Changing NAOF: Out of the box

In its report on the future of work, the World Economic Forum listed complex problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity among the skills critical for the future. The National Audit Office recognised the two first ones as key factors long ago. What about creativity? Can creativity be associated with auditing, a disciplined activity, and an institution with supervision as its main task? Quite well in fact. In this blog series, we discuss the changes occurring in the audit work of the National Audit Office of Finland and our operating environment from the perspective of our renewed strategy.

Strategy work is creative work

The year 2018 was an inspiring period of renewal in our agency. As part of our strategy process, we analysed our status, our role and our future in a new manner.

Before that, the main focus in our strategy work had been on how to prioritise our audit activities in the future and how to allocate our resources between different audit products.  These are still important issues but this time, the question of how to do things differently was at the core of our strategy discussion.

In fact, inspired by our strategy work, we have already started the process of renewing our management system and organisational structure. As part of this work, we will make our agency less hierarchical and delegate power and responsibilities. In other words, creativity in the NAOF will manifest itself as an ability to combine things in a way that is new to us. Creativity is the ability to question one’s assumptions.

Out to the wide world!

One key realisation that emerged during the strategy process was that we can, in fact we must, enhance our own expertise with the help of external expert networks and communities.   Networking should be the responsibility of a larger number of people that has been the case until now.

We must boldly step out to the wide world and start thinking outside the box. We need more eyes and ears to monitor the changes taking place in our operating environment so that we can focus our resources on the right things at the right time. SITRA, our own scientific council, the international community of audit institutions and the events arranged by central government (such as the ValtioExpo and the Spring Splash) all provide interesting forums for networking.

As networks are in a state of constant change, we need the ability to continuously assess the usefulness of different forums and select the ones that best support our own effectiveness objectives.  To meet this need, we are building a customer relations and stakeholder programme serving the agency as a whole.

Independence does not mean isolation

Until now, a high degree of caution in interpretations concerning our independence has prevented systematic and coordinated participation in networked activities. However, auditing standards have evolved a great deal over the years and nowadays, dialogue, interaction and networking are the preferred instruments when effectiveness improvements are sought.

We have reviewed and questioned our interpretations and beliefs during the strategy process and concluded that our independence is not at risk even if we embrace new ideas at different forums. On the contrary. It is important that we listen to the views of as many parties as possible so that we can ensure our impartiality and consider fresh perspectives. Our overall view should be based on the careful analysis of these perspectives.

Meetings provide forums for processing and enriching information. Engaging in networks makes it easier to use audit information. Therefore, we are prepared to step out of the box and enter new forums. Understanding and combining things also creates new information and provides us with a broader understanding of the world around us.

By joining networks, we can enhance our ability to use our audit observations when formulating visions of the future. By doing that, we are in a position to challenge and coach central government in a better and more constructive manner in the future.

Room for experiments – we are also overhauling our management and operating culture 

We believe that by engaging in networked activities, we can also receive ideas and inspiration for developing our own work. In fact, we have incorporated the experimental culture into our new strategy.

We can definitely make our own processes and work stages more efficient in many ways but we also want to encourage creativity and innovativeness when developing our activities.  Only by doing that can we reap significant benefits from the opportunities offered by new technologies.

Promising ideas are tested through experiments. We are also fully prepared to change direction if the results of the experiments show that this is needed. We are still in the early stages of the experimental culture but we firmly believe that creativity and innovativeness are something that you can learn and something that you can manage.