Contributing to Accountability in Democratic Government
Edited by Jeremy Lonsdale, Peter Wilkins and Tom Ling
Chapter 6: Evidence and Argument
Alex Scharaschkin It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs. – Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, i.3. (trans. W.D. Ross) INTRODUCTION Chapter 5 examined the selection of methods to generate evidence for performance audits. It showed that evidence considered adequate by auditors can be derived in a variety of ways and that there has been an expansion over time in the methods used by auditors. This chapter examines how auditors use the evidence they gather to reach conclusions. Such conclusions are put forward on the basis of a process of argument founded upon the evidence. Much of the ‘art and craft’ of performance auditing is concerned with building up this argument, which must be rigorous, objective and fair (see Lonsdale, 1999; Keen, 1999, Furubo in this volume). Yet, although auditors may use scientific studies and academic research, performance audits are not themselves scientific studies or academic research projects. Moreover, they must be delivered with limited resources to tight timescales and for this reason, auditors find themselves periodically reflecting on what constitutes a sufficient and complete argument in audit. Making the kinds of argumentation used in performance audit work more overt, and considering them formally, also allows auditors to reflect on, and hence improve, practice. In this chapter I consider the nature of evidence and...
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