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We have to change to stay the same

Aug 24, 2017

We have to change to stay the same![1]

This was the challenging slogan of the 2014 EUROSAI The Hague congress, underlining the importance of innovation and adaptability for our continuing relevance as Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs).

With this call to arms in mind, we at the Netherlands Court of Audit embarked on our three year EUROSAI Presidency. A key aim was to facilitate a reflection on EUROSAI’s purpose and added value and to prepare a new 6-year strategic plan, which would be relevant to all 50 members with their diverse interests and backgrounds.

Little did I realise how invaluable my experience of capacity development projects would be. Institutional capacity development and change management are inseparable. As I quickly discovered, putting a new regional strategy in place is also all about change management.

The 2014 Congress had taught us a lot:

  • We experimented with new methods to increase active participation and debate;
  • International colleagues organised the majority of the 2014 sessions themselves, inspiring us with their experiences, insights and creative working methods; it was a congress by EUROSAI for EUROSAI;
  • We explicitly harnessed the future-orientated views and energy of young auditors at the first ever YES! Conference in Rotterdam, giving them a key role in the subsequent ‘official’ congress;
  • Design students built a futuristic congress location in an disused aircraft hangar, and
  • We visited state-of-the-art agricultural companies to learn from their investments in innovation, aimed at remaining competitive and responsive to customer expectations.

So according to change management theory we started well – with an inspiring vision. But could we find a way to maintain this enthusiasm for change, innovation and agile cooperation, which by definition should not be institutionalised? I don’t need to remind you that SAIs are rather conservative by nature and risk-averse by profession. Would we succeed in creating the necessary medium-term framework for development and innovation?

Together with a group of committed EUROSAI colleagues we embarked on an uncertain journey – not knowing exactly where we were going, or where we would end up, but knowing that the journey itself was part of what we were looking for. Our aim was to create a succinct and truly strategic document, giving focus and direction, but allowing room for innovation, new insights and ‘pop-up’ activities along the way.

Well, let me confide in you – it was a steep learning curve! We had our ups and downs, dead-ends and enlightened insights, confusion, frustrations, early enthusiasts, resistors and followers, bottom-up and top-down interventions, denial and acceptance – all the ingredients for a true process of change. I was surprised to recognise so many elements of my experience with institutional capacity development. I was also relieved. Recognition brought insight and solutions for how to move forward.  I knew we had to work on strategic leadership and ownership – the new strategy needed Heads of SAI endorsement and it needed to provide a response to the issues raised by EUROSAI members in the 2015-2016 self-assessment. The support of the Governing Board was essential – they had to feel engaged and excited about the future prospects. There also needed to be incentives and reassurance for colleagues who were concerned that change might threaten their previous endeavours or who were worried about the plan lacking detailed activities and indicators.

In the end the new plan was enthusiastically endorsed by the Istanbul EUROSAI Congress in May 2017, along with a memorandum describing key governance enhancements. Governance is a question of culture. Culture is a key element of change management. Governance enhancements will be crucial to enabling EUROSAI to become a more agile, responsive and demand-driven network, and to achieving our substantive goals. However, the real proof of the pudding will be in the eating. So much depends on how the members themselves respond and whether they take up the challenge of change – individually and as a regional network.

Will the strategic plan help us? Why don’t you judge for yourselves? ( Let me know what you think –successful change management and capacity development initiatives include collecting feedback and incorporating lessons and improvements in future initiatives. That way we can constantly change to stay the same!


[1] A paraphrasing of the Dutch artist, Willem de Kooning’s leitmotif – I have to change to stay the same!

Andrea Connell

Head of International Affairs, The Netherlands Court of Audit (NCA)