Statskontoret (The Swedish Agency for Public Management) has carried out a survey and analysis on behalf of the Government into the way public authorities make use of hands-on knowledge and experience by involving employees in municipal authorities and county councils in producing governance documents and support material targeted at municipal activities.
One way in which we have fulfilled this assignment has been to conduct interviews and document studies in fourteen public authorities. We have also gauged opinion by distributing a questionnaire to employees in compulsory school, healthcare centres, social services, physical planning and housing, and environmental and health protection. In addition we have carried out six case studies of projects where municipal employees were actively involved.
Municipal involvement adds value and legitimacy to governance and support material
Statskontoret’s study shows that governance and support material produced in collaboration of municipal employees is seen as more valuable by both municipal employees and the authorities themselves. In this respect there is no difference between their areas of activity.
It is usually the case that municipal employees are better than the authorities at determining whether the material in question is of use in the work they do and seeing which practical problems might arise on its application. If the authority does not involve those who are meant to use the governance or support material and thus fail to take account of such aspects, there is a real risk that the material will not be used to the extent intended.
Hands-on work at municipal level and practical experience of the area of activity in question where support is being provided would seem to be important contributing factors in ensuring that the authorities are able to produce support material seen as valuable and legitimate. The support material produced by the Swedish Chemicals Agency has met with appreciation, for instance. One important reason for this is that the Agency itself supervises within its areas of activity. It therefore knows which requirements exist and how to draw up guidance and other support material.
The authorities work ambitiously with involvement
The authorities we have studied work ambitiously to involve municipal employees in producing governance and support documents. Having gauged the opinions of municipal employees, we find that they too are satisfied with the support material.
The differences that exist between the authorities are often connected to the assignment and size of the authority. The larger authorities that have a comprehensive assignment to develop knowledge guidance take a more systematic approach in involving municipal employees. In the case of small authorities it is not possible to systematise the work in this way.
There are certain differences between governance and support material in the way involvement takes place. One difference is that the process of producing support material is usually less formalised than that of producing governance documents. There are also substantially greater variations in terms of support material. This applies to both the types of material and the way this material is produced.
The authorities take different approaches in identifying the need for governance and support material. The tools for identifying this need include for example regular questionnaires and making available functions on websites where employees can submit proposals for support material. The most common approach used by the authorities in order to involve municipal employees in producing governance and support material is the use of reference and working groups. Other approaches to involve them include hearings and questionnaires, and that the authority publishes a draft for encouraging others to add their views on its website. The municipal level is also involved in consultation procedures, although in this case it is unclear whether the employees involved are those with practical experience.
Two categories of municipal employees are involved
Statskontoret shows that there are two main categories of municipal employees who are involved. One of these categories consists of the managers and employees in the organisation. The other consists of managers, employees or politicians who represent the municipality as an organisation.
Since it is usually expert knowledge that is crucial in deciding who will be asked to participate in the production of governance or support material, it is usually employees who are involved.
No difference between genders in terms of involvement
We cannot see any difference between genders in terms of degree of participation. The small differences we can see between them are that men in most of areas of activity are somewhat less satisfied with the way the authorities involve municipal employees.
Statskontoret is submitting a number of recommendations to the authorities and the Government. Our recommendations are for example that the authorities try to involve others as early on as possible in the process; ensure that the objective, prerequisites and methods of working are clearly formulated and communicated when embarking on the production of governance or support material; provide clear information on how municipal employees are to submit their views on governance and support material; provide feedback to the municipal employees on how their views are being dealt with; and examine whether it is appropriate and possible to collaborate with other authorities in producing governance and support material.
Statskontoret also recommends that the Government gives careful consideration to the need for further Government assignments to be given to authorities that are already dealing with a large number of assignments targeted at the municipalities.