Grass can be green on both sides of the fence

May 13, 2020

They say that grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. In fact, it has always been like that if you come from Finland and you look over the Baltic Sea and see Sweden’s shores. Swedes always tend to beat us in Ice Hockey, they have Abba, and their homes are well known for their Scandinavian design. However, what I learnt during my 5-week-exchange in SAI Sweden (Riksrevisionen), is that you don’t really have to look over the fence. You can always open the gate, enjoy the greener grass, and be inspired by it when you return home.

It’s green there but make sure you take it with you back home

The reasons for my exchange to Sweden was to enhance my expertise in managing international relations and to understand the functioning of the Riksrevisionen’s International Relations unit, which has a remarkably good reputation. Further, it was a great opportunity to build the capacity of our own office, the National Audit Office in Finland (NAOF),  which has recently taken over the chairmanship of the Working Group on Environmental Auditing (INTOSAI WGEA). We thus have the honor (and the challenge!) of managing the largest INTOSAI working group. As our office had never chaired a working group of this size, it was a great opportunity to look at how SAI Sweden was managing their role as INTOSAI CBC Vice-Chair. Since my return to Finland, the hints and tips that I collected during my exchange, have been the best souvenirs that I have been able to bring back to our Office.

 Why every SAI and auditor should seek inspiration from other fields

We all know that the world is getting more complex every day, and COVID-19 has proved that we can never truly foresee what might be lying ahead. The way I see it, preparing oneself to these surprising issues can be done comprehensively by standing in someone else’s shoes every now and then. It helps us to observe complex topics from different viewpoints and hopefully build our personal skillset by learning from each other.

One could expect the viewpoints of two Nordic countries to be quite similar, but Riksrevisionen and NAOF still have a lot to learn from each other. Riksrevisionen has nearly twenty specialists working for their international relations, which is a lot more than we have in Finland. We in Finland also emphasize our international relations a great deal, yet the way we have organized our tasks differs from our neighbor.

Maybe they take care of their lawn differently?

Besides learning plenty substantial matters from other SAIs, one can also learn from their working culture. Probably the most impressive difference I noticed was that the Swedes tend to discuss and share information a lot more than we Finns do. It has always been a kind of a joke in Finland that the Swedes love to ‘diskutera’ (to discuss) but after my short exchange I will definitely take discussion culture a bit more seriously. The way of sharing information and creating the psychologically safe environment for everyone to speak their minds was something that I will always value.

And needless to say – the way the Swedes drink coffee together (in Swedish ‘fika’) all the time is something all the SAIs should adapt!

Capacity Building can be a wonderful field trip

None of us should exclude ourselves from personal development, and I would encourage everyone to take the chance and explore other SAIs if they get the chance. Personal capacity building demands some personal assets. You need an open mind, and more importantly, a humble attitude. Even if you have worked as an auditor for ages, it might be that you possess very differing skills than your colleague from another country. So stay humble and take what your colleague can teach you.

However, capacity building never goes only one-way, and you can also teach your counterpart something. As I was about to learn the strategic and operational issues of international relations of SAI Sweden, I also had something to bring with me from Finland. Sharing experiences on our organizational restructuring, foresight work, and Young Professionals -program has provided valuable information to our Northern neighbor on how we are preparing our office for the future changes in the world of SAIs.

Open the gates to other fields and seek for inspiration

Based on my five-week-exchange, I cannot highlight enough how important it is to allow people space for learning and innovating new ways of working. After I packed my bags and came back to Finland, I have gathered a lot of good memories with great colleagues, practical tips on how we want to organize our work related to INTOSAI WGEA, and most importantly, learned how to have coffee properly.

In my opinion, the ultimate goal in the world of SAIS is that the grass is equally green everywhere. So therefore, I beg all the SAIs to keep their gates open. Let others come in and learn from your office’s success stories, and don’t hesitate to be brave and visit others to develop your own capacity. It definitely makes your lawn bloom!

Tiina Väänänen

Auditor, National Audit Office of Finland