Assessment and recommendations

Strengthening the institutional governance for digital government

General context

  • Social values in Sweden favour consensus, collaboration, equality, inclusion and a temperate mindset. These values contribute to an organisational culture in the public sector where decision-making processes are characterised by consensus and the avoidance of conflict, and provide an important baseline for fostering collaborative approaches to transform the government into a platform for value co-creation. However, they can also hinder efficient and agile decision making, interfere with the need for clear and solid policy leadership, and create organisational barriers for collaboration.

  • The institutional set-up for e-government has ranged from agency-led to council-based governance models since 1980. These changes were implemented in the pursuit of finding an adequate institutional governance model that could drive inter-institutional co-ordination and advance policy goals.

  • All efforts to govern digital government more efficiently have been hampered by slow decision-making processes and an overall institutional context characterised by co-ordination bodies with weak powers and by risk-adverse, yet powerful, and independent agencies, which favour silo-based approaches rather than inter-institutional co-ordination, alignment and rationalisation.

  • The new Agency for Digital Government (DIGG) established in 2018, initially within the Ministry of Finance and currently under the Ministry for Infrastructure, will play a key role in advancing digital government priorities while steering policy co-ordination and triggering cultural change. Yet, forcing digital and data-driven transformation initiatives to fit into the current organisational doctrine and working culture of the Swedish public sector puts the agility of such initiatives at risk and, as a result, their success.

  • It is important to ensure that new developments in terms of governance reforms are accompanied by the right enforcement mechanisms to find new ways to enabling spaces for digital innovation, experimentation and collaboration.

Setting up an efficient institutional model for digital government in Sweden


  • By the end of 2018, political leadership in terms of the digitalisation agenda (including the digital economy and digital government) were distributed among the Minister for Housing and Digital Development, the Minister for Public Administration (within the Ministry of Finance), and the Minister for Enterprise and Innovation. Although this proved the cross-cutting relevance of the digital agenda across the government, there is no clear leadership in terms of policy co-ordination implementation, which risks encouraging fragmentation and silo-based approaches.

  • The creation of the Agency for Digital Government (DIGG) (in operation since September 2018) can help increase the capacity of the government to act as a driver of change, and steer and support the digital transformation of the Swedish public sector in ways that boost synergies and joined-up approaches. The DIGG could be empowered and equipped with the right soft and hard policy levers and human capital necessary to advance policy goals in terms of IT infrastructure and open data, among others, and to secure linkages among the different policy portfolios spread across different ministries.

  • The success of the DIGG will depend on its preparedness, capacity and ability to carry out its policy steering and cohesion role across the whole government rather than being perceived as the operational arm of its parent ministry. It is only under these circumstances that the DIGG will be able to overcome the resistance of agencies to cede a certain amount of their freedom of action, and to navigate – with a collaborative and co-creation approach – the Swedish public sector, using the consensus-based culture as a lever to drive change.

  • In April 2019, the creation of the new Ministry for Infrastructure brought together broader digitalisation issues (including digital government) under one single leadership role. This includes the government’s decision to move the DIGG from the Ministry of Finance to this new ministry’s portfolio.

OECD and peer assessment

  • There is no clear leadership for digital government in Sweden.

  • There is consensus that clearer and stronger leadership and co-ordination is needed to enable a significant transformation and full evolution towards digital government.

  • Leadership supported by the top political level is needed to set and commit to common priorities and ambitions (i.e. define a shared vision), steer the alignment of actions among key actors (i.e. common path of actions), recognise the impacts that might arise from enabling a data economy (e.g. change of for-profit data revenue models), including potentially providing additional funding.

  • There is a lack of direction for co-ordinated implementation.

  • Different portfolios relevant to the digital agenda are under the responsibility of several ministries. Given the absence of clear leadership for efficient co-ordination leads to a fragmented and blurry strategic leadership and guidance when it comes to digital transformation portfolios, including for digital government.

  • The verticality and consensus-based culture of the Swedish public sector represent a bureaucratic and cultural legacy that, in practice, does not favour the institutionalisation of such a leadership role or a real overall transformation that by nature requires horizontality.

  • There is a need to balance the existent decentralised and vertical policy implementation model, based on autonomy, with the availability of a clear high-level strategic leadership supporting coherence, horizontality and synergies.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government should consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 1. Define a clear leadership role for digital government backed by the government and in agreement with the relevant stakeholders to support strategic decisions that are taken in a collaborative fashion (example of the Digital Commissioner in Italy).

  • In light of the culture and tradition of the Swedish public sector, the definition of such a centralised leadership role (e.g. chief transformation officer) must be consented, and agreed upon, by all relevant political and institutional players in order to reduce the risk of institutional resistance, and to favour co-operation and support. This implies identifying a cross-cutting leadership role that fits into the Swedish public sector culture (e.g. a samordnare or general co-ordinator role) in charge of co-ordinating and monitoring the coherent implementation of the different digitalisation and data-related portfolios.

    • The creation of such a role needs to be understood in the context of existent vertical and horizontal structures (e.g. using the state secretaries’ networks) within the Swedish public sector to avoid conflict in terms of accountability and responsibility.

    • This role should focus on a co-ordination function, but should have the right mandate, power and political backing to be able to take the required cross-cutting actions to enable a coherent digital transformation across the Swedish public sector and provide incentives for co-ordinated actions among the political leadership in relevant ministries.

    • Its mandate should also allow it to exert influence over the budgetary process (e.g. submit proposals) so that the budget process can be used as a policy lever to advance coherent digitalisation efforts.

    • The creation of such a role should be backed up by a clear business case demonstrating the value of greater co-ordination, also in terms of missed opportunities in its absence, to advance to transformation of the Swedish public sector to increase performance and public trust.

  • Such a leadership role would benefit from working in close collaboration with the leadership of the DIGG, which may act as the operational arm for the digital government policy. However, roles and responsibilities should be clearly defined.

  • The profile of this leader will be key to achieve the policy co-ordination objectives. The Swedish government would benefit from appointing a charismatic and visionary leader. This person need to be not only digitally savvy, but should also have a deep understanding of the culture, tradition and of the digital government community of the Swedish public sector and sufficient leverage to negotiate and reach consensus.

Policy levers

  • The funding model of the agency is identified in the 2018 Budget Bill (budgetpropositionen) of the Swedish government.

  • Ring-fenced funds are included for open data and the national digital infrastructure.

  • Empowering the DIGG means finding the right balance between the use of hard and soft policy levers in order to encourage collaboration while ensuring and/or enforcing policy coherence.

OECD and peer assessment

  • The culture of consensus is not yet being fully capitalised on. It is considered a challenge in terms of decision making by most actors. Only a few see it as an opportunity for collaboration and value co-creation.

  • Regulatory instruments such as the instruction letters are not optimally used by the Ministry of Finance to guide cross-sectoral policy implementation by agencies in line with overarching digital government objectives.

  • The use of financial policy levers can help support the digital transformation of the public sector, the coherent implementation of guidelines and standards, and steer public sector digital and data-driven innovation.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government should consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 2. Use the letters of instruction or direct assignments decided by the government to define clear policy guidelines for public sector agencies in the implementation of the digital government agenda.

  • Letters of instruction should be clear in relation to responsibilities and real-world implementation of actions expected of public sector organisations to promote and enforce the implementation of any soft policy instruments (e.g. guidelines and standards) to be developed by the DIGG.

Recommendation 3. Use the funding of the DIGG as a policy lever to align digital government and data initiatives with the strategic objectives set by the overall strategy and the standards and guidelines developed by the DIGG (an example is the Agency for Administrative Modernisation in Portugal).

  • Ensuring the sufficient funding of the DIGG will play a key role to enable this body to deliver the expected policy results.

  • Use a conditional funding model for priority and strategic digital government and open data projects that require coherent and horizontal actions between public sector organisations. This would help move from strict co-ordination to collaboration.

  • The prioritisation of investments at the agency level should also be made in line with broader policy priorities (e.g. artificial intelligence and data governance) and in accordance with guidelines and standards that are currently in place or to be developed by the DIGG. They should also be in line with the needs of existent communities of practice outside the public sector (e.g. Fintech, Healthtech).

  • The agency’s funding model could also consider financial contributions from other public sector organisations as a means to increase engagement and foster collaboration and accountability. The creation of a common investment fund for the implementation of cross-cutting projects could be considered.

ICT project management

  • The Swedish public sector is made up of 350 public sector institutions (according to figures from the National Statistics Office).

  • The DIGG will play a leading role in terms of the assessment, monitoring and evaluation of digital projects and ICT investments in the public sector.

OECD and peer assessment

  • The organisational culture within the publish sector is highly driven by efficiency, but deficiencies persist in terms of the use of common business case methodologies across public sector institutions, common standards for project management to foster agility, and tools for ex post investment evaluations and intervention.

  • The Expert Group on Digital Investments will act as an advisory body within the DIGG, but will not have any enforcement powers or policy levers to steer public sector digitalisation.

  • Public agencies face challenges for efficiently prioritising, monitoring, and evaluating ex ante and ex post ICT investments.

  • The Expert Group on Digital Investment will provide advice only for those projects with a threshold equal to or superior to SEK 20 million (approximately EUR 2 million).

  • Institutional capacities and knowledge for the development of business cases are only available in some major agencies.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government should consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 4. The DIGG could draw upon Vinnova’s expertise on the development of business cases to define and spur the use of a common business case methodology across public sector organisations and to promote digital innovation (one example of the strategic use of common business case methodologies to advance public sector innovation and digital transformation is Denmark).

  • Define a business case methodology to be commonly used by public sector organisations.

  • The DIGG could leverage Vinnova’s expertise and count on its active role in supporting external actors in business development to further develop public sector competencies to produce business cases for digital and innovation projects and reinforce their capacity to apply for Vinnova’s funding.

Recommendation 5. Grant more power to the DIGG and the Expert Group on IT Investments (Ministry of Finance).

  • Extend the regulatory powers of the DIGG beyond electronic invoice systems (Letter of Instruction, 5 July 2018), a so-called “föreskriftsrätt”. This would help reduce the proliferation of uncoordinated systems and streamline the current state of the digital and data infrastructure in the country.

  • Decrease the financial threshold for project revision and advice (currently roughly EUR 2 million), and make ex ante recommendations of mandatory observance for those digital projects considered mission-critical.

  • Move from waterfall ICT procurement models to agile ICT commissioning approaches where assessments for ongoing high-priority projects are implemented on a regular and agreed upon basis. This includes granting more power to the Ministry of Finance, under the advice of the DIGG, to pause or cancel ongoing IT projects when their benefits are not realised.

DIGG human capital

  • The contribution of the DIGG will draw upon its human capital. This means the capacity of the people to provide not only technical, but also strategic, support to effectively communicate its message at all levels (from technicians to managers and politicians), and deliver policy goals.

OECD and peer assessment

  • Questions were raised about whether the location of the DIGG outside of Stockholm (in the city of Sundsvall) was the best way for it to achieve success, and about the underlying process behind this decision.

  • The main skills pool desired by the agency might be not located in Sundsvall. The DIGG might find it challenging to gain enough traction to attract the talent needed for success, as Sundsvall might be not recognised as a current tech and innovation hub.

  • The location of the DIGG outside of Stockholm will require special efforts to ensure that its mandate, working methods, culture and job profiles are interesting enough to the skilled labour force it wants to attract – and retain.

  • It is expected that the DIGG will have a workforce of 50-60 public officials in its first years of operation.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government may consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 6. Conceiving and promoting the DIGG as a driver of change will help it attract the right talent (an example is the Going Digital Services in the United Kingdom).

  • Following a design thinking approach can help to identify the right set of skills needed within the DIGG and ensure that the agency is composed of, and can count on the availability of, multidisciplinary teams with a set of diverse profiles and backgrounds. This can also help promote the inclusion of social groups (e.g. women) and better build on existing Govtech efforts.

  • The potential of the DIGG as an agent of change and enabler of digital innovation within the public sector can be used as an incentive to attract the right talent. Attracting people with a data and digital mindset to solve policy challenges can be a first step to increasing their interest in joining the public sector and becoming drivers of change.

  • Providing incentives to attract talent should be accompanied by the development of an adequate cultural context and clear career paths and job profiles, and should thus go beyond financial incentives. This would be crucial in light of the geographic location of the DIGG outside of Stockholm, which is seen by many as a potential disincentive to attract talent.

  • Enable an agile talent-procuring model to bring external skills on board when needed without requiring burdensome processes. This would also contribute to enhancing private-public collaboration and bringing the external ecosystem closer to public sector change (one example is the GC Talent in Canada).

From communication to inter-institutional collaboration

  • In the Budget Bill for 2015, the government decided to fund a four-year programme that later came to be called Digital First (or Digitalt först in Swedish).

  • The Digital First agenda is a cross-policy instrument that promotes the digitalisation of the society, business activity and the public sector in Sweden. It addresses digitalisation from different perspectives, from broadband access to digital skills and digitalisation as a tool to fight climate change.

  • The Digital First agenda has five core areas of work covering digital government, namely: 1) building a solid digital infrastructure base for digital government; 2) promoting the design of innovative digital solutions through data-driven innovation; 3) improving the organisational culture and capacities for digital government and innovation; 4) strengthening the governance for digital government; and 5) carrying out legal and regulatory reforms to foster the readiness and adaptability of regulatory frameworks and support the implementation of the digital agenda.

OECD and peer assessment

  • The development of the digital agenda fell short in relation to grounding a vision for digital government in a well-structured long-term strategy.

  • The agenda was not developed and implemented in co-ordination and collaboration will all of the relevant stakeholders from the public sector.

  • Digital stewardship is absent. The digital agenda has too many goals and ambitions.

  • Public officials are not recognised as key actors of the public sector digital ecosystem.

  • The digital government agenda stands as a policy document embedding statements of intent issued by the Ministry of Finance.

  • There are too few focused, strategic, co-ordinated and cohesive actions, and limited multi-stakeholder collaboration.

  • There is a lack or low level of awareness inside and outside the public sector. There is a lack of clarity in terms of expectations among public officials.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government may consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 7. Reach out to and involve all relevant actors within and outside the public sector to assess the results of the 2015-2018 Digital First agenda, and use these insights to inform the development of the next digital government strategy for the new government.

  • While the digital government strategy should be a sub-element of broader digitalisation efforts, the Swedish government (through the Ministry of Finance and the DIGG) would benefit from developing a dedicated policy lever for digital government, stating clear goals, initiatives, milestones and the relevant actors.

  • The strategy, defining the government’s vision for digital government, must be recognised at all levels (including from senior leaders across government and agencies), and should be complemented with a plan of action providing a roadmap to engage actors, deliver results and monitor progress.

  • The open and inclusive development of the digital government agenda would be useful to set government-wide priorities with a whole-of-government perspective while increasing shared ownership and accountability, therefore making expectations, responsibilities and roles clearer. This would be essential to increase trust both inside and outside of government.

  • Consider the implementation of a communication strategy to reach out to stakeholders, but also to inform about policy developments, enable knowledge sharing and set the basis to further link the community of digital practitioners within the public sector.

Inter-institutional co-ordination

  • The Prime Minister National Innovation Council, the Digitalisation Council, the eSAM and the SALAR are examples of the current mechanisms for horizontal co-ordination on the digitalisation agenda and, more broadly, the digitalisation of the public sector. Still, in most cases, decisions are not binding, and co-ordination often remains high-level and does not permeate to the managerial, operational and technical level.

  • The DIGG will face the challenge of navigating the above-mentioned horizontal co-ordination mechanisms, and using them to advance the digital government agenda efficiently and effectively.

OECD and peer assessment

  • The National Innovation Council has a strong focus on business innovation and competitiveness, but only acts as an advisory body with no enforcement powers. Its sustainability is driven by government decision.

  • Horizontal co-ordination mechanisms are weak, with no enforcement powers, and mainly advisory roles.

  • There is no clear follow-up on implementation once decisions are taken in the context of co-ordination bodies.

  • There are not enough focused, strategic, co-ordinated and cohesive actions, and multi-stakeholder collaboration is limited.

  • There is the potential to lever the eSAM’s voluntary membership of public sector organisations as a basis to advance more structured and efficient collaboration and co-ordination.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government should consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 8. Draw on the value of the current inter-institutional bodies to reinforce co-ordination and collaboration, and advance the ambitions of the Swedish government with regard to the digitalisation of the public sector.

  • Eliminate any duplicative efforts and bodies related to co-ordination to simplify governance structures, and to avoid the proliferation of bodies at the political/policy-making level and fragmented efforts. Streamlining co-ordination mechanisms and efforts could also result from strengthening the mandate of the public sector organisations currently engaged in informal co-ordination, such as the eSAM. The eSAM’s 24 agencies could assume a primary role in clustering efforts for more forward-looking, ground-breaking and agile-driven innovative whole-of-government applications by involving the political leadership of key ministries in joint and co-ordinated decisions.

Recommendation 9. Establish a formal body (a committee) that gathers all of the relevant actors, i.e. different ministries and agencies responsible for leading the digital and data portfolios (as in, for example, Denmark, Mexico, Peru and Spain).

  • The establishment of such a committee would also support the role of the main digital leader mentioned above who would benefit from best practices across OECD countries (e.g. including Denmark, Mexico and Spain) to include committees that gather several times a year both at the ministerial and agency levels.

  • This body should have more than just an advisory role; given its role to support the digitalisation leader on the horizontal agenda, it should be granted some decision-making power.

Recommendation 10. To complement Recommendation 9, the government should facilitate operational and/or more technical co-operation.

  • Envisage meetings of the body proposed by Recommendation 9 also at operational and technical levels.

  • Tasking the DIGG to develop and implement task forces or working groups at the technical level could help encourage co-ordination and collaboration at all levels and advance coherent policy implementation.

Government as a platform: Collaboration and value co-creation

  • The promise of the DIGG and its leadership is greatly centred on the co-ordination role this new body will have in terms of implementing the digital government agenda.

  • The main driver behind the creation of the DIGG seems to have been the recognised need for more efficient co-ordination related to digital government across the public sector in Sweden, rather than a real ambition to use this body as a driver, enabler and platform for digital innovation, value co-creation and collaboration.

  • The DIGG will face the challenge of going beyond co-ordination responsibilities in order to facilitate and adopt dynamic, agile, multi-stakeholder collaboration approaches; capitalise on the consensus-based culture of the public sector; address cultural challenges; and bring actors from all sectors on board and drive change by enabling spaces that motivate and foster creativity.

OECD and peer assessment

  • Key actors, such as Vinnova, are not adequately proactive in the promotion of public sector innovation.

  • There is a need to create dynamic spaces (either physical or digital) for risk-controlled experimentation, digital- and data-driven innovation, multi-stakeholder engagement, and problem-solving collaboration.

  • Positive cultural aspects include: equality (no hierarchic management models); teamwork mentality; and public officials’ high levels of education, networking co-operation and digital skills.

  • Innovation is siloed and initiatives are not mainstreamed or shared.

  • Negative cultural aspects include: complacency with the status quo (lack of urgency), a “focus on facts and not experimentation”, avoidance of confrontation and open discussions which triggers slow decision making, a focus on big projects and not on a more incremental mentality.

  • Financial stability exerts a negative incentive to change the status quo as it does not create the sense of urgency to do more and better in terms of digital government.

Proposals for action

Recommendation 11. Leverage the DIGG to foster government as a platform for collaboration, digital experimentation and public sector innovation.

  • The Swedish government can consider the creation of safe spaces where public sector innovators can learn and exchange knowledge, as well as propose, prototype and experiment with new ideas. In the Swedish context this would require focusing on action, implementation and delivery to overcome the risk of lengthy and time-consuming discussions.

  • Establish a special fund to be managed by the DIGG to support horizontal projects/initiatives across the public sector. Criteria for the submission and approval of proposals could be, for example, requirements for the projects to be jointly implemented by several institutions or actors, and the application of emerging technologies and data to innovate service delivery and/or policies. This would provide incentives for collaborative work and break down silos.

Recommendation 12. Fully leverage the value of Vinnova as an ally in the promotion and mainstreaming of public sector innovation.

  • Leverage Vinnova’s role to promote innovation in Sweden as a bridge between the public sector and the broader ecosystem of external practitioners, and to better link the innovation and digitalisation agendas. This would help ensure that its leading role in terms of innovation can also exert a positive influence in regard to digital and data-driven innovation within the public sector.

  • Increase the involvement of Vinnova to foster public sector innovation as it could open a window of opportunity to mainstream innovative and data-driven practices and approaches, e.g. by using Vinnova to seed-fund innovation projects in the public sector. This could help counter-balance initial funding challenges that might arise in the early or later stages of the DIGG’s operation.

  • Promote collaboration between the DIGG and Vinnova to avoid duplication of efforts and move towards integrated, not siloed, digitalisation and innovation initiatives.

Recommendation 13. The DIGG should develop an open online platform for knowledge sharing (following for example Canada’s GC Platform).

  • This would help build communities within the public sector, crowdsource collective knowledge from external actors and make the government closer for citizens. This would require changing the organisational culture of public sector organisations and moving from co-ordination to collaboration whenever feasible.

Leveraging data for public sector intelligence and digital innovation

General context

In May 2018, the Swedish government published a political statement highlighting Sweden’s goal to become a leader in artificial intelligence (AI). The statement, entitled “National Guidance for Artificial Intelligence” (Nationell inriktning för artificiell intelligens), addresses key issues such as the need to develop capacities and skills among citizens to use AI, and the need to spur the benefits of AI in the public sector.

The National Guidance for AI is clear concerning the value of data (including open government data) as a propeller of AI-based business models and digital innovation. It underlines the public sector’s advantage in terms of its data assets and the value they can have for AI- and data-driven public sector efficiency.

The political relevance of this guidance complements the Nordic-Baltic Declaration on AI published in May 2018 by the digitalisation ministers from the Nordic and Baltic region. The declaration, issued by the Nordic Council of Ministers for Digitization 2017-2020, also stresses the need of developing skills among stakeholders for the use of AI. Additionally, the declaration argues for the need of enhancing access to data, reducing regulatory burdens and governing the use of AI through the definition of common standards and guidelines.

For Sweden to become a world leader in using AI to “strengthen Swedish welfare and competitiveness”, the basics should be set first. The government’s willingness to capitalise the value of AI for the public sector calls for an urgent need to prioritise: the design and implementation of a whole-of-government data policy and strategy to be coherently implemented across the public sector; the implementation of efficient and scalable data management models across public sector institutions, inclusive of data-sharing organisational processes and practices, to overcome barriers to data interoperability and integration between public sector institutions.

The relevance of having a clear data policy

  • The government’s willingness to capitalise on the value of artificial intelligence for the public sector calls for the design and implementation of a data policy for the public sector, the implementation of efficient data management models, and the redevelopment of existing data-sharing organisational processes and practices. If the opportunities offered by the use of AI and government data within the public sector are to be captured, all institutions should own and be aware of this government-wide vision.

  • An overall coherent strategic approach to data governance across the public sector could help the government of Sweden implement the data policy and leverage data as a key strategic asset at each stage of the policy cycle.

OECD and peer assessment

  • There is a strong desire to move forward open government data. However, data policy efforts are at large limited to the publication of government data in machine-readable and non-proprietary formats, or sectorial data-sharing efforts.

  • There is no clear connection between the different steps of the data value chain (data collection, processing, storage, protection, publication and reuse).

  • Sweden currently does not have an overarching public sector data policy, nor does it possess a government-wide information and/or data governance model to guide the management, sharing and use of data within and across public sector institutions.

  • Some institutions do have a formal public sector data policy and/or strategy in place (e.g. Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, National Land Survey Authority).

Proposals for action

The Swedish government may consider implementing the following policy actions to strengthen data governance in the public sector:

Recommendation 14. Develop a data policy for the public sector (an example is the CONPES in Colombia).

  • Develop a whole-of-government data policy for coherent implementation across the public sector, bringing together all of the relevant elements related to the data value chain. This would include data-sharing efforts within the public sector, the publication of open government data with a strategic and problem-solving approach, and data protection.

  • The development of a data policy for the public sector should be understood in the context of open data and artificial intelligence ambitions and support the development of an AI strategy for the public sector.

  • The data policy can help define government-wide policy priorities (e.g. data catalogues as mechanisms for data sharing within the public sector, open data and data analytics).

  • The data policy should inform and guide the deployment of data governance efforts at the organisational level as a means to enable greater cross-government data integration, maturity and stewardship.

Institutional governance

  • To develop a sustainable approach towards the governance of public sector data, it will be critical to count on clear leadership and cross-government co-ordination and collaboration.

  • By ensuring central leadership and data stewardship across leading agencies, the government can foster and increase efforts, synergies and the implementation of coherent measures in line with central data governance and management guidelines.

OECD and peer assessment

  • There is a lack of leadership in terms of a de facto government-wide data policy.

  • Networks of data stewards across the public sector are inexistent.

  • The mandate of the DIGG is clear in terms of open government data.

  • The DIGG’s current mandate already covers two relevant items of the construction of a data-driven public sector: data infrastructure and open government data. However, other elements of the data value chain are out of the scope of its mandate (data protection, AI).

Proposals for action

The Swedish government should consider implementing the following policy actions to strengthen data governance in the public sector:

Recommendation 15. Reinforce the DIGG’s mandate to make evident its leadership and co-ordination role in relation to a government-wide policy for the public sector (e.g. chief data officers in France and the United Kingdom).

  • The Swedish government can consider the creation of a role or position in charge moving forward the broader data policy for the public sector (e.g. chief data officer). The responsibilities of this person could be either absorbed by a potential new leadership for digital government (see Recommendation 1), the leadership of the DIGG or shared by a group of leading agencies with more advanced data efforts.

Recommendation 16. Set an institutional governance framework that supports the operation of the data policy and AI goals for the public sector (e.g. data officers in Korea).

  • Advancing government-wide efforts in terms of data requires setting a clear network of practitioners across the public sector. The government may require all relevant public sector organisations to appoint an official in charge of dealing with the data-related efforts within their respective organisations. These positions (e.g. data stewards) should be conceived as strategic roles and not be fulfilled by a technical level official.

Managing and sharing data within the Swedish public sector

  • Data governance arrangements rely on a legacy of vertical organisational and transactional working methods and operating business models. This stagnates the development of a data-driven public sector and leads to fragmented efforts.

  • Capitalising on the value of data for an AI-driven smart public sector requires addressing challenges – such as data fragmentation, discoverability and accessibility – in order to ensure the interoperability systems and organisations, greater data integration, and seamless data access (e.g. through APIs).

OECD and peer assessment

  • Initiatives often remain siloed and reflect the lack of data integration in the public sector beyond specific organisations or the access and use of specific data registers (e.g. the National Population Register).

  • Some public sector organisations in Sweden provide examples of how Swedish agencies are tackling data-sharing challenges, thus governing how data are accessed and shared, mostly at the sectorial level (e.g. the Swedish Strategy for Environmental Data Management).

Proposals for action

The Swedish government should consider implementing the following policy actions to strengthen data governance in the public sector:

Recommendation 17. Drawing upon the current existent knowledge in terms of data interoperability and sharing at the sectorial level, the DIGG’s mandate could consider developing a soft data infrastructure (example Difi’s Standards Council and mandatory and recommended standards in Norway).

  • For government-wide missions, actions should consider the development of mandatory standards to secure the interoperability of critical datasets across the public sector. For other matters, the DIGG should consider the publication of non-binding recommendations.

Recommendation 18. Promote and scale up the use of APIs within the public sector (example in Brazil).

  • The DIGG would benefit from centralising the current existent APIs for the public sector and publishing a working and open API catalogue. This would help move towards data automation and real-time data sharing in the public sector, reduce human-to-human interaction, and promote machine-to-machine continuous communication.

Scaling up data analytics practices

  • While there are some data analytics practices across the public sector, they are not mainstreamed. The recent publication of the National Guidance for Artificial Intelligence provides an opportunity to design an AI strategy to support coherent actions across the entire public sector.

OECD and peer assessment

  • The use of artificial intelligence and data analytics is not widespread in the Swedish public sector.

  • Sweden, as other OECD countries, is starting to take actions to prepare the ground for the further implementation of government-wide AI initiatives.

  • For Sweden to become a world leader in using AI to “strengthen Swedish welfare and competitiveness”, the basics should be set first.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government may consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 19. Create a steering committee or task force for AI in the public sector (e.g. AI taskforce in France).

  • This task force would involve all key actors related to data-driven and AI efforts in the public sector to explore how to operationalise and move forward the political ambitions of the Swedish government in terms of data and AI.

  • While the activities, findings and recommendations of the AI Task Force would contribute to developing an AI strategy, its primary role would be to underscore and maximise the role of data for the development of new applications and the use of emerging technologies such as AI. Avoiding the development of a technology-centred instrument will be key in this respect.

Recommendation 20. Explore the possibility of using the DIGG’s and Vinnova’s funding to promote the development of AI initiatives in the public sector with a whole-of-government approach and in line with government-wide priorities.

Breaking down barriers to a data-driven public sector

  • Building a data-driven public sector in Sweden will require reconsidering the set of skills and facilitating the establishment of multidisciplinary teams that can contribute to advancing the digital transformation and the achievement of specific policy objectives, including those related to the use of AI and data within the public sector. Just as data (in terms of sharing, publication and reuse) should play a purpose for policy delivery, the development of skills and competencies should be fit for purpose.

  • The current legal framework and fee-based model supporting data sharing among public sector organisations are important barriers to data sharing and data-driven initiatives across the Swedish public sector.

OECD and peer assessment

  • No specific organisation within the public sector is in charge of developing and implementing a public sector employment policy.

  • The Swedish Agency for Government Employers has a supporting role concerning public sector employment, but does not have a particular mission in terms of civil servants’ competences and skills development.

  • There is no clarity in relation to digital innovation or data-related skills or on how to connect them with the achievement of specific policy objectives.

  • The rigid culture of the public sector is not attractive to the external talent needed to support public sector innovation.

  • The talent procurement process is not flexible enough. Private-public collaboration often takes too long, and is too cumbersome to engage innovative actors/players, i.e. slow and burdensome outsourcing/procurement processes may deter start-ups and entrepreneurs from engaging.

  • Hiring temporary staff (internal consultants) to deliver on some specific projects is often more expensive in terms of salaries and consultants, perceived as outsiders, do not contribute to a long-term change of the organisational culture

  • Ministries and agencies are responsible for overall decisions regarding the skills needed to achieve their own mandate, which results in scattered practices and a lack of a whole-of-government approach.

  • For some agencies, charging a fee when sharing government data constitutes a substantial share of their revenues. There is a clear challenge between opening up government data and finding new funding sources and organisational models.

  • Addressing these challenges will be crucial to move forward in terms of the implementation of the new 2019 European Open Data and Public Sector Information Directive, which scales up the discussion in terms of the publication of high-value government datasets as open data.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government may consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 21. Under the leadership of the DIGG, design and implement a training programme to increase digital awareness (for example, the Train the Trainers programme in Mexico).

  • Training programmes should target senior, managerial and technical level public officials and cover issues related to data governance, open data, data analytics and AI, and design thinking. The government may consider engaging public libraries, universities and other academic institutions for the implementation of these programmes and their official recognition by education authorities.

  • The use of an open knowledge platform for training and capacity building should be favoured whenever feasible in order to increase reach and participation.

Recommendation 22. Develop job descriptions for specific digital and data skills to help public sector organisations decide what skills and talent to attract or procure (e.g. digital, data and technology professions in the United Kingdom).

  • It is crucial to link the description and development of skills with specific policy challenges and goals. For instance, by providing case studies on how specific skills have helped Swedish public sector organisations achieve policy goals. This would help put acquired knowledge into real-world implementation while promoting public sector agility and public value co-creation.

Recommendation 23. Create a repository and pool of pre-approved external talent (example GC Talent Cloud in Canada).

  • This would help to better look for and procure external talent for work on specific public sector projects and policy challenges without compromising flexibility. This would create a more dynamic talent procurement process that draws upon open and agile approaches to address the current cumbersome talent procurement and hiring process.

Recommendation 24. Accompany public sector organisations in exploring optional funding models and the reorganisation of specific agencies, and identify business cases for greater data openness and reuse in line with the ambitions related to open data included in the AI guidance.

  • There is a need to recognise the impacts (e.g. loss of income for public sector organisations) that may arise from enabling a data economy. Efforts to open up government data in specific policy sectors could, however, be prioritised in line with the government’s priorities, thus facilitating an incremental transition towards greater data openness.

Open government data in Sweden: From transparency to proactive openness, user engagement and public value co-creation

General context

  • Sweden enjoys a long-standing culture of public sector transparency dating back to the 18th century. However, it faces the challenge to advance government openness in order to take a proactive stand in relation to the publication of government data with a strategic and problem-solving approach.

  • Results from the 2017 edition of the OECD Open, Useful and Re-usable data (OURdata) Index reflect how Sweden is lagging behind in terms of open government data in comparison to other OECD member and partner countries. It ranks below the OECD average. There is a need to draw upon the value of open government data to build a basis for a data-driven public sector, business and civic innovation in order to move from ambition to action and to place the open data ecosystem at the core of these efforts.

  • The 2010 Law on the Re-use of Public Administration Documents stands as the most relevant legal instrument in terms of open data in Sweden. As such, the law implements European regulations (such as the EU Directive on the Re-use of Public Sector Information, known as the PSI Directive) into Swedish law. Yet, the lack of a national strategic vision for open data over recent years has led to a passive state where open data is indeed reactive and the result of extrinsic factors (such as EU regulations), rather than as the result of high-level political will and clear policy goals.

  • While the new European Open Data and Public Sector Information Directive (2019) is expected to scale up the discourse in terms of openness by default (open data published free of charge) and automated data sharing through APIs, Sweden will still confront a challenging reality in terms of creating impact from open data, and this beyond the mere adoption of any new EU regulations into national law.

The governance framework for open data in Sweden

  • The current model for open government data in Sweden results from the recurring shift of roles and responsibilities related to digital government from the Ministry of Finance to the Ministry of Enterprise and Innovation. The responsibilities on open data were transferred from the National Archives (Riksarkivet) to the DIGG in 2018.

OECD and peer assessment

  • Sweden is one of the few OECD member and partner countries that does not have a formal open data policy in place.

  • Instability in terms of institutional governance led to a lack of clear and sound leadership, which has resulted in a lack of vision for open data. Leadership for open data is blurry and not strategic.

  • The mandate of the National Archives was limited to technical matters, therefore producing policy outputs in terms of data publication.

  • There is a lack of a whole-of-government vision for open government data across the broader public sector.

  • There is a strong focus on data publication (transparency-driven), not on public value creation.

  • Open data is expected to be granted ring-fenced funds as part of the overall funding for the DIGG for 2018-20 (roughly EUR 2 million per year).

  • Ring-fenced funds for open data is an opportunity to deliver quick policy results in the short term.

  • Open data stands more as a group of – often siloed – open data initiatives developed by a small group of public agencies rather than a whole-of-government effort.

Proposals for action

The Swedish government may consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 25. Develop an open data strategy setting actions, defining a roadmap, and indicating a timeline and clear policy goals (examples include Poland’s Open Public Data Programme 2016-2020 and Ireland’s Open Data Strategy 2017-2022).

  • The open data strategy should not be a stand-alone document; it should be connected to broader data and AI efforts in the public sector, including becoming a sub-element of a potential umbrella data policy for the public sector.

  • Bringing identified public sector open data champions and opening up the open data policy-making process to the external ecosystem would help build ownership while using bottom-up pressure from the ecosystem for the sustainability of the policy in the long term.

Recommendation 26. Define a clear leadership for open data in the public sector and bring the open data ecosystem on board.

  • Clearly defining responsibilities would help to provide further clarity in terms of leadership and the strategic value of open data across the broad public sector. This would bring further coherence to government-wide open data efforts and facilitate inter-institutional collaboration.

  • It is important to remember that open government data is not a one-person success. Therefore, it is necessary to integrate open data within broader digital government efforts and the mandate of any existent inter-institutional co-ordination bodies. This would help use these bodies as steering committees, advisory bodies or task forces to inform the decisions of the leadership and the execution of actions by the DIGG.

Recommendation 27. Use the ring-fenced funds for open data to deliver policy results in the short term, but build capacities across the public sector to ensure sustainability of efforts in the long term.

  • In the short term, the use of the specific funds granted for open data within the DIGG can be used as a policy lever to achieve quick wins. This nonetheless would require clarity of the DIGG in relation to open data as a driver of data-driven innovation.

  • It is also important to acknowledge that the long-term sustainability, maturity and impact of the open data policy requires building intrinsic motivation, knowledge and capacities within public sector organisations. Therefore, the Swedish government could also consider creating a task force in charge of building awareness and knowledge for open data across the public sector and training public officials to ensure the sustainability of those initiatives once led or incubated by the central government (example of the Open Data Squad in Mexico).

Using open data to enable government as a platform for public value co-creation

  • Open data can be used to build a bridge in terms of using technology for the achievement of specific policy goals (problem-solving data publication), and satisfying the needs of valuable government data from users (data demand). By balancing data supply and data demand, governments enable a data infrastructure drawing upon the value of data as an asset for business models from the private and social sector. As a result, this data infrastructure enables governments as platforms for public value creation in collaboration with the open data ecosystem.

  • The availability and accessibility of open government data is a means to an end. Enabling government as a platform drawing upon the use of data as infrastructure requires the definition and implementation of coherent efforts to spur data reuse. These efforts aim to capitalise on the value of open government data as an input of businesses’ and civil organisations’ value chains; for instance, to improve businesses’ strategic decision making and enable civic auditing by the reuse and analysis of data on public contracting and public officials’ declaration of interests.

OECD and peer assessment

  • The organisation of the HackforSweden event by the Agency for Employment (Arbetsförmedlingen) stands as one of the most relevant examples in terms of stakeholder engagement in Sweden.

  • Examples of some agencies taking the lead to move forward open data efforts across different policy sectors are also evident (e.g. Environmental Protection Agency, University of Agricultural Sciences, Transport Agency).

  • The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions has implemented some open data initiatives at the local level in areas such as health, waste management, noise pollution and linked data. Other efforts at the local level exist in Helsingborg, Gothenburg and Linköping, and in the context of the East Sweden Hack Initiative.

  • The responsibilities and efforts implemented by the National Archives included the management of the open data portal, and the development and provision of guidelines, online tutorials, and support for metadata and data publication.

  • Government Offices are notoriously driven by transparency (e.g. using freedom of information requests as the main driver to publish data).

  • User-driven data publication and user engagement is absent from the mindset of most public bodies.

  • Decisions result more from exogenous and extrinsic factors than from the endogenous and intrinsic motivation of the Swedish public sector.

  • Data discoverability and availability are fragmented. Data harvesting functions are not clear.

  • There is a lack of a strategic goal-oriented mindset for open data (problem-solving mentality).

  • Discussions remain technical and are not focused on the value of data as infrastructure and as a strategic asset for the policy cycle.

  • Most agencies and the Swedish government fail to connect the publication of open data to the creation of specific public value. This hinders their willingness to explore how to overcome these organisational barriers.

  • There is a lack of data stewardship and a strategic vision in most public agencies.

  • There is a disconnect between most public sector bodies and the external vibrant tech ecosystem in the country (start-ups, students).

Proposals for action

The Swedish government may consider implementing the following policy actions:

Recommendation 28. Developing a national open government data infrastructure would help to move forward data-driven innovation in Sweden and improve collaboration with specific user communities (e.g. the Fintech or Medtech ecosystems).

  • Sweden is moving forward in terms of using specific data taxonomies as drivers of data-driven innovation inside and outside the public sector (e.g. geodata and the work of the development agencies). This shows that the Swedish government is aware of the relevance of using data as a driver of policy outcomes. However, the development of a national open data infrastructure could help to balance data supply (the provision of datasets aligned with national policy goals) with data demand (the sharing of data drawing upon the needs of specific ecosystems in the country).

  • The development of the national open data infrastructure would also benefit from consultation and user engagement exercises to identify data demand, not only from their engagement in latter stages of the policy-making process. These exercises should be iterative and continuously inform the priorities of the government in terms of the publication of government data; thus taxonomies should be included as part of the infrastructure.

  • A national open data infrastructure could help to bring together ongoing and future open data efforts in the public sector and reduce fragmentation. The development of the infrastructure could be one of the key milestones to be considered as part of a potential open data strategy for Sweden.

Recommendation 29. Consider the inclusion of an open by default principle as part of the freedom of information regulations.

  • The culture of public sector transparency in Sweden is leading to inaction and a lack of proactiveness in terms of open government data. Changing such an approach requires taking a harder stance in terms of governance and regulating openness by default as a core principle of open government data efforts.

Recommendation 30. Enable the central open government data portal as a platform for multi-stakeholder collaboration and data crowdsourcing.

  • Changing the understanding of from being a one-stop-shop portal for open government data to a portal for open data would create benefits in terms of data crowdsourcing and collective knowledge. This would enable the continuous exchange of data and knowledge between communities of practice while opening a window of opportunity for public sector institutions to reuse data produced from external stakeholders.

  • This requires drafting memoranda of understanding between public sector organisations and external actors such as civil society organisations and specific communities of practice. This also would imply setting data harvesting models and open APIs tools to enable the federation of open data to the central portal.

Recommendation 31. Sustain the efforts aiming to establish HackforSweden as a platform for engagement and collaboration for value co-creation with the active digital ecosystem in Sweden.

  • HackforSweden is maturing as a hub of multi-stakeholder collaboration where multi-faceted actors can bring value and address policy challenges. These efforts should be sustained in order to scale up the business case for open government data efforts in the public sector.

  • Showing real-life impact is key in this respect. This would imply moving from one-time awards to problem-solving approaches that deliver sustainable policy results.

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