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This is the latest in my so what? moments from my understanding of the research concerns of ontology and epistemology. This particular one concerns audit fieldwork.

I’ve said before that auditing is much like researching and that working as an internal auditor has a lot of the characteristics and hallmarks of ethnographic styles of research, that is living within a group but being, as  researcher, separate from it. This style of research method is particularly associated with idealist conceptions of epistemology. In other words that meaning is given to social settings by the individuals themselves and this cannot and should not be interpreted by the researcher, merely relayed and reported.

Now I think it is clear from my other posts that I see a more realist approach as being appropriate. That is, I accept that individuals have different perceptions of phenomena, but that there is a form of existence outside of humans. In other words, there is a right answer but individuals can quite sensibly and legitimately have different perceptions and views of it.

So in a fieldwork setting this ontological and epistemological structure would lend itself to a view of an audit as being an investigation. That is it should look at the facts of the matter (the things that are tangible, measurable and objective) then overlay the organisational, perceptual, opinion-based views of those facts from within and without the organisation. This can include research from various sources to supplement the auditor’s own interviews.

The audit role is then to pull this together and to attempt to provide a balanced, evidence-based and objective view over what this hard and soft data is saying. Here’s my reflexive part, I then accept that this view is the audit view. It is not necessarily unchallengeable ‘truth’ but it should be a genuine attempt to provide the best organisational answer to the scope of the audit question set.

Thus audit reports, covered in my last post, are less a scientific report from an experiment, more a structured argument, based on evidence, accepting that different opinions exist and are valid. The type of work and report also various for the type of audit being done. For compliance, operational audits, a more scientific approach and binary reporting method may be appropriate. For strategic  risk-based reports I think much less so.

This, for many auditors, is a change of approach and mindset. It has taken some time for me to evolve my views in this direction too.  What do you think?

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