While making audit reports and information available in accessible formats and easy to understand language is a necessary first step, it is not sufficient to improve the impact of audit findings. For this to happen, a two-way communication strategy is needed to enable openness and feedback from citizens and CSOs. 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 provides insights and practical information for SAIs to develop both a citizen audit guide and a citizen audit report. While these are core elements for enhanced value of audit work, they need to leverage ICTs and web platforms to foster engagement along the whole audit cycle. In the end, readers will find some useful tips to promote an effective two-way communication strategy and advance increased interaction with external stakeholders.

How to develop a citizen audit guide

A citizen audit guide is a document where contents related to the mission, strategies, legal mandate and functions of the SAI will be explained. This kind of material is intended to be useful to make the institution more knowledgeable by external stakeholders and the general public. The citizen audit guide can be developed in two formats: i) web based, as a section of the SAI’s website, and ii) as a document to be disseminated either in hard copies or PDF. In both cases, it is important that the content be clear and simple to understand for non-expert readers and the design be attractive. The use of graphics and videos would be of big help, along with hyperlinks encouraging further research. There are six core sections that the guide should include, which need to address the basic questions any stakeholder may ask and illustrate the responses in practical ways.

All of these sections can either be displayed as different tabs on the SAI webpage, or be presented in a printable brochure. In acknowledging that audit work is highly technical and that most citizens overlook or even don ́t know what its main features consist in, SAIs from all over the world have been developing different strategies to address this issue.

Check some good practices!

  • The UK NAO shows the key information on the SAI on a brochure where it presents an overview of its functions as well as its role in the overall accountability system.
  • As a way of introducing SAI structure and workforce, the US GAO displays an organizational chart on its webpage where it presents each official along with their picture and a hyperlink for further information related to their duties.
  • The French Court of Accounts offers a frequently-asked questions section on its webpage, where it explains its assigned duties as well as how citizens can reach out to the SAI.
  • In Mexico, the SAI explains its main roles in a citizen audit guide, a pdf document that identifies who the SAI is answerable to, what kinds of audits it performs and how it plans them, how it assigns its budget, and how it differentiates itself from internal audit agencies.
  • In South Africa, the AGSA offers a comic-based brochure that addresses then most relevant tasks the SAI performs in a friendly language. It explains how the SAI oversees government expenditures, what types of audits it performs on a year basis along with their possible outcomes, what happens when irregularities are detected, and how it promotes improved results in public management. Additionally, the brochure includes a frequently-asked questions ́ section targeting in a more formal and structured way the critical features of SAI work.

How to develop a citizen audit report

While communicating SAI mandate and duties in friendly and easily understandable ways is the first step to ensure that citizens can truly acknowledge the relevant role SAIs play in the accountability system, it is not enough to enhance the real value in audit work. As stated in the Lima Declaration, SAIs need to present the facts and their assessments in an objective, clear manner and be limited to the essentials. However, the wording of reports is still a challenge towards promoting effective engagement strategies. In this sense, it is important to develop specific products targeting the general audience to display the results of SAI work. A citizen audit report is a document that presents the main audit outcomes and findings along with SAI recommendations in simple, plain language. Efforts to make this information both accessible and comprehensible is critical to encouraging audit reports ́ ownership by several agents that can partner with SAIs to make state agencies accountable. There are some key points that SAIs need to address when developing a citizen audit report.

Type of audit report

Despite the complexity and comprehensives of SAI work, not every audit report is easily deliverable to the general audience. Most frequently, specific target groups will be interested in particular reports. Unlike financial or compliance audits -which are highly technical-, VFM or performance audit reports assess the extent to which government agencies have embraced standards of efficiency and effectiveness in delivering public policies and social programmes. In this sense, their outcomes are bound to be highly relevant to a broad audience that includes civil society organizations, thinks tanks, researchers, the media and mostly citizens. Some useful questions can help the SAI identify how to prioritize and select those audit reports that are going to be summarized and turned into a citizen audit report:

  • Does the audit address delivery of services to citizens? Does it address how well outcomes that benefit citizens are being achieved, or on the contrary, unachieved?
  • Has the audit topic been in the public eye in the immediate period? Have there been any previous media campaigns or CSO mobilization around the topic?
  • Has the audit been the result of public participation in SAI planning? Have there been complaints filed to the SAI in the topic?
  • Are there any stakeholders who will potentially be interested in monitoring compliance with audit recommendations?

Structureof the report

  • Given that the citizen audit report is a brief summary of audit results, it should be around 1-3 pages long, including graphic elements (such as tables, diagrams, info-graphics, illustrations, hyperlinks) to support the messages conveyed in the main text.
  • The report needs to be well-organized and follow a coherent, logical structure. However, it does not need to include every section the actual report covers. Bear in mind that it is a synthesis of the core elements addressed in the audit.
  • Any reader should be able to follow through the text by targeting different entry points. Include clear and concise headings, and even try questions to introduce the contents of each section.
  • An executive summary is strongly advised to welcome readers and to draw their attention to the most important information about an audit.
  • Along the report, and in as few words as possible, tell readers: what was examined, why it is important, and what was found.
  • A proposed citizen audit report structure should include: title of the report, summary, main activity, programme, or issue that the audit covers along with its relevance, period when the audit was conducted, main findings, recommendations issued by the SAI, and conclusions.

What a citizen audit report should include and what it should avoid

  • Overview of the audit
  • Scope & objective of the audit
  • Period covered by the audit
  • Main audit findings
  • Recommendations
  • Conclusion
  • Graphics, tables, charts & figures
  • Hyperlinks & videos
  • Table of contents
  • SAI internal proceedings
  • Professional audit standards
  • SAI unit conducting the audit
  • Responses from the auditee
  • Appendix
  • Photographs
  • Bibliography & documents

Wording of the report

  • Use plain language and avoid technical jargon.
  • Convey the main messages in a tweet. Readers are bound to understand and remember facts when they take in information that is divided into short sentences sticking to one main idea.
  • Use active verbs instead of passive voice.
  • Include questions to address the core facts. In this way, readers will easily grasp the main message that is being delivered.

Additional features

  • Support the core elements with figures and graphics.
  • Use timelines, numbers and charts to back the evidence gathered in the audit.
  • Avoid poor quality images and photographs.
  • Enhance the value of ICTS by simplifying findings through videos and web-based, interactive platforms.

What a citizen audit report should look like

Now check some good practices!

  • The Mexican SAI publishes the Annual Report on the Audit of Public Accounts through a brief report targeted to citizens, where short summaries of reports are presented, as well as on a navigable website where users can choose which section and audit report to consult.
  • In South Africa, the AGSA showcases audit results in short videos aimed at a non-technical audience so that any citizen can understand the value of SAI work.
  • The General Audit Office in Argentina makes critical reports available through three-minute explanatory videos pointing at the relevance of audits on sanitation, governmental financial states, mining, among others.
  • The US GAO summarizes more than 70- pages long audit reports in a one-page brief on its webpage, where it presents the highlights and recommendations. It explains why the topic is relevant for the SAI, it presents the most relevant findings backed with graphics showcasing evidence found, and it displays the status of each recommendation. Also, it provides hyperlinks so that readers can download the full report and the summary, and it offers contact information so that anyone interested in the audit can reach out to the SAI.
  • In The Philippines, I-Kwenta elaborates COA ́s citizen participatory audits in briefs. They consist of info-graphics that summarize the contents of CPA reports produced from the pilot audits developed between the SAI and CSOs. Audit-in-briefs are produced from final CPA reports and made available after these have been published.

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