Thinking differently about audit is at the heart of the AuditFutures’ initiative. We want to start with the premise that the profession is offered a design opportunity and everything within its ecosystem should align with professional purpose, identity and values. The profession needs to adopt ways of thinking and working that unleash people’s full creative energy and foster their motivation and commitment. Insights from our work show that more critical and imaginative ways are needed to radically improve processes and products, by reframing the problems, experimenting, challenging the status quo and bias, and questioning assumptions.
Different conversations and perspectives on audit are necessary if the profession is to avoid inward-looking ‘Groundhog Day’ discussions and better inform debate about audit’s future. A modern audit profession should reach out, beyond its traditional stakeholders, engaging more widely and deeply, to explore changing needs and gain new knowledge. AuditFutures is proposing principles for this profession, but more thought, action and leadership are needed to envision the future and find ways to fulfil that vision.
One of our earliest projects, back in 2014, was a collaboration with the Royal College of Art (RCA), in London, seeking fresh perspectives on the future of audit from a group of service design students. This project led to some inspired and inspiring ideas, which surprised many auditors who encountered them at AuditFutures’ first Accountancy Salon on design and trust.
The connections between audit and design are less tenuous than may at first be apparent. Like design, audit is rooted in real, practical needs, but because design is often concerned with people’s experiences, feelings and motivations, it can give discussions about audit some novel cultural and human dimensions. When designers ask auditors questions such as: “What is your mission?” and “How to do want an audit report to make the reader feel?” this can spark some different conversations and perspectives on audit as a product, a service and a profession.
Based on learnings from AuditFutures’ collaborative projects and workstreams, we believe that design has a role to play. Adopting a ‘design mindset’ could help audit move beyond perceived ‘box ticking’ processes, to innovate, rediscover itself, and enhance its ability to develop offerings and services that align with the changing needs and expectations of the society served by audit – and its professional purpose, identity and values.
AuditFutures has drawn on a number of disciplines and experimented with tools and methods from various industries and professions, and our way of engaging with others has had positive results. By emphasising dialogue, experimentation and learning in our workshops, and approaching problems as a designer would, we have found innovative and unusual solutions, using low risk, low cost approaches that have achieved high levels of commitment from participants.
We share some of our approaches, what we have learnt and our Ideas about how they can enable a modern audit profession to think and work differently, in a series of essays on our resources hub (www.AuditFutures.net/manifesto-resources).
In Designing assurance (www.AuditFutures.net/manifesto-resources), we focus on developing and adopting a ‘design mindset’, outlining how and what we have learnt. The approach allowed our workshop participants to see their audit work through a different lens and find tangible and practical ways to bring ideas to reality. It could help the next generation of auditors to better prepare for and adapt to the future.
Rethinking audit as a ‘wicked problem’ (www.AuditFutures.net/manifesto-resources) offers another way for thinking differently. We outline how it can enable the profession to consider some of the divergent definitions, expectations, ideas and objectives of audit stakeholder groups. It could allow those in and around the audit ecosystem to better communicate and understand each other’s perspectives on major ‘pain points’ and to prototype solutions.
Design thinking also informed AuditFutures’ Ethics by design initiative (https://auditfutures.net/ethics-by-design), a collaboration with Ethical Systems, an academic think tank. After using design approaches to rethink professional ethics and explore practical ideas for ethical systems design, we reflect on factors that influence behaviour and culture in organisations and share some of the resulting ideas and challenges.
Adopting a design mindset could help the audit profession to better consider the purpose, identity, institutions and education needed to build and sustain a modern audit profession – and our principles for this. It can help audit adapt to the complex, changing reality of the corporate reporting ecosystem, by giving the profession new tools to envision its place in the future of audit as a product, service and profession; and to clarify, articulate and fulfil its vision. Adopting a design mindset could empower the profession to evolve.
Chris Humphrey is challenging the profession to try a different conceptual thinking about audit and to rethink its role in creating a better society.Read more
A short summary of our ‘Ethics by Design’ conference, in collaboration with Jonathan Haidt from Ethical SystemsRead more