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An innovative and collaborative central government administration

This year marks ten years since the Riksdag adopted the administrative policy objective. The Riksdag then decided that the central government administration should be an innovative and collaborative central government administration that is legally certain and efficient, has a high degree of quality, service and accessibility, and thereby contributes to Sweden's development and effective EU work. Through this objective, the Government highlighted new values for the administration, such as being innovative and collaborative.

The Agency for Public Management has taken the initiative to examine the status of the administrative policy objective and the importance it has had for the agencies' work and the Government's governance. We have focused particularly on the part of the objective that involves increasing innovation and collaboration in central government. The Agency for Public Management is currently tasked with submitting proposals on how the administrative policy objective can be monitored and reported. This publication can also be seen as a first step in fulfilling this task.

The survey is mainly based on interviews with heads of agencies and heads of departments at the Government Offices. Some of the interviewees also took part in the study Views on administrative policy in public administration that the Agency for Public Management conducted in 2011.36 By means of this report we would like to contribute knowledge of the role of the objective in public administration.

Questions answered in the report:

  • How does the Riksdag objective work as a policy instrument for administrative policy?
  • What do the various parts of the administrative policy objective mean for the Government and the agencies?
  • Has the objective contributed to development of public administration, and in that case how?

A stable objective that lasts over time

Our survey shows that the administrative policy objective is widely accepted in public administration and in policy. The agency heads we interviewed describe the values of the objective as fundamental and relevant. The values and questions about how they should be weighed against each other are central in the everyday life of an agency head.

The agency heads see it as an advantage that the objective primarily summarises known, central values that are also regulated in laws and ordinances. This simplifies governance and strengthens the motivation to contribute to meeting the administrative policy objective. The objective has also served as inspiration for the agency heads' work. This may, among other things, have helped to establish innovation as a concept in public administration.

The broad formulation has also contributed to the objective enjoying high political acceptance. The objective has not changed despite several changes of government. It has also been possible to implement a large number of administrative policy measures within the framework of the objective.

Agencies need to weigh effectiveness and legal certainty against collaboration and innovation

The values of the administrative policy objective are not weighted in relation to each other, but it is nevertheless clear that they have varying significance in the practical work of agency heads. The agency heads describe legal certainty and effectiveness as self-evident and "hygiene factors". To a greater extent they need to fill collaboration and innovation with content and evaluate it on their own.

The agency heads' ability to balance governance based on these different values presupposes that they have experience, but also courage and sensitivity. This is especially true when making trade-offs between the values of innovation and effectiveness. For example, the agency must be able to argue for innovative solutions in the dialogue with the Government Offices, which, according to the agency heads, would prefer to have just enough innovative solutions that are not too costly.

The administrative policy objective has limited steering force in practice

The administrative policy objective is bound by a Riksdag decision. Objectives subject to Riksdag decisions must both signal the Government's priorities in the area and form the basis of the Riksdag's follow-up of the Government's work.
Our analysis shows that the objective in practice has a limited impact on the work of the agencies. Administrative policy is a concern for all agencies. However, only a few of the agency heads interviewed perceive that they are guided by the administrative policy objective. It is difficult to deduce how the objective is used in ongoing governance of agencies and activities. For example, few agencies have been given explicit remits to contribute to the administrative policy objective, and neither is their work followed up on the basis of the objective. On the other hand, representatives of the Government Offices state that it is used as a basis for preparatory work.

The objective is used to a limited extent for the Government's performance reporting
It has also proved difficult to develop performance indicators for the administrative policy objective. The Riksdag Committee on Finance, for example, has repeatedly requested enhanced performance reporting that more clearly relates to the administrative policy objective.

There may be several reasons for this. One reason is that the administrative policy objective does not describe the state that is to be achieved. This makes it harder to break down the objective into milestones and indicators. Another reason is that public administration covers a large number of different activities that may be difficult to capture with a number of common indicators. In addition, administrative policy is cross-sectoral. Accordingly, the effectiveness of achieving the objective cannot only be measured by studying the activities carried out by the Government within the framework of the expenditure area relating to administrative policy. Instead, the development of the entire administration needs to be analysed.

Difficult to determine if effectiveness has increased

In the past ten-year period, the Government has implemented a large number of administrative policy initiatives. During the period, government power has also shifted between different parts of the political field. The fact that the administrative policy objective has remained indicates that it is flexible and adapted to political conditions.
But we also note that although the Government has implemented a large number of initiatives within the framework of the administrative policy objective, we can only see a few initiatives with a clear connection to the objective. Despite the high level of activity, it is therefore difficult to determine whether Sweden has come closer to reaching the administrative policy objective or not.

The administrative policy objective could get more attention

Through their practical work, the agency heads are central to implementing administrative policy. Our interviews with them show that administrative policy is more central to their work today than a decade ago. This is shown, for example, by agencies more actively considering how they can fulfil their remit through collaboration.

But our survey also shows that it is largely up to the agency heads themselves to translate and implement the administrative policy objective in their own operations. This is positive in many ways, as it enables them to adapt the objective to the agencies' various activities. But it may also be difficult to interpret the scope the objective provides to the agency heads to govern their operations. The agency heads would like to see an improved dialogue with the Government Offices to define the meaning of the objective and weigh the different components against each other. According to the agency heads, this support from the Government Offices is currently limited.

The agency heads would also like to see more joint forums where they can talk to each other about overall public administration issues, including how the administrative policy objective can be interpreted and adapted to the activities of individual agencies.