Review of the Expert Group for Aid Studies (2018:16)
The Swedish Agency for Public Management (Statskontoret) has been commissioned by the government to review the Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA).
The EBA is a committee created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2013. The committee's role is to evaluate and analyse Sweden's international aid. The EBA also passes on experiences from research and analyses by other actors. The intention is that the EBA shall contribute to generating knowledge that the government can use to manage and develop aid.
The EBA shall analyse and evaluate aid on an ongoing basis
The committee consists of a group of experts with ten members and a secretariat with seven employees. The EBA has a budget of almost SEK 18 million in 2018.The expert group makes independent selections of what they analyse and evaluate and how they perform their studies within the framework of the government's directive. The EBA primarily engages researchers and other experts to perform these studies, but the expert group is responsible for the quality of the studies and when they are to be published. The EBA publishes reports in its own series of reports and not in committee reports usually produced by committees. Since 2016, the government has stated in the supplementary directive to the EBA that its activities must have a long-term perspective.
The government wants the EBA to use its position and its mandate as an independent analysis and evaluation function to study strategically important issues relating to Swedish aid. They must also supplement evaluations produced by, among others, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). In its supplementary directive, the government has expressed expectations that the EBA should perform more evaluations.
The EBA has started to find a structure for its activities
Our review shows that the EBA has responded to the government's directive and intentions with regard to continuously producing different kinds of studies of Swedish aid. The EBA is also making knowledge from both its own studies and research available to the government and to other relevant target groups, which is in line with the government's intentions.
It has taken a few years for the EBA to find a structure for its activities. After a sluggish start, production has increased steadily. We feel that the EBA's production level is relatively high in relation to the committee's financial and human resources. Since 2016, they have produced just over ten reports a year in their regular series of reports. The EBA disseminates its reports at its own seminars and also contributes to communicating research results from new post-doctoral researchers.
Many of the EBA's interested parties believe that the reports are often interesting and that the seminars are well-organised. We cannot see any tangible overlaps between the EBA and SIDA or between the EBA and other analysis or evaluation agencies.
The reports need to be more relevant and practical
Our analysis shows that the EBA's reports have not had any direct impact on the government's policy, nor have they affected the way SIDA works in any decisive way. This is often due to the fact that the target groups do not think that the report contributes new knowledge or that it has not come in time to be used in a current decision-making process. It can also be because the study is not relevant to Swedish aid, or that the author is not sufficiently familiar with how Swedish aid is governed and implemented. The EBA has so far used its mandate as an external evaluator and examiner of aid to a relatively small extent. But the number of evaluations has increased since the government changed the committee's directive in 2016.
We believe that the EBA's biggest challenge is to make the reports more relevant and practical. If the EBA does not succeed in this, it risks losing its legitimacy. We also believe that the EBA wants to be relevant for the government and that they are therefore planning changes or have already implemented some changes in the way they work. The EBA is trying, for example, to involve potential recipients at an early stage of the process by including them in reference groups associated with the reports. The EBA has also gained a better insight into the government's strategy documents for aid and when they expire. This improves the conditions for making it possible for future studies to be published in time for the government to be able to use them to govern aid. The EBA also wants to perform more evaluations, enhance the secretariat's competence in the area of communication and have more systematic follow-up on its activities.
We have also highlighted some additional measures that the EBA can take to enhance the conditions for making the reports more relevant and practical. The EBA can, for example, draw up criteria describing how the expert group and the reference groups should assess the quality and relevance of the reports for the intended target group. We have also highlighted the fact that the EBA lacks a clear strategy describing how they should use their mandate and resources to achieve the government's goals in an effective way. The EBA should also consider following up on results of development initiatives that are already under way. But the EBA is a small organisation, which places limits on what it is possible and reasonable to develop. The choice of development initiatives should therefore be based on well-considered prioritisations for which the EBA itself must assume responsibility.
The EBA should continue its activities in the same organisational form
Statskontoret suggests that the government allow the EBA to continue its activities in its current organisational form, i.e. as a committee with continuous activities. The organisational form has not prevented the EBA in any decisive way from recruiting and retaining competent personnel. The EBA has been able to operate independently and with integrity, while at the same time producing background knowledge in a cost-efficient way.
The agency form should normally be the first choice option for a governmental activity, and we believe that both a management board-governed agency and a director general-governed agency could be suitable for the agency. But we also believe that a change to the organisation would generate transitional costs and that activities would have to start anew. This would risk creating a drop in production, stopping the process of change and increasing administrative resources. Nor is it clear that a change in the organisational form would give the EBA better conditions to achieve the government's goals. Previous experiences indicate that it is difficult to find an ideal structure for the operation, and that it is also difficult to run it in a way that satisfies all needs and expectations. The EBA's biggest challenge, whatever its organisational form, will be to balance its independence in the selection of studies against being relevant to the government's policy.