Auditor Publicus

Co-designing and rethinking the future role of the public sector auditor

About the project

Title: Audītor Pūblicus
Type of work: Co-design / design provocation (a new role for the public auditor)
Date: January – March 2015
Extent of the project: 8 weeks, full-time

ICAEW's AuditFutures is looking to change the profession of auditing in a way so that auditors can help solve real social challenges and advance the role of the public interest in the profession. Through close collaboration with a group of auditors, I have co-designed a new role for the future auditor which responds to these challenges.

Auditor Publicus is a reshaped public sector audit function. It proposes that public auditors take their role as mediator between government and citizens seriously, and focus on restoring the declining trust by ensuring that the information streams going back and forth are true, fair and reflect the nuances. This is done by auditing political promises, influencing and reshaping the current debate, as well as facilitating Citizen Juries (so-called mini-publics).

The design

In a public sector context, citizens are essentially both at the receiving and paying end of auditing, yet most neither know nor care. Where auditors usually play a role in building trust between investors and companies, trust between citizens and government is at an all-time low — and auditors aren’t playing an active role. Audītor Pūblicus aims to change this, and in some way, this goes back to the roots of the auditor - and yet applies this to a modern societal challenge.

I have had immensely positive reactions from accountants and auditors, and there is a will and wish to take this further.

Statement about trust

That trust between citizens and their government is at an all-time low is not a suprise to most people. This striking statement is from one of the people I spoke to.

The new role

This new public auditing takes on a role of a kind of new fourth estate, that ensures that these information streams going back and forth between citizens and government are honest and reflect the nuances.

The three new initiatives

The three new initiatives of the auditor publicus.

Book: Auditor Publicus

As a way of collating the learnings from each workshop, I designed and hand-bound a booklet.

Book: Non-financial auditing

Audītor Pūblicus is a result of a number of co-design sessions with a small team of accounting and auditing professionals. The non-financial auditing led us here: ‘I think for society as a whole, the non-financial piece of the audit, or set of accounts, are far more important than the actual financials’.

Book: Auditors as scuba divers

Imagine the problem as an iceberg: Counteracting the mistrust comes down to making the tip that people see representative. This is the role I propose for the new public auditor; to essentially function as scuba divers, who investigate and bring the right pieces of information to the surface.

Auditor Publicus logo

The name itself goes back to the latin roots of "auditor" as 'a listener', and "public" as 'of or belonging to the people'.

The role of the auditor in the middle ages

In the middle ages, when the lord of the manor was away, he sent somebody trusted back to ensure that all was fine, and to report back because he did not have the bandwidth to deal with all the detail. This was the role of the auditor.

The proposed role of the auditor

This new role for the public auditor goes back to the roots of auditing; only now the lord of the manor is the citizens, and the manor is the government as a whole.

The role of the current and future auditor

This future role for the public auditor builds on the existing transferable skills and actions of the auditor of today.

A glimpse of the process

Audītor Pūblicus has come into existence through collaboration with a small team of accounting and auditing professionals. We ended up focusing on the public sector audit, as we were looking for 'gaps' and unmet needs, and found one in this area, which highlighted an opportunity for the profession as a whole. During the workshops, we developed and took on personas, and mapped out their distrust to government to identify patterns and underlying reasons. Further on, we explored the possible solutions through different workshop materials, and design provocations.


I quickly learnt that most people are unaware of what auditing is, and do not really care.

The opportunity

By examining the stakeholder classes in auditing, it became clear that even when essentially both receiving and paying, citizens still neither know nor care about auditing. Auditors are in a unique position to help restore trust and advance the public interest in the profession where it actually matters.


During the workshops, we explored the underlying reason for the distrust through personas (developed on the basis of people I have talked to).

Discovering underlying reasons

During our discussion, everything came back to and centred on two key problems; creating a dialogue and improving communication. In other words, the current communication is broken; people don't trust the existing conversation, which lacks nuances, honesty and authenticity.

Co-design session Exploring relationship

Exploring the citizen-state relationship; dicussing and mapping the causes for mistrust.

Co-design session

Co-design session centred around design provocations.

Booklets Design Jam

Facilitating AuditFuture's Design Jam.

Mini show (design provocation)

As a design provocation, I showed a sculptural exhibition piece in a one-day show at the RCA. From the outside, it looked like nothing more than ugly, brown cardboard boxes stacked on top of each other, taped together with brown packing tape. However, each box had a peephole, and once looking inside, each box revealed an aspect of Audītor Pūblicus through video and sound, or visual means of storytelling.

To some extent, the box sculpture itself conveyed what auditing is: To find out about the project you had to take on the role of a mini-auditor; investigating and viewing the same thing from different perspectives, searching for the bigger picture and all the facts.

Listening and peering through peeophole

Peering through peeopholes.

Auditor through peephole

What you could see through each hole varied. Some was sound and video. Others were tiny sculptures or illustrations.



Auditor Publicus sign