Organizations that audit other organizations play a crucial role in society – they aim to contribute to increasing the transparency of organizations that we assume we cannot fully trust. For auditors, independence from those being audited is seen as fundamental, but due to the widespread notion that organizations cannot be trusted, also auditing organizations such as auditing firms, certification and accreditation organizations may be mistrusted for prioritising self-interests. It is no trivial task for an auditing organization to convince relevant stakeholders about its independence. The overarching research question addressed is therefore: How is independence organized in various auditing contexts and how can differences and similarities be explained? Guiding the search for answers is the observation that to create independence the auditing organization becomes dependent on other organizations that assure its independence, creating a paradox where independence cannot be fulfilled unless the audit organization becomes dependent on another organization. Thus, the construction of independence involves extensive organization among organizations.

The research is divided into two, closely related projects conducted jointly by Kristina Tamm Hallström (project leader), Ingrid Gustafsson and Nils Brunsson. First, the project The (im)possible independence – the auditing practice of accreditation is funded by Handelsbankens forskningsstiftelser (2017–2021) and places a specific focus on accreditation auditing organized as a state responsibility within the EU compared with the market-based accreditation system of the US lacking formal recognition of the state, as well as on efforts to unite, coordinate and organize accreditation coherently at the international level. This project also includes the SSE PhD Student Cecilia Fredriksson who specifically investigates EU accreditation and the organizing role of meta-organizations such as the EA (European co-operation for Accreditation) and the IAF (International Accreditation Forum). Second, the project Who is watching the watchdog? The organization of independence in the audit society is funded by The Swedish Research Council (2018–2021) and focuses more broadly on the organization of auditing internationally including a historical perspective and analysis of the role of the state as well as professional interests, with comparisons between certification, accreditation and financial auditing. The purpose is to develop a typology of organizational principles used to construct independence and thereby contribute to literature on the audit society. Contributions are also made to the knowledge production within organization theory on meta-organization, partial organization and macro-organization and in relation to that implications for responsibility. Livia Johannesson (political science, Stockholm university) and Katharina Rahnert (management, Karlstad university) are also affiliated to the research group.