The Swedish Agency for Public Management

Evaluation of the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment (2013:21)

On behalf of the Government, Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) has evaluated the activities of the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment (Havsmiljöinstitutet). Through the founding of the Institute in 2008, the Government commissioned the University of Gothenburg, Linnaeus University, Stockholm University and Umeå University to conduct joint research on the marine environment and to cooperate in the design of education in that field. The University of Gothenburg has the task of coordinating the running activities of the Institute. The University of Gothenburg is also to accommodate a secretariat for the Institute and there provide a joint analysis and synthesis function. The Government provides an appropriation of just over SEK 10 million per year for the Institute's activities. In addition to this, the collaboration is financed through other external funding. Just over 10 full-time equivalents work at the secretariat. Each collaborating university contributes a certain number of personnel to the Institute.

The activities of the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment are in demand but can become even more relevant

Statskontoret's evaluation shows that the majority of the Institute's output goes to an external recipient. In addition, about one quarter of the Institute's projects are funded by external commissioning bodies. The general assessment of the agencies and organisations that have collaborated with the Institute is that they have received professional help and high-quality documentation.

The conditions for interdisciplinary analysis have been made possible through the composition of secretariat personnel. There is also a demand for this focus among the Institute's target groups, whose assessment is that the need for such analysis will increase further.

The Institute's analysis and synthesis are perceived to be valuable and relevant. By contrast, the target groups lack clear proposals for the measures that need to be implemented in order to improve the environmental status of the seas and how to prioritise effectively between such measures. Given the way the Institute's assignment is formulated, Statskontoret assesses it to be reasonable for the Institute to more clearly respond to this demand.

The Institute does not compete with the agencies

Our analysis shows that there are about ten agencies which conduct activities that are in some way related to the marine environment. Many agencies perform analysis and expert functions within the marine environment, but the focus of the agencies is often different from those with which the Institute works. The Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management was formed in 2011, and its assignment largely coincides with the assignment that the Institute has with regard to analysis and communication. In practice, however, the agency mainly acts as a client and recipient of products from the Institute, among other sources. Thus, no competitive relationship exists here.

The newly formed Baltic Sea Centre at Stockholm University represents a significant additional resource for the university's marine environment work. The Centre's great scope and the fact that its focus is similar to that of the Institute may come to have implications for the Institute's future role. Our assessment is that the newly formed Baltic Sea Centre at Stockholm University may come to further increase the internal competition between the parties and that the Institute may come to play a more minor role in the marine environment work on the east coast. However, the activities of the Baltic Sea Centre might also mean a contribution to those of the Institute, provided that collaboration within the Institute improves.

Collaboration problems and internal competition

Our evaluation shows that collaboration between the Institute's constituent parties has not worked particularly well. Only one quarter of the Institute's projects have been carried out in collaboration between the Institute's different units. Those parts of the Institute's assignment relating to the coordination of marine infrastructure have not been able to be fulfilled. The formal steering in terms of the government decision and declarations of intent from the member universities provide considerable scope for the constituent parties to choose in practice how much they wish to participate within the framework of the Institute. When the University of Gothenburg was given responsibility for the Institute's secretariat, it closed its own marine centre, but the centres at Stockholm University and Umeå University continued in parallel with the activities of the Institute. Strong independent cultures live on at the universities, which has hampered collaboration. At the same time, steering by the secretariat has been criticised by several regional units. Stockholm University and Umeå University have run collaborative projects apart from the Institute. These include their extensive cooperation with regard to communication.

The deficiencies in collaboration have led to a sub-optimisation of resources both within the Institute itself and within marine environment research. This sub-optimisation partly manifests itself in the fact that there are two separate communication platforms for marine environment issues: one dominated by Stockholm University and Umeå University and one dominated by the Institute's secretariat. Statskontoret considers this to be an inefficient use of central government resources. Statskontoret also believes that it is in some cases natural for a regional unit to carry out a project alone, e.g. environmental analysis of a specific section of coast. However, the scope for collaborative projects should be significantly greater than the Institute's current level.

Starting points for the Institute's future focus

We present here some starting points for the future focus of the Swedish Institute for the Marine Environment that in our assessment need to be considered before further activities are pursued:

  • Internal disputes need to end.
  • Streamline activities.
  • Become even more relevant for decision-makers.
  • Consider compensating the regional units for their personnel's working hours.

If the Government wishes a government decision to continue to form the foundation for the Institute, Statskontoret proposes that its assignment be refined on the basis of these starting points. An alternative to a government assignment is to allow the universities themselves to decide on the need for collaboration between them. Here too, these starting points should be taken into consideration in the design of future activities.