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Agency analysis of the Living History Forum (2017:8)

The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has conducted, on behalf of the Swedish Government, an Agency analysis (myndighetsanalys) of the Living History Forum.

The overall mandate of the Living History Forum is to promote the work related to democracy, tolerance and human rights, using the aspects of the Holocaust as a point of departure for discussion. The authority was established to conduct outreach activities with a focus on culture, education, and dissemination of knowledge. The Living History Forum produces exhibitions, training courses and educational materials to disseminate information about the crimes against humanity of the Holocaust and by Communist regimes, via the authority’s website.  The primary target audiences for its activities are teachers and students in primary and secondary schools. The authority conducts its activities in close contact and collaboration with various parties working with related issues, such as researchers, public authorities and non-governmental organisations.

In 2016, the Living History Forum had the equivalent of 34 full-time employees and an allocation of funds in the amount of SEK 59 million.

The authority fulfils its overall mandate

It is the assessment of Statskontoret that the Living History Forum fulfils its overall mandate. The follow-ups of Living History Forum generally shows good results. Overall, the feedback from teachers, which is their primary audience, and other external parties, is very positive. Their experience is that the authority’s activities maintain a level of high quality, for instance in terms of seminars and training for teachers and educational materials directed at teachers and students. Considering the size of the authority, the Forum for Living History conducts a large number of outreach activities every year, and provides extensive information and documentation on its website. Visitors to the authority’s exhibitions and digital channels have also increased over the past five-year period.

The authority faces huge challenges for the future

At the same time, Statskontoret assesses that the Living History Forum faces several major challenges for the future.

In recent years, the authority has received more extensive and a greater number of responsibilities to undertake on behalf of the Swedish Government than ever before. In many ways, the assignments involve a change in the authority’s operations, which so far has primarily focused on the school system. Among other things, the Swedish Government has placed demands on the authority to broaden its target audiences and increase the regional dispersion of its activities.

In 2016, the Living History Forum commenced an extensive programme to implement changes in order to further develop the authority’s internal governance and organisation, based in part on the Swedish Government’s demands. For example, the authority has introduced a new organisation and has also worked on developing strategic governance. A large number of development efforts will also be carried out over the course of 2017.

Statskontoret notes that there are shortcomings in the organisational and social working environment of the authority; for example, trust between the management and employees is currently weak. It is Statskontoret’s assessment that there is a risk that these challenges will adversely affect the authority’s results if they are not dealt with. 

Review the authority’s Terms of Reference

Statskontoret is of the view that the Swedish Government needs to review the authority’s Terms of Reference in order to establish greater clarity and long-term perspective in its governance. The broadening of the authority’s target audiences and increasing the regional dispersion of its activities requires comprehensive and long-term efforts in order to result in lasting impacts. Statskontoret concludes that in some instances the temporary assignments on behalf of the Swedish Government given to the Living History Forum have, in certain cases, had too tight timeframes. There is also a risk that the activities will end when the authority has spent its allocated funds.

The review of the authority’s Terms of Reference should include, inter alia, to decide on whether the Swedish Government’s intentions with the temporary Government assignments should be incorporated into the authority’s Terms of Reference. This would improve the conditions for the Living History Forum to plan and prioritise within its operations.

Prioritise amongst the ongoing activities to implement changes

Statskontoret welcomes the fact that the authority has initiated a process to further develop its organisation and internal governance. For example, the new organisation is an important step in establishing greater clarity concerning roles and responsibilities within the authority.

However, Statskontoret considers that the Living History Forum needs to take a comprehensive approach to the authority’s efforts to implement changes and to establish a clearer prioritisation of the efforts. Our view is that the authority’s leadership has underestimated the importance of prioritising and implementing the changes in phases. If the authority is to reach success in its efforts to implement changes, the most important developments need to be identified in a coherent schedule. The schedule should contain a description of the allocated resources, timeframes and designated managers. Statskontoret is of the view that the Living History Forum in particular should give priority to clarifying the strategic governance and the internal management chain of the authority.

Clarify the strategic governance at the authority

Statskontoret is of the view that the Living History Forum needs to establish a greater consensus concerning the authority’s mandate and focus. The strategic management at the authority has been weak and the Terms of Reference has not been broken down into concrete guidance for its activities. This has led to a situation where the coordination of operations has become weak.

During 2016 the authority developed strategic goals that primarily concern how the authority will work, rather than on the content of its activities. Statskontoret is of the view that the Living History Forum needs to clarify its chain of governance by developing strategic objectives that clarify the instructional tasks related to the Terms of Reference as well as operational goals that can serve as a guide to the content of the activities. The Living History Forum also needs to decide who their main target groups are.

Restore trust between the management and its employees

The Living History Forum has initiated several activities to address the authority’s work environment problems. However, there remain major challenges in the ongoing work. Statskontoret assesses that if the Living History Forum is to be able to fulfil its mandate and mission in the coming future, it is especially important that the trust between employees and management is restored.

Statskontoret is of the view that in its further development work, the authority should focus on what the success factors for the authority’s good results have been. Therefore, the Living History Forum needs to take advantage of the employees’ experiences and expertise in a clearer manner during the implementation of changes. The authority also needs to prioritise to develop the leadership to a clearer extent.

Review and consider the authority’s needs for skills and expertise

The broad mandate of Living History Forum and the temporary assignments that the authority has received has resulted in a situation where it is difficult to staff the authority with specific expertise. Statskontoret’s assessment is that the authority’s strategy with a high proportion of variable costs for external procurement of consultants has largely been appropriate. The authority has thus been able to adapt the needs for expertise in accord with needs.

Currently, the authority has no strategic management of the supply of expertise, but intends to carry out an expertise survey in 2017. Statskontoret’s assessment is that this inventory may be a good basis for conducting a comprehensive analysis of the expertise that the authority needs internally and what kind of expertise should be purchased externally. Statskontoret also is of the view that clearer control and coordination of purchasing and procurement of external consultancy services is needed.

Statskontoret’s proposal

Statskontoret proposes that the Swedish Government should

  • reduce the number of temporary assignments being given to the Living History Forum until the authority’s efforts to implement changes have been implemented
  • consider clarifying the Forum of Living History’s Terms of Reference
  • state in the spending authorisation for the Live History Forum that the authority is to provide a report concerning what measures have been taken to develop the internal governance and organisation. 

Statskontoret proposes that the Living History Forum should

  • prioritise among the activities in the current and planned process to implement changes
  • develop a coherent plan for the continuing process to implement changes based on the priorities identified
  • develop strategic objectives that break down the content in the Terms of Reference
  • make decisions about which target audiences the authority will primarily address itself to
  • take advantage of the employees’ experience and knowledge in the process to implement changes
  • further develop leadership at the authority
  • further develop and concretise the action plan for the work environment
  • develop a plan for the provision of expertise to the authority.