2.7 Continuous Improvement Opportunities
It is tempting to think your job is done once you have set your strategy, developed your corporate and operational plans and undertaken the scheduled work. However, there is another very significant step to undertake – to review what has transpired and assess where improvements can be made. In addition, there are other avenues to explore including learning from the experience of other political finance institutions, undertaking training programmes and for some, seeking assistance from international organisations.
Internal reviews can greatly enhance your internal accountability, and in planning such reviews, you can benefit from referring to the IFES Autonomy and Accountability Framework. The type and scope of an internal review undertaken should be commensurate with the activity and its importance in delivering your objectives. For larger, more significant projects such as the development of a new electronic filing and reporting database, you will probably want a more formal process. Formal reviews might entail:
- Establishing a review committee involving representatives from various departments within your organisation
- A written terms of reference for the committee that sets out the scope, methodology and timeline for the review
- A mechanism for the committee to report on its findings and recommendations
Not all reviews need to be undertaken on such a formal basis. Some can be done on a team basis, for example, a systematic review of the process for receiving and controlling election finance reports could be undertaken by staff members and managers within the political finance unit. Again, guidance should be provided about why they are undertaking the review (e.g. to assess what worked well, what could be improved) and what areas are to be the focus of their consideration.
In addition to systematic reviews, where an entire work process is looked at in detail, you can review internal procedures on an ongoing basis through quality audits. These audits allow you to assess whether current procedures are being followed or need to be improved. In some cases, staff may have failed to understand the procedure; in others, the procedure may need to be altered and improved. For more on quality audits, see What are quality audits and why conduct them?.
In many countries, there are state audit offices which undertake reviews to ensure public institutions are delivering value for money. It may be worthwhile to propose an area within the political finance unit remit for such a review. There are also commercial companies whose services can be retained to assess the development, testing and roll-out for large technical projects. In either case, having an outsider perspective on your operations can be informative. To make such an exercise worthwhile you will have to dedicate sufficient effort and time to educate the external reviewer about what you do, why and how you have been doing it. Otherwise, their findings and recommendations may not be well-founded or meaningful.
Training programmes for staff
As detailed in the section on Ensuring appropriate resources to deliver the oversight institution’s role, the political financial oversight role requires staff with a variety of skill sets and experience. It is unusual to be able to recruit staff who have all the ideal skills and experience. This can be addressed by ensuring ongoing training and learning opportunities for staff. Examples of staff training options include:
- Tailored programmes in specific areas such as financial audits, investigations, and guidance delivery.
- A guest speaker series featuring presentations by local experts in related fields (e.g. academics who specialise in elections, former election campaigners or representatives from civil society organisations.
- A monthly session where staff are encouraged to share and discuss their experiences on a given work-related topic or theme (e.g. assessing the valuation of in-kind donations, a recently closed investigation, a problematic review of an annual report etc.)
Participation in or creation of regional networks
It is useful to access peer support from other organisations and networks around the world, or in your own region. Some networks may only be just starting to address political finance issues, but your involvement can help shape the dialogue and give prominence to this area.
In other parts of the world, political finance practitioners have formed associations to share knowledge and experiences. For example, the Council on Government Ethics Law is a professional organization for government agencies and other organizations working in ethics, elections, freedom of information, lobbying, and campaign finance. Although its membership comes predominantly from North America, membership is open to entities from around the world. COGEL collects and publishes data on campaign finance regulation and holds annual conferences.
There is no reason why political finance oversight institutions in other geographic areas cannot come together to explore common issues and challenges. It will require some effort to organise meetings, whether in person or virtual, but the rewards can be immeasurable. Being the political finance regulator can be a lonely and challenging role and connecting with others who occupy similar positions in other countries can foster solidarity and a worthy exchange of experiences and lessons learned.