Performance Auditing

Performance Auditing

Contributing to Accountability in Democratic Government

Edited by Jeremy Lonsdale, Peter Wilkins and Tom Ling

This state-of-the-art book examines the development of performance audit, drawing on the experience in a number of different countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Australia, the Netherlands, and Belgium.

Chapter 13: Learning in an Accountability Setting

Jeremy Lonsdale and Elena Bechberger

Subjects: economics and finance, public sector economics, politics and public policy, public policy


Jeremy Lonsdale and Elena Bechberger This book has emphasised that the primary purpose of performance audit is to help secure accountability, but has also highlighted the value of learning from the work. To some (Lehtonen, 2005), reconciling the demands of accountability and learning can be problematic, and others (Bemelmans-Videc, Perrin and Lonsdale, 2007) argue that ‘traditional forms of accountability.[are] .  .  . often viewed as less concerned with learning than with punishment’. Some have noted that a primary focus on accountability brings with it a strong focus on rigour, independence, replicability and efficiency, whereas a focus on learning emphasises stakeholder ‘buy-in’ and an evaluation process which leaves space for discussion and lesson-drawing. It has been concluded ‘These two objectives are not necessarily incompatible . . . but they are sufficiently different to merit separate consideration’ (OECD, 2001). Generally, performance audit is associated with accountability practices, with a normative perspective, and often with attention to weakness and shortcomings. However, another perspective has been heard, primarily from practitioners (Funkhouser in this volume; Black, 2000; Bourn, 2007), emphasising the role they believe audit plays in improving government performance and helping organisations learn. Others have drawn attention to what they see as growing interest amongst auditors in identifying and promulgating ‘good practice’ (Wilkins and Lonsdale, 2007, Bechberger and Page, 2007). Against this background, this chapter examines how performance auditors are seeking to reconcile the demands of helping government to learn with their role in an accountability setting. In particular, it focuses on the National Audit Office (NAO) in the...

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