Beyond the visual: design research in audits

Five years ago I started to use more and more visuals in the audits I was involved in. I discovered that visual stories would help to bring our message across, although it started out as a way for myself to analyze information and prioritize my own thoughts – you can read all about my search for visual stories in audits in my Master Thesis.

The Master Design (Research) introduced me into the world of designers, where visualizations are part of how designers think and work. Without realizing that the way I was thinking and working (like a designer who audits) could be part of a broader research theme, I stumbled upon this ‘track’ by the Design Innovation Management Conference:

To be able to address the complex nature of today’s societal and economic problems, professional organisations recognise that traditional tools and approaches may not provide the required solutions. To innovate on complex challenges, many have turned to design approaches over the past decade, including both public (Bason, 2010) and private sector organisations. To increase design capabilities, these organisations have established innovation labs with designers, have recruited designers in strategic positions, and/or have started building the design capabilities of existing staff through educational programs, often provided by design consultancies.
So far there is limited evidence of the impact of design capability building within these sectors, although many seem to agree that workshops and short courses in design thinking do not lead to the required change. Furthermore, capability building programs do not always seem to build on contemporary educational and social theories of workplace learning, which highlight the social and complex nature of how professionals learn (Hager, 2011; Orlikowski, 2002).
This situation is further complicated by the fact that design for complex societal problems differs from traditional design practices, and should be adapted to the needs of this ‘target field’ (Buchanan, 2015; Dorst, 2015). What is it then that professional
organisations learn from design? And how can design capability be increased in these organisations (see e.g. Price, Wrigley, & Matthews, 2018)? In this track, we are inviting contributions about increasing design capability and workplace learning within organisations. Topics include but are not limited to:
● Case studies of capability building in design in public/private innovation
● Theories of transdisciplinary design pedagogy & workplace learning
● Learning between
organisations through networks and communities of practice
● Required adaptations of design practices to the public/private sector

Together with my colleague Diny van Est we accepted this invitation and started to reflect on what we have done differently in audits for the past few years. We used theories of design practices (Buchanon, Dorst, Schaminée) to write it all down and… our paper got accepted! Last Friday (21/06) we presented our paper at the conference in London.

For us, this paper is a great starting point to discover how design can add value to audits. Now, the next challenges our Design Audit Studio faces are:

  • Which design research methods are interesting to use in audits?
  • (How) should we adapt these design research methods for our audit work?
  • How can we build a community of practice amongst our co-workers and other auditors to strengthen our design capability?
  • (future question) To what content does design add value to audits by the Netherlands Court of Audit, taking our independent status into account?
  • (future question) How can design play a bigger role in the Netherlands Court of Audit as an organization, not just in our audit work?

So, a lot of work to do, but we will focus on the first 3 questions. The conference gave us much inspiration and ideas to continue and to make some quick wins because it was great to realize that more academics and practitioners are working on topics like this. Although we are a novelty in the world of audits, we definitely found some peers at this conference!

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