The Swedish Agency for Participation commenced operations on 1 May 2014 when the agency Handisam merged with parts of the Swedish Institute of Assistive Technology, a non-profit association. The Government wanted to create a unified organisation to ensure more efficient and knowledge-based work within the area of disability policy. Statskontoret's analysis of the Agency for Participation reveals that there is a long way to go before the Government's objective is achieved.
Promoting the effective implementation of disability policy
The Agency for Participation shall in various ways promote the effective implementation of the Government's cross-sectoral disability policy. One of the agency's tasks is to monitor and analyse how government authorities and municipalities implement the policy. Other tasks include disseminating information and knowledge in support of this implementation. As a result of the organisational changes, additional tasks such as welfare technology and the procurement of guide dogs have been forthcoming.
The Agency's operations are not run efficiently
Statskontoret’s assessment is that the operations of the Agency for Participation are not run efficiently. In the first two years, the agency has demonstrated low productivity and weak results in relation to both its own expectations and those of the stakeholders. Aspects of the external criticism levelled at the agency suggest that the products do not attain the expected quality or are not sufficiently analytical. The agency has not used its allocated appropriations. Of the appropriated SEK 85 million, the Agency returned 12 million.
Many internal procedures that are necessary for the Agency to conduct effective operations of a high quality are not in place. This concerns procedures relating to e.g., preparation and decision-making, quality assurance, project management and publishing. The Agency's information and knowledge dissemination has been adversely affected as a result of the Agency's communication function having not worked satisfactorily for two years.
Another indication of the operations not being run efficiently is that there is no clear demarcation between a number of the Agency’s activities and those of other agencies. Statskontoret estimates that the overlap is greatest within the areas of welfare technology, accessibility of the built environment and standardisation.
The Agency is still trying to find its role
The Agency for Participation is still attempting to find its role in disability policy as well as how to effectively balance various interests. As a government agency, it is responsible for balancing public interest with the special interests of disability policy. If the Agency leans too far towards the special interests of the policy, its credibility may come into question. If the Agency works solely on the basis of public interest, its relevance to disability policy may diminish. The Agency must also strike a balance between, maintaining its overarching sectoral authority on the one hand - including the task of monitoring the outcomes of disability policy - and employing sector-specific initiatives on the other; for example, by being able to work with welfare technology in certain sectors, such as within social care. If the Agency is too sector-specific in its work, it risks assuming the tasks of other agencies.
Internally, the Agency has been unable to reach a consensus on how the commission in the instructions should be interpreted and thus how activities should be directed and carried out so that the resources are used to best effect. This lack of consensus has meant that the Agency's staff has pulled in different directions. The Agency has therefore worked both for the special interests of policy and the public interest, and both with a multisectoral and sector-specific focus. This has been reflected in weak results, work environment problems and low confidence in the Agency's management.
The room for interpretation in the commission has contributed to a slow start
Statskontoret’s assessment is that the Agency’s slow start and difficulties in finding its role are in large part due to Government's commission to the Agency not being sufficiently clear and defined. In addition to the instructions allowing significant room for interpretation, the Government has contributed to the uncertainty of both the Agency and its interested parties, with regard to the focus and direction of operations, by allocating certain sector-specific and operational tasks to the Agency. Tasks of this nature are not in keeping with the Government’s previous statements indicating that the Agency shall work in an overarching sectoral capacity. The tasks assigned by the Government have also called for resources and have diminished the Agency’s scope in structuring its own operations based on the instructions received.
The inertia is also due to gaps in the preparatory work
Explanations for the slow start also allude to gaps in the preparatory work for the organisational change. When the Agency started its operations it was not, for example, established as to what the new mission within the area of welfare technology would entail, or what competence a more knowledge-based approach in the work would require. The Agency's overall competence base does not match the updated mission. So far the Agency does not have a strategy for addressing its skills provision, but sees the need for additional staff with analytical and strategic competencies.
Becoming an effective multisectoral knowledge authority
If the Agency for Participation is to meet the Government's expectations with regard to performance, efficiency and quality, the Agency needs to operate on a more overarching sectoral level in the future. This means that the Agency's tasks and activities require a certain amount of streamlining, and that overlaps with other agencies need to be reduced. The Agency also needs to employ a more knowledge-based and analytical approach.
Accomplishing this change requires appropriate measures by both the Government and the Agency for Participation. The Government needs to adjust its steering function in order to provide the Agency with better conditions for success. The Agency for Participation needs to continue focusing on its development work, which requires decision-making ability and resilience.
Clarifying the instructions and reducing the number of special assignments
Statskontoret proposes that the Government clarify the Agency's instructions and specify clearer performance expectations for operations when such are required. Both tasks and target groups are vaguely outlined in the instructions. The ordinance with instruction also contain overlaps which, among other things, makes it difficult to discern what the Government wants the authority to prioritise. Statskontoret’s assessment is that the Government needs to clarify the instruction by emphasising that the Agency for Participation is a multisectoral knowledge authority within the area of disability policy. The instruction should also be structured in a way that makes it clear what the Agency is to accomplish.
Statskontoret also proposes that the Government reduce the number of special assignments allocated to the Agency. The Agency for Participation needs space to change and strengthen its activities in line with the Government's expectations. If the Agency is to work in a multisectoral capacity, Statskontoret is of the opinion that the Government should not assign the Agency tasks that are sector-specific or operational in nature.
Assess whether certain tasks can be transferred to the National Board of Health and Welfare
Statskontoret proposes that the Government instruct the Technical Aid and Assistance Commission to examine whether certain tasks of the Agency for Participation can be transferred to the National Board of Health and Welfare. This specifically applies to tasks that the Agency has within welfare technology, the procurement of guide dogs and a support function relating to assistance dogs.
The Agency for Participation has not established a structure for approaching its tasks within the area of welfare technology. The Agency and the National Board of Health and Welfare have been assigned several similar tasks in the area, and this has caused confusion for many. Statskontoret's assessment is that welfare technology is not a prerequisite for the Agency to be able to carry out its multisectoral tasks. It therefore seems more appropriate that the National Board of Health and Welfare, which has competence within the field of technical aid and assistance, assume overall responsibility for issues concerning aid and welfare technology. Through its own instructions, the National Board of Health and Welfare also has a more natural connection to those who prescribe technical aids and assistance within health care. Guide dogs and assistance dogs can also be encompassed by the definition of aids.
Reaching a consensus on the mission and deciding on internal procedures
Statskontoret proposes that the Agency for Participation prioritise reaching a consensus on the mission and the direction and focus of operations. This requires a unified vision but also a cohesive management team that leads the way in the change process. The Agency should take into account lessons learned from the changes made over the past two years. Government measures to clarify and define the mission are also important prerequisites for management success.
Furthermore, Statskontoret proposes that the Agency for Participation promptly establish the basic internal procedures and processes that will apply to the Agency's work. Procedures are important for the Agency to present results and otherwise be able to conduct effective work and maintain high quality.
Develop an action plan for the continued development work
Statskontoret proposes that the Agency for Participation develop an action plan for the continued development work with the aim of becoming an effective knowledge authority. At present, the Agency lacks a cohesive approach to its development work. Problems and delays in the work show that the management has underestimated the importance of prioritising and implementing changes in stages.
If the Agency is to work more efficiently and with a more knowledge-based approach, increased cooperation between departments is also required. In addition, the Agency needs to work more strategically in its dissemination of knowledge so as to reach as many people as possible.
One way to strengthen the Agency in its role as knowledge authority is to establish a Knowledge Council as directed by the instructions. The Knowledge Council should be able to replace the Disability Council that the Agency has until the end of 2016.