By adopting strategic foresight in the public sector, governments are better equipped to achieve policy objectives, respond to citizens and adapt to changing circumstances. Auditors play a critical role in this. They are increasingly going beyond their oversight and assurance roles to support forward-looking governance and anticipate risks.
Unexpected events can blindside institutions, and policy solutions can become quickly outdated. In a world beset with change and evolving challenges, strategic foresight and risk-based governance can help governments to maintain a view beyond the horizon. Strategic foresight is synonymous with planning, anticipation and preparedness. It reflects both an objective and practices that government entities, including audit institutions themselves, can leverage to create an environment of continuous adaptation and improvement. It is something that public sector auditors can promote in government through their audits and advisory work. Auditors can provide better insight on how policies affect outcomes in the here-and-now, and foresight on how policies can translate into better lives in the future. Auditors can also adopt an approach to strategic foresight within their own institutions.
Oversight, insight and foresight: What role for public sector auditors?
Looking forward, anticipating and stimulating continuous improvement can be challenging. Although traditionally focusing on hindsight in their role, internal audit functions have been moving away from this approach towards one that actively helps organisations better prepare for the future. This is characterised by the ability to spot key risks and challenges, and ensuring these insights reach the right people at the right time for better decision-making. Supreme audit institutions are also increasingly taking a systemic view to forecast implications and predict risks in the medium and long-term. To do this, auditors need to promote evidence-based arguments that demonstrate the benefits of change, focusing on results. This is how auditors can actively help keep the public service agile, forward-looking and risk-based.
Practice what you preach: Foresight within audit institutions
If auditors do not adopt the same approach vis-à-vis foresight as they promote to other organisations, then they miss an opportunity to demonstrate the potential added value of an anticipatory approach. The external environment is complex, dynamic and evolving, and the way that auditors work should reflect the kinetic nature of this reality. Agility, continuous adaptation and change management within audit institutions are essential for maximising the impact of auditor’s findings and recommendations. By changing their perspective and exploring potential ways to improve, auditors can demonstrate that they are leading by example.