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Governing with knowledge – a study of state governing of knowledge of municipalities and regions

Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) has conducted a study of state governing of knowledge (kunskapsstyrning) of regions and municipalities. The study was initiated by Statskontoret and is included in the publication series Om offentlig sektor. The study aims to contribute to the governing of knowledge by the Government and government agencies so that it can be as efficient and effective as possible.

We conducted the study by compiling our knowledge from previous studies and government assignments related to state governing of knowledge of regions and municipalities. We describe how state governing of knowledge is organised, particularly in healthcare, social welfare and education, as well as what works well and what challenges exist. Finally, we present our conclusions on how state governing of knowledge can be made more efficient and effective.

Collaborative work and coherent governance facilitate effective governing of knowledge

Our study shows that certain fundamental factors facilitate efficient and effective governing of knowledge. There needs to be collaborative work and interaction between government agencies and the municipalities and regions when it comes to identifying what knowledge is needed and developing knowledge that is adapted to users. There also needs to be a clear and coherent chain of command so that the knowledge can be used effectively within the activities, all the way from the Government’s governance of the agencies to clear recipients of the knowledge at the regional and local level. Finally, information is needed from the local government sector on how the knowledge is used and works through follow-ups and evaluations.

We highlight several challenges with state governing of knowledge of the local government sector. These include shortcomings in how government agencies coordinate governing of knowledge, the lack of knowledge and prerequisites for follow-up in certain areas, and the fact that small municipalities in particular have limited capacity to implement knowledge. We have identified several areas that the Government and the agencies need to develop to make governing of knowledge more efficient and effective.

Governing of knowledge must be based on identified needs

A fundamental prerequisite for governing of knowledge to have an impact is that it is based on identified needs for knowledge in the activities at the regional and local level. The agencies therefore need to involve the necessary regional and local professionals in the activities at an early stage, and not just during the actual work of producing knowledge and supporting documents. This also increases the chance of capturing proven experiences and adapting the knowledge support to users. 

We find that formalised structures and processes between government agencies and the local government sector help to make state governing of knowledge more needs-based. But it can also consume a lot of resources, especially in areas in which several structures and networks overlap. Thus, there is a need to review existing networks to avoid duplication of work.

The Government and agencies need to prioritise the coordination of governing of knowledge throughout the chain of command

Our study shows that around thirty agencies produce various types of knowledge support intended for the local government sector. Although it is difficult to say exactly how much resources agencies devote to governing of knowledge, we see that such governing is extensive in certain areas. At the same time, there is a risk that much of the knowledge that the agencies devote resources to producing is never used. Many organisations, particularly in small municipalities, have limited capacity to implement the knowledge in their activities.

The Government and the agencies therefore need to give greater priority to coordinating the governing of knowledge between the relevant agencies from an operational perspective. For example, the Government needs to base its governance more clearly on which agencies are responsible for a particular municipal or regional activity and give joint government assignments based on the activity that the governing of knowledge is aimed at. We also see that the agencies need to coordinate their work throughout the entire implementation process – from identifying needs and relaying experiences from the local government sector to developing and communicating knowledge.

Agencies need to give small municipalities in particular more support in applying knowledge

Our study shows that, in several areas, the agencies primarily focus on producing knowledge, but focus less on supporting municipalities and regions in applying the knowledge in practice in their activities. This could potentially lead to some actors not using the knowledge. We see that municipalities, especially small ones, have greater challenges than the regions when it comes to applying state governing of knowledge. Regions have more resources and structures for such governing.

Regional support and advice from the state agencies as well as other structures for knowledge support and knowledge exchange can contribute to a governing of knowledge that is more adapted to the different needs and prerequisites of the activities on regional and local level. We also find that the Government may need to clarify the knowledge dissemination and knowledge support assignments of certain agencies.

The Government needs to focus on the effects of governing of knowledge

There are few studies of the results and effects of state governing of knowledge. The agencies often perform simple surveys, for example whether specific knowledge support is downloaded. The general lack of more far-reaching evaluations of potential effects means that it is not possible to say with certainty whether governing of knowledge contributes to achieving the purpose and objectives of governance. At the same time, the right conditions are not always in place to follow up or evaluate an initiative. It is also not reasonable to follow up every knowledge support initiative due to resource constraints.

We find that the Government and the agencies therefore need to work more strategically to prioritise which areas and knowledge support initiatives should be evaluated. For example, the Government could give assignments to the agencies responsible for operations and to the agencies responsible for analysis and evaluation.