Can Audit Survive in a Post-Truth World?

Avid readers may have heard recently that the Oxford Dictionary defined the word “post-truth” as the international word of 2016.

It was:

an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

As an explanation the Oxford Dictionary noted:

The concept of post-truth has been in existence for the past decade, but Oxford Dictionaries has seen a spike in frequency this year in the context of the EU referendum in the United Kingdom and the presidential election in the United States. 

Interestingly the Oxford Dictionary noted that the term “post-truth” had increased by around 2,000% in 2016 compared to last year.

It is in this context that we sat up one night (OK we didn’t but it sure makes the story a better one!) considering whether a function that relies on honestly presenting the facts can exist and prosper in a post-truth world?

Can Internal Audit survive a post-truth world?

As much as we want to say a resounding and non-hesitant yes, we find ourselves stalling and being less than resounding in our response.

For as long as Internal Audit has existed, a basic premise of its existence is that there is a single source of truth that is agreeable by all.

The Institute of Internal Auditors’ definition of internal auditing is, in part:

an independent, objective assurance and consulting activity

What happens then – in an organisation as has occurred in society – when one plus one no longer equals two because an influential or powerful person says it doesn’t?  

Is it still possible to be objective in such circumstances or are you the auditor appealing to your own emotion and personal belief when you respond?

What happens when the declaration of that single source of truth is met with threats of dismissal or, what is worse for some, ongoing organisational irrelevance?  

Is it still possible to be independent in such circumstances?

We suspect our late night musings (actually they were written in the early afternoon but there has never been a missive that starts “at about 3pm this afternoon I was thinking …”) will be met with dismissive disdain from some and disproportionate acceptance by others.

We are not sure even where we sit on the issue.

That being said, what we would like to see in 2017 is this issue – at the same time as it is being discussed in the learned societies of the world – be considered by the internal audit intelligentsia.

Is this the decline of internal audit and we don’t yet know it?

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