2017 - another year of contribution and cooperation
Finland is a child of the Baltic, into which its lakes discharge their treasures. However, this is not a source of pride for the magnificent body of water, which, like any loving mother, stands back so that the daughter can grow and wear the flowers and green grass of summer on her sunny shores every year. Happy is the country bestowed with thousands of lakes and seashores extending over thousands of miles. Sea means power and liberty, sea is a source of wealth and enlightenment, without sea, there cannot be any tilling of the soil, and a land that is connected with sea can never be suppressed or brought to despair.
It is fitting to quote these words by Zachris Topelius as we are preparing to celebrate the centenary of the Finnish independence. I believe that during 2017, we will go a long way towards understanding the waves of change. By conducting audits, we help to ensure that Finland's central government does not stagnate but remains in motion so that it can respond to change by adopting new operating models.
Drawing on the theory proposed by Kondratiev, Markku Wilenius, a Finnish futures researcher, describes the megatrends of the sixth wave of development in which resource efficiency and increasing reliance on information technology also determine the manner in which central government should embrace reform: “The infrastructures created during the time of crisis determine development trends for many decades, which means that decisions made during these periods may actually carry more weight than usual. The speed of change may, however, make decision-making more difficult and there should be more focus on streamlining legislation and on understanding its systemic impacts.”
The speed of change is a major challenge in our audit work. Analysing the drivers of the current change process is essential to a successful reform of central government structures. It is important to understand the situation of the entities in which we conduct audits so that we can successfully and interactively support public administration actors in their change process. Anticipating change and dealing with the conflicting pressures of reform in the public administration is particularly difficult during transition. Verifying and improvement-oriented audit may, at its best, serve as a resource strengthening the belief of the public administration actors in a successful outcome.
Central government operating models are being developed into customer-friendly procedures and work is being done in networks in which the aim is to use broad-based expertise, perspectives and analysis. Increasingly extensive data management and automation of different stages of expert work are major trends of the future. During the Christmas holiday, we had a chance to hear algorithm-based sports reporting by the Finnish Broadcasting Company3 as a news anchor said to a colleague: “I guess they will still need us in the future.” I my view, we must turn the situation to our advantage: Our ability to see things in a new way will provide a basis for extensive use of technology in expert work. Our work will become more meaningful, the knowledge base will expand and faster work stages will help us to communicate on time and more precisely.
We should, through our own work, support central government actors in their efforts to find innovative solutions and operating models. Our ability to engage in debate, find new solutions, and highlight comparative data and best practices make our message stronger. As auditors and as part of our mandate, we have an excellent vantage point from where we can follow the reform process in central government. In fact, expertise and information should be made more comprehensively available to decision-makers through a variety of channels. User-oriented approach to communications and multichannel interaction will form the basis for effective audit in the coming years. We are adapting to changes taking place in society and the professional issues arising from this process should be jointly discussed by all parties involved.
In many respects, the coming decade will be crucial to determining which path we will take. Heikki Aittokoski, a Finnish non-fiction writer, who describes the current and at times tragic divisions of our nation in his book “Kuolemantanssi” has said that optimism is the glue holding Europe together.4 In my view, trust is the glue holding the Finnish society together and it is also our most valuable resource. Strengthening the trust in the proper use of our national assets is the most import way in which the National Audit Office can contribute to the cohesion of the Finnish society.
In times of transition, we can strengthen this trust by understanding the manner in which audited entities want to improve their operating practices, by providing essential and relevant information and analysis and by serving as an expert partner amid the transition. In our daily work, this means focusing on essential issues, promoting openness and transparency, sharing best practices, networking, well-structured reporting, productive interaction with audited entities and highlighting our expertise.
Let us hope that the year 2017 will be characterised by more intensive debate, close cooperation, joint action and learning of new things. We all have an interest in ensuring a secure future for the child of the Baltic referred to by Topelius and we can do this with the information that we produce and share.
National Audit Office of Finland