Designs for Trust – RCA Student Projects

designs-bOften people think about design as something you do at the end of a process to make it interesting and beautiful. When we think about designers, we think about logos, fashion and high-tech gadgets. However, genuine design starts with what is wanted and why it is important.

AuditFutures creates a space where challenging questions can be asked – we deal with the difficult questions. This may sometimes feel a bit uncomfortable but that is an important part of the systemic approach that we are taking. It is not about tinkering around the edges and making minor, largely cosmetic improvements. It is about changing the way we do things to achieve something more socially meaningful.

With this design project we want to bring fresh perspectives to the ongoing questions regarding the future of audit and address three challenges. First, audit as a social function has the potential to build trust across a wide range of relationships: it should not limit itself to the financial reporting and performance of organisations. Second, audit and accountancy were inventions designed to meet specific practical needs for organisations and individuals: they are not simply a compliance product of regulation. Finally, design thinking can have a profound role in transforming and enlightening the profession – in bringing human and cultural dimensions to how it functions and to strategic future innovation.

We are happy the Royal College of Art has expressed interest in our work. Over the past few months, a group of five students has co-created design ideas about trust with AuditFutures. We gave them a very broad brief to explore areas where trust between individuals, organisations and communities is needed to highlight opportunities for the auditing and accounting profession. We have been hugely impressed by the engagement the students have given us and by the appetite they have to deal with something that is massively abstract. It is fascinating how all the students have explored different dimensions of this question and how their projects have been grounded in specific, concrete ideas, which is very necessary for a profession like audit.

Human Exchange Museum: to advance the understanding of audit and other inventions

designsalon-harryHarry Trimble’s ‘Human Exchange Museum’ is a concept of a museum which would build rapport between the profession and the public through co-created stories, exhibitions and events. Harry’s starting point was to ask the public about their attitudes to audit. Unsurprisingly, he found out that most of them had no idea what an auditor was. Consequently, he felt that the first step was to help people understand what audit is and why people use it, and he drew inspiration from other organisations in order to do so. The Human Exchange Museum is a design proposition to advance the awareness and knowledge about all these invisible inventions in society. Harry believes that it is important that auditors feel they have a real stake in what they do and can build a rapport with the public that will help create the trust that we all need.

Harry won the prize of the Audit and Assurance Faculty as his idea looked at profoundly different ways of how the profession can demonstrate the value it aspires to create in society.

Futureblend: to help businesses fulfil their purpose

designsalon-lynnLynn Chung’s’ idea, Futureblend, was to look behind audit and trust to ask whether audit could be used to help businesses live out their purpose. When a business fulfils its role, it earns trust. The auditor’s role in her new version of audit is to host and facilitate a workshop conversation between the CEO and investors, and record the outcomes in a way that people can easily understand. This will show people how far the business has come towards achieving its purpose and would be in addition to conventional audit reports.

Lynn won the prize of the Finance Innovation Lab because her Futureblend asks what people actually trust in business – the fundamental question about purpose and values. This creates a new role for the profession, with a systems-change goal at the heart of it.

The Count: auditors as superheroes

designsalon-joJo Blundell from FuturePublic.org presented her answer to how businesses should measure their social purpose and impact. She saw auditors as the superheroes of trust and business. In this version of audit, auditors are to be accountable to society and a voice for consumers. This translates into a series of visual checks akin to food-labelling or energy consumption monitoring. Colours and symbols would show whether businesses are doing the things they should do, for example, on the environment, the living wage, and so on. Here, the role of audit would be easily digestible, and the result of its work would be evidence of whether businesses have responsible practices, and should help businesses engage with non-financial stakeholders.

Building culture of high-trust in organisations

designsalon-tay-Taeyeon Kim’s work was concerned with how to build a high-trust organisation broadening the vision of audit to create cultural changes and improve trust. It looked at how the skills, methods and processes currently part of the audit profession could help build a high-trust culture within an organisation. Audit traditionally looks at audit among external organisations, but she focussed audit inwards on how people within a company can trust one another. Can the auditor help build a high-trust culture?

SEE: connecting donors and investors with social impact

designsalon-sherryXiaoxue Dong’s project, SEE, was about how auditors could use tools early on to engage funders and the public, with particular regard to the charity sector. This included ‘potential measurement’ – letting people see the potential social impact during the fundraising process; ‘tracking with milestones’ – setting milestones with the auditor for monitoring the transparency of project flows and information; and ‘co-building the annual report’ – with auditors, including what has been accomplished (and verified by auditors).

Related resources

Accountancy Salon:
Design & Trust

It is six o’clock in the evening, on a gorgeous British summer evening. Over seventy people have flocked to the soft chairs of the sun-bathed lounge. They have all come to a sell-out event on a Friday night. Most surprisingly, the event is not taking place in the City but at the Royal College of […]

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