Go To Search
Click to Home
If Picasso Was a Government Auditor
By Michael Eglinski

Cubist artists like Pablo Picasso created a huge innovation in the art world. Painters had always represented a scene from a single point of view. But cubists changed that. They incorporated multiple views in a single work of art. Cubist art looks … well … it looks strange. But, it is creative and innovative.
Eglinski_cover_rev.jpg 


If Picasso was an auditor, what might a Cubist performance audit look like?

Picasso might incorporate multiple views of the same topic. Performance audits often tackle objectives from a single perspective, like compliance, management efficiency, or governance. Taking different perspectives gives us chances to be creative and innovative.

Cubist auditing, like cubist painting, would look at an issue from multiple perspectives. While Picasso’s tools were paintbrushes, an auditor’s tools could be diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and user stories. Both audit tools help identify different perspectives and then explicitly consider how those perspectives matter to a performance audit. Both tools help auditors explore the perspectives of residents who may be difficult to reach through other audit methods, like interviews or general surveys. Considering different perspectives when selecting, planning, and reporting gives us opportunities to create audit objectives that matter, tailor our work to different perspectives, and report our work to a wide audience.


DIVERSITY, EQUITY, AND INCLUSION (DEI) AUDIT TOOL
A DEI audit tool can be as simple as a set of questions for the audit team to consider. Posing the questions help the team consider DEI issues. The team might consider, for example, whether the audit touches on equity issues and, if so, what audit steps address those issues. The questions can be tailored to the specific audit. For example, equity questions when looking at transparency and costs of a service include:

  • Are the costs of like services the same for similarly situated citizens? Or, for example, are some citizens charged more for a service than others? Are differences in service costs based on reasonable premises?
  • Do citizens have equal access to information? Or, for example, are some citizens more likely to receive information about government services and programs than others? Are differences in access to information based on reasonable premises (Funkhouser 2008, 27)?

Eglinski_1.JPG

USER STORIES

User stories identify people who use something, and their goals. User stories help us plan and report performance audits. Like the DEI tool, user stories involve identifying different perspectives and then considering how that might affect the audit work. User stories can follow a simple template: “As a [user], I want [goal], so that [value].”


APPLYING THE TOOLS TO MAINTAINING PARKS

A simple example illustrates both tools. Consider a city program to maintain parks. A DEI audit tool could lead us to ask:

  • Are park conditions and services provided equitably across the jurisdiction without major differences based on demographic characteristics of the areas?
  • Are there barriers that make parks and programs inaccessible to some residents?
  • Do resident surveys show different levels of satisfaction based on demographics?

For our parks maintenance audit some of those user stories might be:

  • As the department head, I want the audit to identify inefficiencies so that we can maintain the current levels of service during tight budget times.
  • As the top administrator. I want assurance that the parks are well maintained so I can keep the budget at the current level without recommending a tax increase.
  • As an individual city council member, I want to know that my district gets a fair share so that I can reassure constituents or, if necessary, hold management accountable and push for more equitable services.
  • As a park maintenance employee, I want the audit to find ways to provide services without pushing employees to work extra hours or take shortcuts that make the work unsafe.

During audit planning, a DEI tool and user stories help us develop specific objectives and identify methods by explicitly identifying and considering different perspectives. In our parks maintenance example, we might focus on geographic and socioeconomic equity in our objectives and use mapping to analyze and present our results.


WHAT DO GOVERNMENT AUDITING STANDARDS TELL US ABOUT DEI AND USERS?

The 2018 Yellow Book doesn’t use the terms “diversity” or “equity.” “Inclusion” shows up three times—but only about what to include in report writing and not about the broader concept of inclusion.

The 2018 Yellow Book addresses users extensively. Users play a significant role in both planning and reporting. Section 8.37 identifies several users we should consider as we plan performance audits:

  • Government officials or other parties who authorize or request audits
  • The audited entity
  • Those responsible for acting on auditors’ recommendations,
  • Oversight organizations
  • Legislative bodies
  • Legislators or government officials other than those who authorized or requested the audit
  • The media
  • Interest groups

I don’t know what Picasso would think about being used as a model for performance auditing. I like to think he’d appreciate the unusual perspective and would recognize the value in a cubist approach to auditing.

I want to thank Ben Thompson, Kymber Waltmunson and Madison Rorschach who shared ideas with me about user stories and the DEI tool. Ben has led ALGA training on Agile Project Management for Auditors. Madison is on the ALGA DEI committee and led the January 2019 ALGA training webinar on DEI. I appreciate their time and willingness to share ideas and answer my questions.


REFERENCES

  • Art Institute of Chicago. Portrait of Pablo Picasso. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/8624/portrait-of-pablo-picasso
  • DEI Committee, ALGA, https://algaonline.org/index.aspx?nid=677
  • Funkhouser, Mark. 2008. Honest Competent Government: The Promise of Performance Auditing. The Institute of Internal Auditors Research Foundation.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Michael Eglinski joined Johnson County Audit Services in July 2017. He has over 25 years of experience in local government auditing. He worked for the City Auditors Office and Mayor’s Office in the City of Kansas City, Missouri. He was the City Auditor for the City of Lawrence.