GRI Conference - 27 May - O'Dwyer - Assurance Of Sustainability Reporting

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  • 1. Aligning programmes with operations: Privileging practitioner perspectives Brendan O’Dwyer Professor of Accounting University of Amsterdam Business School The GRI Amsterdam Global Conference on Sustainability and Transparency Academic conference: Assurance of sustainability reporting Thursday 27 May 2010
  • 2. Overview of presentation
    • Consensus set of programmatic ideals for
    • assurance
    • Practitioner perspectives on the operational
    • capabilities of and prospects for assurance
    • Reflections for future practice
  • 3. The export of ‘audit’ to new contexts: Programmes and technologies
    • New aims/expectations and a reassembly of
    • practices
          • ‘ Audit practices continually reassemble themselves to suit programmatic expectations’
        • Export/extension of ‘audit’ not unproblematic
            • technologies emerge through a trial and error process
            • enrolment and coordination of ‘non-accountants’ necessary – necessity of practitioner consensus
  • 4. Emerging consensus on ‘official’ programmes and ambitions for sustainability assurance
    • Professional accounting and other associations
          • Shift from focus on reporting accuracy to reporting relevance , completeness and responsiveness
    • Many assurors now explicitly recognise:
          • ‘ Duty’ to assess completeness, materiality and responsiveness
  • 5. Operationalising programmatic aims: The practitioners’ perspectives
    • Confronting ambitions with data struggles
    • Harnessing ‘accountant’ and ‘non-accountant’ habits and routines
    • Shifts to structure ‘judgement’
    • Stakeholders as assurors - outsourcing the delivery of key programmatic aims
    • The eternal quest for legitimacy
  • 6. 1. Confronting ambitions with data struggles
    • Practitioner ambitions for assurance
          • idealistic and committed to ambitious aims
          • committed change agents
          • ‘ natural’ conflation of advice and assurance
    • 2. Struggling with and struggling for assurance technologies
          • coping with diverse, vague, disconnected data
          • complexities surrounding assessments of reporting completeness
  • 7. 2. Harnessing ‘accountant’ and ‘non-accountant’ habits and routines
    • ‘ Accountants’ characterised as:
            • lacking flexibility and expert knowledge
            • sometimes ignorant of and resistant to context considerations
            • misapplying and misinterpreting materiality
    • ‘ Non-accountants’ considered:
            • somewhat naive, but intensely committed
            • assertive and confrontational
            • less concerned with, and often engaged by data ambiguity
  • 8. 3. Shifts to structure ‘judgement’
        • More focus on ‘due process’
        • Emergence of distinct methodologies
        • Limits to innovation
        • The overriding role of risk management and internal control
  • 9. 4. Stakeholders as assurors - outsourcing the delivery of key programmatic aims
    • Recognising problems for ‘financial audit’ practice
          • Public reframing of expectations attached to professional
    • accounting firm assurance
          • Enrolling the ‘stakeholder’
          • The ultimate coupling of programmes with technologies?
          • Regressing to ‘second generation’ audit?
  • 10. All occurring in the midst of … A persistent practitioner quest to establish the legitimacy of assurance with key audiences …
  • 11. 5. The practitioner quest for legitimacy Assurance practice Securing legitimacy with the ‘internal world’ Securing legitimacy with the non-client ‘external world’ Securing legitimacy with clients (auditees)
  • 12. Reflecting on practitioners’ perspectives (1)
      • Who and where are the ‘external’ users?
      • “ A mythical reference point within expert [assurance]
      • discourse”?
      • Who takes responsibility for ‘stakeholder’ assessments?
      • Is reigning in of expectations placed on and ambitions of
      • traditional auditors advisable?
  • 13. Reflecting on practitioners’ perspectives (2)
    • Are ‘accountants’ ever able or willing to deliver reasonable assurance on non-quantitative data?
    • Is a global, institutionalized assurance approach desirable?
    • Do ‘users’ require standardization?