The Government (Ministry for Foreign Affairs) has commissioned Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) to carry out a review of the framework agreement system for civil society organisations engaged in aid work.
The assignment consists of an assessment of the system's appropriateness based on a number of aspects, including whether the system corresponds to the objectives of the Government's strategy in this area, whether the follow-up functions satisfactorily, whether the forms for selecting organisations are appropriate and whether the system facilitates the entry of new actors.
Statskontoret's overall conclusion is that the system of framework agreements is an appropriate and cost-effective way of channelling support through Swedish organisations in the civil society. The problems that Statskontoret has found largely relate to how the control of the framework agreement system is applied within the system. Statskontoret has found the following weaknesses in the Government's and Sida's control:
- The Government's governing documents contain too many requirements on the forms for the support, which leads to reporting becoming focused on efficiency and short-term performance.
- Sida's control and follow-up is also largely focused on the design of the support, leaving little room for more strategic control.
- Sida has a number of well-developed instruments for following up activities. However, these can be used more systematically.
- The framework agreement system does not sufficiently encourage innovative solutions or new actors.
According to Statskontoret, the control needs to be simplified. This can be achieved by removing general requirements for agency control from the Government's governing documents. In addition, fewer requirements should be placed on the forms for the support. The control should also be more clearly focused on objectives that are specific to the activities.
Sida submits annual reports to the Government which present operational performance. It is, however, difficult to report the performance of such a complex and diversified operation with which we are dealing, especially in the short term. Statskontoret therefore proposes that reporting should be submitted less frequently, say every three years. Annual reporting should instead be done in Sida's annual report.
According to Statskontoret, it should be made clear that the agreement is the central governing document in which commitments between Sida and the organisations should be specified. All requirements for changes during the agreement period shall be specified in supplementary agreements. One uncertainty about the status of the agreements has, according to Statskontoret, led to governance signals entering the control in another way.
One advantage of the framework agreement system is that it promotes the sustainability upon which support through Swedish organisations in civil society should be built. Statskontoret therefore believes that the Government should lay the foundations for Sida to extend the agreement periods. According to Statskontoret, longer agreement periods also provide preconditions for a more systematic follow-up of activities.
Sida has well-developed instruments for following up and evaluating the organisations. However, according to Statskontoret, the many assessment instruments have created an extensive and complex system of reporting, meetings, etc. Therefore, according to Statskontoret, Sida should develop a model for how collaboration between Sida and the organisations is to function, in which all assessment instruments are interwoven in predictable planning for the entire agreement period.
'Forum Syd' has a unique position in that it forwards funds to other organisations, all of whom are not members. According to Statskontoret, Forum Syd's forwarding assignments are too vaguely regulated. Sida should therefore clearly articulate the basis on which Forum Syd's assessments of organisations are to be made.
Statskontoret's overarching conclusion is that the diversity of the framework agreement system is great overall. There is, however, reason to presume that the landscape for activities and actors in civil society will change in the future. This comes partly as a result of technological progress. Therefore, there is reason for the Government to commission Sida to open a channel for new actors and new innovative methods.
Statskontoret proposes that support through Swedish organisations in civil society should be channelled through three windows or channels as follows.
- A developed framework agreement system for long-term cooperation with more established organisations. The support should have reference to organisations with demonstrated good capacity and established activities. For a window of this kind, the entry requirements should be high. The control should also be able to be limited and become more strategic. The agreement periods should be extended so as to be in force for, say, 5–7 years. This will create preconditions for greater sustainability and predictability.
- An assignment for forwarding financial contributions to organisations that are not naturally linked to a larger framework organisation. The assignment should be developed by Sida drafting clearer criteria for how assessments of applicant organisations are to be made. This activity should be regulated by agreements with reporting requirements.
- A new window for innovative approaches, organisations and actors. There is a value in bringing in actors engaged in more innovative activities. A window or a channel for this purpose is therefore needed. For a window of this kind, the entry requirements should be lower. This may, for example, entail the omission of the requirement for own contributions. It may also involve contributions that involve a greater degree of risk. Furthermore, the agreement periods should be shorter. Responsibility for the more detailed follow-up of such activities should rest with Sida.