The Swedish Agency for Public Management

Developed steering – cohesion and trust in administration (2016:26)

In this document, Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) gives a report on a commission concerning how the Government’s steering of government agencies can be developed and become more coherent and effective. The commission has included analysing and proposing areas of activities in which there is a particular need to develop more coherent steering and the need that exists for steering cooperation. Statskontoret has also been commissioned to analyse how the Government’s steering relates to the stated focus of steering that is characterised by trust and confidence.

The commission presented here is one of seven parts in a larger government commission issued to Statskontoret regarding central government steering of the public sector. 

Statskontoret’s starting points

  • Delegation is the foundation of the Swedish administrative model. The Government formulates tasks and follows up on the results, but it is the agencies that are responsible for implementation.
  • Effective steering requires the Government to prioritise and direct steering capacity where it is needed. It is not possible to steer everything at all times.
  • Trust-based steering and coherent steering are means to implement the Government’s policy, not goals in themselves. These means can be more or less applicable depending on the need for steering.
  • Adopting a citizen’s perspective means seeing the administration that citizens encounter. Whether administration is sufficiently coherent is ultimately determined by citizens and businesses. 

Coherent steering presupposes an operational perspective

Coherent steering is based on areas of activities rather than individual agencies. Coherent steering presupposes that the Government analyses performance according to areas of activities and places high demands on the ability of the Government Offices to start from a comprehensive picture and coordinate steering. 

Statskontoret proposes that the Government

− where relevant, considers developing its performance reporting to the Riksdag on the basis of life events,

− when needed, conducts joint dialogues with several agencies to supplement the annual agency dialogues,

− appoints a working group to review how the organisation and working methods of the Government Offices can better support coherent steering and

− develops a more coherent steering of the reception and establishment of newly arrived immigrants, the planning and building process and the education system.

Statskontoret assesses it to be both appropriate and possible to develop this steering on the basis of groups of agencies within an area of activities. However, we do not consider it possible nor appropriate to develop guidelines for steering other types of groups of agencies. 

Facilitate the citizen’s encounter with administration

Coherent steering is a way for the Government to achieve a coherent administration that makes it clear to citizens and businesses which body they should turn to, and where no issues fall through the cracks.

The agencies can contribute to coherent steering by improving the conditions for civil servants to collaborate with other actors. Common digital services are another way to create a more coherent administration. The Government also needs to consider steering the agencies in order to stimulate the local provision of service in cooperation so that citizens can also encounter coherent administration in a physical sense. 

The Government should be restrictive in its steering of cooperation

The vast majority of agencies collaborate with each other, and the agencies’ self-initiated cooperation usually works well. Unclear requirements for cooperation can impede cooperation and drain the agencies’ time. For this reason, the Government should only place special requirements on cooperation when cooperation has not been effective and it is important for the area of activities that there is functioning cooperation. The Government can also promote the agencies’ self-initiated cooperation by removing barriers, such as ambiguities about funding and regulations. 

Statskontoret proposes

− that the Government Offices supplement existing support for steering agencies with common principles for steering cooperation. 

Room for manoeuvre and legitimate control are components of trust-based steering

Trust-based steering can be said to consist of two main components:

  • Steering that provides clear tasks and also allows those conducting operations room for manoeuvre.
  • Follow-up and ex post control that gives the Government a sufficient basis for steering and is at the same time perceived as meaningful and legitimate by those controlled.

Trust at different levels of administration

Most director-generals feel that the Government has trust in how their agency implements its commission. State employees also feel that there is trust at their workplaces. However, the level of trust in state workplaces is lower than in other sectors. Of the greatest significance to trust in the workplace is whether the trustworthiness of the leadership, with the head being perceived as being competent, honest and supportive. To increase trust in the civil service, the agencies need to further develop their work on leadership issues. 

The agencies feel that steering is generally trust-based

Most director-generals feel that they have good conditions in which to design their own operations. The agencies in our case studies also assess steering to be trust-based on the whole.

The experience of trust can be adversely affected by the agencies sometimes being unsure of what they are expected to achieve. Overly detailed steering that limits the agencies’ room for manoeuvre can also be interpreted as a lack of trust. One way to increase trust is to make use of informal contacts. This in turn places high demands on all parties being aware of their roles.

Statskontoret proposes

− that the Government Offices continues to develop the support for officers in order to facilitate the selection of policy instruments and to avoid unnecessarily detailed steering and

− that the Government Offices reviews the support for the responsible authorities to enable them to serve as gatekeepers against overly detailed steering. 

The control of the agencies can be developed and become more legitimate

Trust-based steering presupposes that the agencies can provide the Government with information about their operations. The agencies often find the information requested by the Government in the form of special feedback requirements to be relevant. However, if they become too numerous, too detailed or unclear, these feedback requirements are perceived to indicate a lack of trust.

Government actors frequently audit each other. Government agencies also exercise a large measure of supervision over other actors. Audits and supervision can be an important source of information, but can also affect trust and sometimes be perceived as meaningless. 

Statskontoret proposes

− that the Government commissions an investigation of how supervision can be designed so as to be perceived as more meaningful and legitimate.