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Audit Committees: effective practices and a positive impact

11 June 2024
  • I headed through the rain towards the Cardiff City Stadium with a sense of hope that what we were doing would help others to make a positive difference, a much more optimistic feeling than the usual dread of a potential home defeat…

    The rain eased as the delegates poured in and settled down before being welcomed to the event by Dr Ian Rees, Chair of our own Audit & Risk Committee. He then handed over to Adrian Crompton, the Auditor General for Wales, who gave a keynote speech, talking about the current context and challenges facing the public sector here in Wales. We then had an interesting talk from Paul Dossett, Head of Local Government at Grant Thornton. He spoke about his experiences in England, where the regulatory landscape is different, and shared some examples where things have gone wrong – some sobering stuff. It felt good knowing that Audit Wales adds a positive safeguard here in Wales.

    Then we were up - it was the turn of the Research and development team to deliver an interactive session using a ‘listening trios’ method to get delegates exchanging their knowledge and experiences of audit committees. The session went well, and we collected lots of information to feed into our research work. As always, the simple method of allowing people to speak uninterrupted, and be actively listened to, generated a positive feeling in the room.

    Active Listening Trios are a way of listening and capturing information from a group of three. Each participant experiences the roles of observer, speaker and listener in turn. The speaker speaks uninterrupted for a set amount of time. The listener actively listens. The observer draws out and captures the key points, and feeds these back to the other two for verification. The participants rotate roles until each has spoken, listened and observed.


    Active listening trios diagram shows a triangle containing the words ’10 minute cycles’ There are directional arrows around the triangle indicating rotation. The points of the triangle are named Observer, Speaker and Listener. Underneath is a text box showing the words '3 cycles' and 'Everyone experiences: speaker, listener, observer'



    A welcome break for lunch allowed everyone to connect with new people and catch up with familiar faces: a pleasant change for many to see each other in person. We also had an interesting backdrop of seeing a football pitch turned into a rugby pitch, in readiness for ‘Judgement Day 2024’ (perhaps an ironic foreshadow of the evening news announcement of a general election?)


    Refreshed from the delicious lunch, we then had another interactive workshop. Working with the newly minted Root Cause Analysis facilitators we have in Audit Wales, we conducted a root cause analysis session using the Edinburgh Tram Project as a case study – a seemingly straightforward infrastructure project that hit far too many curbs in its implementation and is now a cautionary tale of what could go wrong, resulting in a public inquiry. The session was very productive and allowed delegates an opportunity to try out the Ishikawa fishbone method of getting to the root causes of a problem, as well as exchanging some knowledge and ideas. We followed the model devised by the Canadian Audit & Accountability Foundation, which includes preselected themes to focus on.

    The diagram shows a left to right arrow with the arrowhead labelled ‘Problem’ There are arrows joining the main arrow which are categorised as Culture, Authority, Processes and Planning, Oversight and performance reporting, People, Assets, and Delivery. Each sub-arrow includes the word ‘why’ three times.

    Ishikawa diagrams are causal diagrams that show the potential causes of a specific event. In this example, the defect, or the problem to be solved, is shown as the fish's head, facing to the right, with the causes extending to the left as fishbones; each 'bone' has been categorised to help thinking about causal factors that ultimately lead to root causes.



    The day was wrapped up neatly by a lively panel discussion: a selection of experienced Chairs (Martin Veale, Janet Wademan, Hywel John and Mike Usher) along with our Audit Services Executive Director (Ann-Marie Harkin) answered challenging questions from the room. It was good to hear some varied viewpoints and to hear some good practice shared. Then everybody headed home with a few new contacts, some insights into how we can improve audit committees, and some new tools to try out back in their day jobs. It definitely felt like a home win!

    About the author

    Lisa Ridley is a Researcher in the R&D Team. She has worked for Audit Wales for many years undertaking a variety of roles across the business, within Financial and Performance Audit, and the corporate centre. Lisa led our research project on Audit Committees.