Common challenges

Supreme audit institutions face similar challenges when it comes to advancing engagement with external stakeholders. In order to start drafting a participatory plan, some critical questions may arise and make you wonder whether promoting openness and citizen engagement is the right choice.

In this section you will find some advice on: 1) how to encourage citizen participation, 2) how to preserve SAI’s independence, 3) how to avoid frustration when engaging civil society in audit duties, and 4) how to benefit from each side’s know-how and capacities.

How to encourage citizen participation

The first question that arises once you have decided to open channels for participation is “Who you´re planning to engage with?” You´ll need to identify these stakeholders–your audience- very carefully, and come up with innovative strategies so as to encourage them to take part in these collaborative initiatives.

  • Advancing sectoral strategies

    When exploring participatory strategies, it is important to distinguish who the right partner is—that is, those persons or groups who may be interested in SAI work and are willing to commit to engagement strategies to back audit performance.

    For example, the conclusion of a report on elementary education may be of interest to the educational community, to parents´ associations, and to CSOs advocating for children´s egalitarian access to education, among others.

    Who is the right partner?

    • Someone who has been working on the agenda and has built knowledge in the field.
    • Someone who can provide valuable input to SAI work, while also benefiting from it
    • Someone who can cooperate on joint initiatives in the long term
    • Someone who is deeply committed to improving government interventions and can therefore back SAI strategies
  • Identifying key actors

    • 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.
  • Showing the value of SAI work

    Building commitment requires adequate strategies primarily to draw interest to SAI work. Several products may be appealing to different actors, so it is important to identify who may be interested in each. Once the audience is targeted, it is crucial to explore different strategies on how to display SAI products. That will help the SAI build a reputation and also encourage other actors to take part in audit work to enhance effectiveness.

    What makes audit reports valuable to the audience? How can other stakeholders take profit from the information that audit reports contain? Those key questions must be answered when developing engagement strategies.

    See case study of Costa Rica
    The Comptrollers´ General of Costa Rica has developed a public information system that makes available relevant documents and materials (related to the auditing processes) for media, legislators and their advisors, CSOs, professional associations and citizens. Such information is sent directly to key users -adapting the content of each report to meet the needs of its recipients- and also posted on the CGR’s website. Additionally, the SAI offers training courses and seminars, and has organized outreach events as part of its information and communications policy targeting civil society.

    See case study
  • Aligning agendas

    Getting buy-in from the audience implies showing the value of SAI work and, most importantly, showing how it can enrich and maximize CSOs´ agendas. With the audience on board, SAIs and CSOs will be able to coordinate strategies more easily to increase the effectiveness of oversight

    See case study of Paraguay
    When the SAI of Paraguay decided to embark on an innovative mechanism of citizen engagement through thematic workshops, the underlying assumption was that that focused approach would not only improve SAI planning and processes but also generate institutional commitments and trust within the CGR to enhance instances of interaction with civil society—all of which had been exclusively handled by the Department of Citizen Control. By identifying how engagement could strengthen SAI comprehensive operations, the officials in charge started drafting a feasible proposal for approaching CSOs working on an environmental agenda, envisioning a sustainable and strategic partnership.

    See case study
  • Displaying receptiveness

    Advancing engagement between SAIs and citizens entails building commitment. Civil society will participate provided they can count on an effective response to their queries and demands. Therefore, when developing participatory mechanisms, it is critical that SAIs adequately plan strategies for mainstreaming citizens´ demands and offering feedback and an effective response to citizens´ input.

    See case study of Chile

    What does “good” look like?

    Toward a comprehensive civic participation policy in Chile’s Comptrollers General

    Throughout 2012, the National Audit Office of the Republic of Chile (CGR, its acronym in Spanish) reinforced its active commitment to build links with civil society by launching a website dedicated exclusively to civic participation:

    See HERE

    Citizens can engage with the SAI by submitting the following:

    • Oversight suggestions: Through an online form, citizens can send the CGR auditing proposals concerning public entities (with the option to attach supporting information) that will be analyzed for future auditing activities and for oversight scheduling. Later, when the audit process is complete and the reports are announced, those individuals who provided information are notified. That activity counts not only as a civic engagement activity but also as an accountability exercise by the CGR regarding the effectiveness of civil society contributions.
    • Online complaints: Through an online form, citizens may issue complaints regarding events that could merit an investigation by the CGR in sectors that are subject to auditing. The form includes a description field for the action or omission being reported, the possible responsible bodies, and any other useful record for the investigation, including supporting documents. The CGR analyzes the complaints and takes them into consideration when auditing a pertinent sector and notifies the complainant about the course of action taken.

    It is important to note that the participation Website includes a virtual application to see the status of the complaints and suggestions made to the CGR. This can be monitored based on the year and the assigned folio number. At the same time, the site incorporates videos explaining the way in which participation channels operate, including a glossary and index of frequently asked questions (there is also an email contact address for questions). All this accounts for the efforts by the CGR to promote a civic culture committed to external auditing, and a public that is highly informed.

    It is worth mentioning that the CGR publishes information on the number of complaints and suggestions presented over time, as well as the processing of the complaints (which entities were most reported and/or suggested to be audited), the geographic distribution of the requests, and the type of resulting actions taken. The average processing times of the complaints and suggestions are also analyzed and made public, based on the number of workdays taken to answer the citizen; a graphic also outlines the status of auditing processes, depending if they have been processed or are still pending.

    In short, the comprehensiveness of this civic participation policy not only reveals itself as a two-way communication channel with the citizens, but also as a valuable tool to generate trust from the public, create engagement, train and inform. Moreover, it is a far-reaching accountability policy by the entity that shows through the generation of statistics the importance of consolidating civil society linking strategies through time.

    Finally, the SAI has been developing an innovative CGR-Citizens and Public Works Portal, aimed at engaging citizens in monitoring transparency in the management and execution of central and municipal work projects (OCDE, 2014).

    For further information, see:
    “OCDE (2014): Chile’s Supreme Audit Institution. Enhancing Strategic Agility and Public Trust”, OECD Public Governance Reviews.

  • Expressing the will to build sustainable bonds

    One of the challenges that most SAIs encounter when advancing citizen engagement mechanisms is related to sustainability: How can the partners move from occasional contact toward a collaborative relationship of mutual benefit? Setting up participatory practices may be quite difficult at first, but sooner or later, initial obstacles can be resolved. Once that happens, and even when designing those strategies, thinking about the long term and visualizing incremental relationships is crucial. Ensuring regular and effective communication must be among SAIs’ top priorities. Keeping in contact with participants beyond special instances of cooperation can bring about several benefits:

    • A denouncement filed by a CSO may trigger an audit, thereby allowing the denouncer to eventually provide further evidence when developing the audit process and even when carrying out a follow-up audit. CSOs taking part in open events organized by the SAI may be good partners for other activities, such as dissemination of audit reports, joint audits, follow-up on audit recommendations, and putting pressure on the legislature.
    • CSOs that maintain a close relationship with the SAI may be a reliable source of information for forthcoming audit processes.
    • CSOs actively involved in SAI strategies for increased engagement can be key allies if SAI independence is hindered. They can set up strategies to back the SAI’s work and reputation.

    “Pre-existing relations facilitate implementation, help build trust between the actors involved, and contribute to cooperation” (OECD 2013).

    See case study of Argentina
    The implementation of participatory planning as a distinct procedure of citizen engagement by the SAI of Argentina was sparked off in 2003 with a specific audit. After considering civil society proposals and allegations of violation of law no. 22,431 regarding comprehensive access to and use of the public transport system by persons with disabilities, the AGN decided to conduct a comprehensive audit of the railway system as part of their 2004 action plan. The experience showed that CSOs had relevant inputs to contribute toward strengthening the oversight process and increasing its relevance. Hence, the AGN decided to adopt measures aimed at promoting a sustainable and strategic partnership with civil society through an annual meeting at which they would be able to submit proposals regarding areas of potential mismanagement.

    See case study

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