Between 2014 and 2017, Sweden invested almost SEK 170 million into measures against violent extremism. Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) has evaluated whether these measures to counteract violent extremism have been suitable.
Government measures have included appointing a national coordinator against violent extremism and issuing set tasks to 11 government agencies. The overall purpose of these measures has been to create a society more resistant to violent extremism. They have focused primarily on increasing knowledge and improving.
Collaboration between the relevant agencies
There have been several results from the work of the coordinator and the government agencies
Statskontoret believes that the government's efforts have successfully contributed to society's resistance against violent extremism. This is mainly thanks to the work of the coordinator and government agencies to increase knowledge and support municipalities with their work. One of the coordinator's primary roles has been to establish local and national networks to process and exchange information. The government agencies have produced a comprehensive knowledge base in the form of reports and training courses aimed at municipalities.
The coordinator put violent extremism on the agenda
The municipalities feel that the greatest contribution from the coordinator was to raise the subject of violent extremism. 80 per cent of municipalities say they have benefitted from the coordinator's work. The coordinator has encouraged local politicians to prioritise the issue, which has contributed to the creation of a network of municipal coordinators.
Collaboration between the agencies increased during this period
The government's action plan has contributed to increased collaboration between the actors involved. This is thanks to many agencies having been allocated tasks that have resulted in an increase in collaboration with various actors. This would most likely not have been the case if it were not for the government's assignment. On the whole, the agencies also feel that their collaborations have worked well. The coordinator's reference group has also contributed to a greater understanding amongst the agencies about the roles of different parties in the framework of the action plan.
Agency training has made a breakthrough and is being used
Government efforts have created several training opportunities. This includes training materials, such as the Living History Forum classroom materials and the National Board of Health and Welfare's training pack. In addition, this includes courses and seminars such as the Segerstedt Institute's courses and CPD course for teachers and other professionals, and contract education and conferences from the Living History Forum and the Swedish National Agency for Education.
We are of the opinion that the training provided by the government agencies has been sufficient. For example, it appears as though schools are well aware of online teaching materials from the Swedish Media Council and the Living History Forum. Courses by the National Agency for Education and the Living History Forum received around 3,500 participants and a further 111 people participated in Segerstedt Institute higher education courses and other training activities.
Awareness of the agency materials varies
There is a great variation to the awareness of the agency materials. The municipal coordinators are very familiar with materials from certain agencies. Between 60 and 75 per cent of the municipalities are aware of materials from the Segerstedt Institute, the National Board of Health and Welfare and the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society. However, familiarity with the Swedish Media Council, Ombudsman for Children in Sweden and Living History Forum is lower – 25 to 30 per cent of municipalities are aware of their materials.
Even though many municipalities are aware of agency materials, this is no guarantee that they are being used. Between 20 and 40 per cent of the municipalities familiar with the material have used it. Nevertheless, this need not be negative. This is a relatively positive result, considering most municipalities have not experienced any problems with violent extremism. The municipalities believe that – when used – the materials have been significant for their preventative work.
Time factors are unlikely to have an effect
The materials produced by the agencies have a short life span. Materials receive the most attention when they are first published, with interest slowly waning. Many agencies lack the resources to continue work with the materials following their publication. We are of the opinion that the impact will subside with time unless the agencies make targeted efforts now and again to increase awareness of the materials amongst the target groups.
The majority of agencies have incorporated issues of violent extremism into their regular activities
Many agencies have integrated work against violent extremism into their regular activities in some way. For example, the Swedish Prison and Probation Service and the Swedish National Board of Institutional Care have incorporated the issues into staff training. The Media Council and Living History Forum continue with their instructional tasks to promote democracy in general.
Only the Ombudsman for Children in Sweden, the Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society and the National Board of Health and Welfare have not integrated the matters into their regular operations. These agencies state that they have completed their task, but now lack funding to continue with new efforts in the area.
Difficult to find special methods that provide clear results
One comprehensive target for the Government's measures has been to find a functional way to prevent violent extremism. This applies to both the coordinator and agencies. Many of those we have spoken to have highlighted that there are no guaranteed functional methods in the area. The available knowledge about what is suitable is situation-dependent and is based on practical and individual experiences. It is clear that no simple solutions exist.
The municipalities have developed their preventative work
Between 2014 and 2017, the municipalities have both increased their knowledge of violent extremism and developed their preventative work efforts.
Violent extremism is not a major issue for the majority of municipalities
8 per cent of Sweden's municipalities felt that violent extremism is a serious or very serious problem. This information is based on questionnaire responses from 181 municipal coordinators and contact persons for violent extremism. Around 20 per cent experience problems to some extent. This means that around 70 per cent of municipalities experience small problems or no problems with violent extremism.
The role of the coordinator is a marked change in the municipalities' work
One of the most marked results of the work from the national coordinator is that all municipalities have now appointed a contact person or coordinator for issues of violent extremism. Previously this role did not exist in most municipalities and in many cases, it formed the starting point for the municipalities' continued work against violent extremism.
Increased collaboration is a vital contribution to strengthen social resistance
The municipalities state that their collaboration has improved, both internally and externally. Internal collaboration has mainly addressed work with various municipal administration departments and external collaboration has involved work with the local police.
Verbal updates can threaten the long-term nature of the work
Our questionnaire showed that many municipalities followed the request from the national coordinator to create local updates. However, it has become apparent that the majority of these updates are verbal.
Statskontoret believes there is a risk associated with verbal updates as this information is bound to an individual and therefore more vulnerable. In the long run, this can hinder the continuity and sustainability of the municipalities' work.
Many municipalities have action plans, but their quality could be improved
Another clear result from the work of the national coordinator showed that around two out of three municipalities had established an action plan against violent extremism. This has resulted in a clearer distribution of responsibility within the municipalities.
Most action plans are from 2016 and 2017, when the coordinator was most active and pressure from the media was at its peak. Many municipalities also explained how the action plans were created rapidly to prevent a municipality from receiving unwanted attention for being without a plan. Statskontoret believes that this may have affected the quality of the action plans and consequently, the quality of the preventive work. A slower process would have been beneficial to the work.
Municipalities have adapted their preventative work based on their situation
In municipalities where the threat of violent extremism appears low, the work has received less resources, whereas in municipalities where the threat appears higher have increased its priority. Many municipalities also believe that they spend less time on the issue now than they did when it was most observed between 2016 and 2017. Many municipalities feel that the provision of an action plan to tackle the problem and to maintain awareness is sufficient. We see this as a sign that the municipalities have started to find a suitable level of ambition for their work.
The action plans have contributed to the societies power of resistance
Efforts against violent extremism have received a positive breakthrough, even though funding was relatively restricted. Many municipalities now have a structure in place to receive and process information that may be linked to violent extremism. Action plans and updates exist in the majority of municipalities. Despite the problem of violent extremism being low in most municipalities, there is still a preparedness to address the issue should the situation arise. This is owed mainly to the efforts of the national coordinator. Prior to these efforts, the municipalities had no access to comprehensive information about violent extremism, unlike now. This is owed mainly to the efforts of the government agencies.