Do you know if we have planned a performance audit that may involve your entity?
We outline our planned performance audits for the next three years in our strategic audit plan. And if your entity may be involved in a performance audit, do you know how you will prepare for and then engage with QAO during it?
We spoke to Stephanie Attard, Executive Director of Reform and Support Services, Court Services Queensland, within the Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG), about her experiences as a performance audit contact officer for QAO.
Question 1: How you can prepare for a performance audit?
‘In my opinion, if you are welcoming of an audit there is greater participation and a greater willingness to engage in the process. For myself and my team, this was definitely the case.’
— Stephanie Attard
Stephanie’s recommendations for any entity involved in an audit is preparation and early engagement. She outlines two key ways that your entity can prepare:
- Firstly, collect and prepare materials and background information likely to be relevant to the upcoming audit.
- Secondly, brief staff working in areas that the audit may affect and encourage them to be open and honest when responding to the auditors.
According to Stephanie, during the audit on the provision of court recording and transcription services, the ‘level of QAO’s engagement was thorough, collaborative and effective, resulting in a strong level of comfort that they [QAO] understood our business, our key challenges and opportunities for improvement’.
Early engagement helps QAO to refine the audit scope, and allows your entity to provide input into issues that would benefit from investigation during the first phase of the audit—the planning phase. Throughout the rest of audit, QAO will continue to meet with you for progress updates, follow-up meetings and to seek regular feedback.
‘The impacts of the audits were, at times, significant. Specifically, in relation to the data that was requested. We appreciated that QAO was working to tight deadlines, but there was significant pressure on us to provide a really large amount of data in a short time frame.’
— Stephanie Attard.
QAO recognises that however well prepared your entity may be for an upcoming audit, the audit will still impact on day-to-day operations. Often, this is due to the volume of information QAO requires and the broad range of staff and stakeholders involved in providing it. Early preparation can reduce this impact. By taking note of QAO’s strategic audit plan, you will know in advance if your entity is likely to be involved in an audit.
In reflecting on the audits on the criminal justice system, Queensland Courts Service noted that their preparation, which they based on the topical questions QAO asked at the initial audit meeting, allowed them to minimise the audit’s impact on their business.
Case study: preparation and engagement in the criminal justice data audits
Engaging with multiple entities during one audit can be complicated due to differences in their organisational culture and levels of preparation.
The audits on the criminal justice system involved more than one business unit within DJAG and highlighted contrasts in how entities prepare for an audit and engage with QAO, and the impact on their day-to-day operations.
The advice from the team at Queensland Courts was to be proactive in the early engagement phase—they organised meetings to discuss what information QAO required as soon as the audit scoping began. They then identified all appropriate source documents and data sets.
While they did experience issues providing the amount of information in a timely manner, they believe their preparation minimised the audit’s impact on their operations.
Question 2: Who has input into a performance audit?
‘You should never underestimate the desire of stakeholders to have their say.’
— Stephanie Attard
All entities involved in an audit have multiple opportunities to provide input and feedback.
Stephanie noted that ‘regular discussions during the audit provided advice in terms of the audit teams’ thinking along the way. This meant that there were no surprises when the initial drafts were provided for comment and feedback’.
In the case of the audits on the criminal justice system, the entities involved felt that more time to work collaboratively with QAO on constructing the recommendations would have been beneficial. Overall, implementing the recommendations from the two reports has seen positive changes in the criminal justice system, but more time to consider the wording of recommendations from an implementation perspective would help entities to achieve this.
QAO will acknowledge and respond to your entity’s feedback throughout the audit and incorporate final comments into the final report. We also provide opportunities for all entities to meet with QAO together, allowing you to collectively discuss preliminary findings, check the interpretation of the data, resolve issues, and formally close areas of contention or pieces of work.
Question 3: How do entities and QAO ensure the report is ‘fair and balanced’ and adds value to the entity?
‘The recommendations provided the “encouragement” for action to be taken to formalise the inherent issues. It placed reporting time frames to ensure action was taken to address areas of concern.’
— Stephanie Attard
Entities involved in an audit may have a different view of how ‘fair and balanced’ the final report is. For the two reports on the criminal justice system, there were differing views on the transparency of data, fairness and balance of the reports, and opportunities to maximise buy in and improvements across the sector.
Where an entity prepares for, and is welcoming of, an audit, the subsequent report’s value to the entity can be great. According to Stephanie, it ‘can carry extra weight and help the organisation with business cases for improvements’.
This was the case with the report on the provision of court recording and transcription services, where DJAG staff experienced positive interactions with auditors, felt that the final report was balanced and delivered the outcomes desired, and gained a lot of insight.
Stephanie concluded that this report was extremely valuable as ‘an external independent body [QAO] confirmed and acknowledged the known issues … it provided a document that supported the assertion of DJAG officers and staff that there were inherent issues in how the outsourcing process had been forced to be conducted’.
QAO will discuss the draft audit strategy with you, and all entities involved, to ensure the value of the audit to the entity, the parliament and the public
So, what is the ultimate ‘take-away’?
Take the time to read through QAO’s latest strategic audit plan and see if your entity is likely to be involved in an upcoming performance audit. You can then peruse the resources on our website on how to prepare for a performance audit, and implement the checklist provided. We will provide further information on the audit during initial meetings.
Provide your input
We aim to liaise with all relevant and interested parties during an audit. Anyone—whether they are from an entity involved in the audit or are a member of the general public—can provide a submission to an audit in progress via our website. These submissions can be made anonymously.
The reports to parliament Stephanie refers to in this article are:
- Provision of court recording and transcription services (Report 9: 2015–16)
- Criminal justice system—reliability and integration of data (Report 4: 2016–17)
- Criminal justice system—prison sentences (Report 14: 2016–17)
See QAO’s presentation on How to prepare for a performance audit presentation. It includes five key steps an entity can take to prepare