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Keywords:

  • implementation;
  • project;
  • policy tool;
  • welfare reforms;
  • public sector

ABSTRACT

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

Organizational design is considered in policy literature as a forceful policy tool to put policy to action. However, previous research has not analyzed the project organization as a specific form of organizational design and, hence, has not given much attention to such organizations as a strategic choice when selecting policy tools. The purpose of the article is to investigate the project as a policy tool; how do such temporary organizations function as a specific form of organization when public policy is implemented? The article is based on a framework of policy implementation and is illustrated with two welfare reforms in the Swedish public sector, which were organized and implemented as project organizations. The case studies and the analysis show that it is crucial that a project organization fits into the overall governance structure when used as a policy tool. If not, the project will remain encapsulated and will not have sufficient impact on the permanent organizational structure. The concept of encapsulation indicates a need to protect the project from a potential hostile environment. The implication of this is that organizational design as a policy tool is a matter that deserves more attention in the strategic discussion on implementing public policies and on the suitability of using certain policy tools. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


INTRODUCTION

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

Many European countries face complex societal health problems concerning, for example, long-term illness and social problems in the metropolitan areas, related to migration and unemployment. Reforms and policies related to these problems that have been launched the latest decades have in many cases been enabled by time-limited legislation and financed by time-limited funding; the structural funds of the European Union have enabled such ventures in many European countries. The time-limited funding model has led to the funded operations being organized as (temporary) project organizations.

Research has shown that the project as an organizational form has been used in a number of settings, for example, development work in permanent organizations, temporary collaboration between permanent organizations and experimental work in new organizations (Jensen et al., 2007). Common denominators for such project organizations have been a will to bring about change in permanent organizations or to develop new organizational arrangements suitable for emerging and new types of social challenges.

Although project organizations seem to have become more frequent as an organizational form, because of the aforementioned functional factors, their prevalence might also be explained by other factors, such as politics and fashion. The concept “project” signals innovation and entrepreneurship; at the same time, it promises order and control (Sahlin-Andersson, 2002). Thus, project organizations could be conceived as a modern and non-bureaucratic form of organizing public-sector activities, which enables a certain mode of action that would not have been accepted in other (permanent) public authorities (Peters, 2002; Sahlin-Andersson, 2002) and is consequently congruent with the new public management discourse (Hood, 1995).

Project organizations have become more frequent and more popular and seem to be useful to clarify and manifest intentions and ambitions among policymakers. In the same way as projects can be understood as innovative and not ingrained with governmental bureaucracy, so may a new policy be understood as visionary and innovative. The problem is, however, that the temporary form and the inherent isolation can create barriers between the temporary organization and other public authorities and thus counteract its purposes. Previous research on policy tools has not analyzed the project organization as a specific form of organization, and previous research on projects has not given much attention to such organizations as a strategic choice when selecting policy tools.

The purpose of this article is to investigate the project as a policy tool, to examine how such temporary organizations function as a specific form of organization and to investigate how such temporary organizations function when interacting with permanent organizations in the social and healthcare sector. More specifically, we will use a framework developed by Hill and Hupe (2009) and Jensen et al. (2006) to investigate the circumstances under which reforms organized as projects could be integrated into the ordinary governance structure and be implemented in a sustainable manner. The case studies and the analysis in this article will contribute to knowledge of policy implementation and project management.

The context for the article is national reforms in Sweden the past few decades regarding health care, segregation, unemployment, vocational rehabilitation and so forth. The purpose of many of these reforms is to implement new forms of organizing and governance in public organizations. This includes reforms such as integrated health care (Ahgren and Axelsson, 2011) and choice of healthcare service (Ahgren, 2010). The two cases, The Metropolitan Initiatives and SOCSAM, that are presented further on in the article are examples of how local authorities from the health sector, the social sector and the labor market sector try to coordinate their efforts to implement these kinds of reforms, and in doing so the local authorities establish different project organizations.

In the next section of this article, we examine previous research on organization design as a policy tool and, especially, research on the project organization as such a tool. In the third and fourth sections, we will give some accounts from the two aforementioned public-sector reforms in Sweden. In the fifth section, the two cases are analyzed to examine whether and how the “projectified” reforms have fitted into their institutional and organizational settings. In the final section, we draw some conclusions about the conditions for using projects as policy tools.

ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

Most policies incorporate a variety of means or tools for accomplishing their objectives. Whereas there is conceptual agreement that policy instruments are the building blocks of policies, there is not much agreement about the number of basic instruments (Hill, 2005). Some scholars have offered suggestions of catalogs of such instruments (e.g., Salamon, 2002; Howlett and Ramesh, 2003), whereas others have developed models for analyzing different kinds of policy instruments in relation to how they are chosen (Schneider and Ingram, 1990, 1997; Linder and Peters, 1991; Bressers and O'Toole, 1998; Peters, 2002).

One of the most important and powerful means of implementing public policy is the development and establishment of different kinds of organizational arrangements. There have been several attempts to develop typologies of such modes of organization; however, there seems to be agreement that hierarchy/bureaucracy, market and network/community/clan can be seen as three fundamental modes for coordinating human action (Etzioni, 1961; Lindblom, 1977; Ouchi, 1980; Bradach and Eccles, 1991). Policymakers can choose among these profound organization models when they design and manage policy implementation. Yet it is necessary that the actual policy is congruent with the organizational setting.

Hill and Hupe (2009) have developed an analytical framework for assessment of the organizational context in which policy is developed and in which implementation is supposed to take place. Their framework is based on earlier research on policy implementation and the concept “governance” and is highly inspired on studies that have focused on the institutional and the organizational contexts where policies are interpreted, mediated and negotiated (such as Barrett and Fudge, 1981; Hjern and Porter, 1981) and studies that have addressed the need for understanding the horizontal network links in the “implementation structures” (such as Klijn and Koppenjan, 2000). Hill and Hupe's (2009) governance model consists of three different layers in the political–administrative system and three different levels of action. The three layers in the political–administrative system are the policy setting, the institutional setting and the micro-setting. The policy setting refers to national government and the central institutions of the state, which are crucial in that the constitutional issues and much of the political culture are determined there. The institutional setting refers to the structure of the intergovernmental system of vertical and horizontal relations between different authorities and organizations. The micro-setting refers to the street level and highlights what kind of orientation the street level staffs have in their everyday practice. Hill and Hupe (2009) have, furthermore, on the basis of Kiser and Ostrom (1982), identified constitutional, directive and operational actions as three levels of action that might occur on each of the identified layers, in order to clarify how actions on a higher level restrict actions on lower levels.

These levels and layers constitute the framework for developing constitutional preconditions and creating institutional arrangements for different kinds of public policies, and implementation strategies from the policy setting down to the street level. Hill and Hupe's (2009) model allows for a variety of factors that can be combined and, thereby, create different contexts that may facilitate or constrain implementation of different kinds of policies. Policymakers can establish (permanent or temporary) organizations and, in doing so, also make choices between fundamental mechanisms of social coordination (i.e., hierarchies, markets and networks). They can, furthermore, make choices among modes of governance (authority, transaction and persuasion) and the modes of managing implementation (enforcement, performance and cooperation) that follow these choices. The choices made at the various layers can be classed in terms of congruency (Etzioni, 1961), that is, to the extent to which a chosen mode of implementation is compatible with the logic of the permanent organization's mainstream operations. Against the background of the characteristics of the setting involved, congruency, then, particularly concerns the relationship between the mode of the implementation of a certain project and the mode of governance on the system level (Hupe and Hill, 2007).

Research shows that organizational choices are partly determined by considerations about the best way to organize any specific policy delivery process and partly by ideologies among policymakers (Hill, 2005). It is important to stress that organizational choice, to a great extent, seems to be determined by institutional factors; the diffusion of organizational models and management concepts like New Public Management can thus be explained by a combination of politics, law and fashion (Meyer and Rowan, 1977; DiMaggio and Powell, 1983; Hood, 1995; Christensen and Laegreid, 2002).

Complex societal problems and complex policies demand corresponding and flexible organizations, including complicated cross-sectorial implementation arrangements. When policymakers are considering how to design organizational arrangements for implementing a specific policy, they will not look solely at any of the three aforementioned alternatives. Instead, they will probably try to find suitable combinations, depending on the specific policy case. In most cases, they have to use existing organizations and try to change those to be better suited to the policy under consideration.

One option not mentioned in the policy literature is to establish a temporary (project) organization, which could be suitable when there is a high degree of uncertainty about the policy itself and about the suitability of the organizational arrangement, which may be easier to disrupt and terminate, if the outcome is not regarded as satisfactory. Research in public administration has not given much attention to temporary organizations as policy tools, but there is much research on projects as organizational phenomena.

THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

The project is in itself a very old phenomenon in society. When the concept “project” is used in public administration research, it often refers to administrative reforms or complex construction projects. The concept of “project”, understood as a temporary organizational form, is, however, almost absent in policy research and implementation research.

Research on temporary (project) organizations seems to follow the same pattern as research on permanent organizations. Most early research on project organizations was done to understand how formal aspects of the organizational structure influence organizational behavior and, thus, the outcome of the project. This perspective has its roots, to a great extent, in the project management literature, in which projects are viewed more as managerial tools for achieving change and less as a specific organizational form (Packendorff, 1995; Ekstedt et al., 1999; Engwall and Jerbrant, 2003). This approach was followed by research on informal aspects on projects and how these affected, for example, the conditions for learning (Bresnen, 2006). The focus has then gradually shifted towards environmental factors and how these influence structures, processes and outcome of different kinds of projects (Engwall, 2002). Some scholars explain contextual influence as the institutional aspects that shape how we conceive projects and how institutionalized norms and values regulate and standardize project organizing (Sahlin-Andersson and Söderholm, 2002). Others refer to it as the local relationships that influence the organizing of projects (Blomquist and Packendorff, 1998; Jensen et al., 2006). Although most research on project organizations has been done on projects in industrial environments, there is some research on projects in the public sector that indicates it is important to understand the context in order to understand processes and outcomes of different kinds of projects (Johansson et al., 2000; Jensen et al., 2007).

Although research on temporary (project) organizations has shown that there are many similarities with permanent organizations, there are indeed some important differences. The most obvious and important difference is how time is perceived (Lundin et al., 1998). Most members of permanent organizations do not think much about the establishment and the termination of their organization. Managers and other members of project organizations must, however, relate much of their activity to the fact that the project is expected to be terminated and dissolved someday. We will therefore identify some critical aspects and mechanisms related to project organizations, which might be important when these are used as policy tools.

Lundin and Söderholm (1995) have, in their outline of a general theory of the temporary organization, suggested four concepts that are related to different phases of the life cycle of the temporary organization: action-based entrepreneurialism, fragmentation for commitment-building, planned isolation and institutionalized termination. When a project organization is established, it is more or less assumed that it will possess some degree of identity, hierarchy and rationality (action-based entrepreneurialism). The process includes constructing an independent organizational unit which is supposed to be manageable. In this process, different boundaries are defined as demarcations between the project and the permanent organization. The boundaries clarify the task, the objective, the project team, the resources and so forth. The project's identity could be further strengthened by efforts to build commitment and establish a certain culture within the project (Lundin and Söderholm, 1995).

The project organization is, to some extent, supposed to work separated from other organizations (planned isolation), but it must also interact with other (permanent and temporary) organizations to gain resources necessary to fulfill its task. When the task is fulfilled, the project organization is expected to be dissolved. The process involves dismantling the boundaries that were created initially and dissolving the identity, hierarchy and rationality. Project teams that have been close-knit and highly motivated, specialized and engaged might have a strong interest to continue the project. The outcome of the termination process will thus depend on how the project was established and how the project team functioned during the life cycle (Johansson et al., 2007). From the perspective of the permanent organization, the project termination is a question of capturing knowledge gained in the project and building on lesson learned.

Jensen et al. (2006) have developed a framework for analyzing uncertainty in the environment for different kinds of projects and have identified vertical and horizontal uncertainty in a manner similar to Hill and Hupe's (2009) governance model. Although vertical relationships are legitimate in most organizational settings, they can cause uncertainty. The vertical relationship between the project and its principal(s) consists of various aspects related to contractual arrangements and authority but is also related to trust, image, knowledge and the like. Some projects have a high degree of autonomy because they enjoy a good image, whereas others are constantly monitored and called into question. Project organizations may also have horizontal relationships, that is, relationships that are necessary to fulfill their task, but do not include supervision, control or evaluation. Uncertainty in horizontal relations arises when some of those involved find it difficult to predict the outcome of the ongoing interactions. This kind of uncertainty is common in projects; some projects are highly dependent on cooperation, whereas others can be operated independently of other actors and organizations. The two dimensions of the model, vertical and horizontal uncertainty, draw attention to the ways in which different degrees of uncertainty affect the conditions of various projects and their accomplishments. Thus, the difference between more and less successful projects might be explained in terms of the projects' interactions with the project owners and/or organizations that the project is dependent on to fulfill its task. The model elucidates that various strategies, and the project structure, process and outcome, are conditioned by the different relationships of the projects (Jensen et al., 2006).

CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

Several scholars have discussed the projectification of welfare organizations and that the project has become the institutionalized manner through which authorities manage increased demand for change (Sahlin-Andersson and Söderholm, 2002; Cicmil and Hodgson, 2006; Löfström, 2010). Hence, using the project as a tool for achieving change can be understood as a way to reduce complexity when it is difficult to set clear goals (Crawford et al., 2003). Consequently, when we put some knowledge about project organizations in the toolbox for policymaking, we can expect that such temporary organizations might function like bureaucracies, firms or clans and that they will be heavily dependent on their environment. Although they are supposed to be terminated on a certain day, one can also expect that, to varying degrees, they are interested in surviving, that is, in being prolonged, transformed into permanent organizations or merged with existing permanent organizations (Jensen et al., 2006).

Policymakers can influence the conditions for temporary organizations by different kinds of actions at each of the three layers that were identified by Hill and Hupe (2009). They can also make choices between creating conditions for fundamental mechanisms of social coordination (hierarchies, markets and networks), modes of governance (authority, transaction and persuasion) and modes of managing implementation (enforcement, performance and cooperation). The choices made at the various layers can be classed in terms of congruency: the degree to which the selected mode of implementation is compatible with the logic within the ordinary operations.

However, if governmental policymakers launch a new policy that is implemented and monitored according to this new projectified model as a selective temporary investment, in an area where there already exists a similar established policy that is implemented and monitored according to a different model, there is a risk of incongruence, and with that, the overall implementation fails (Hill and Hupe, 2009). The presence of congruency can be analyzed using analytical models from previous research on projects, in particular models for the analysis of vertical and horizontal uncertainty (Jensen et al., 2006).

In the next sections, we describe two cases in the social and health sectors that are applying selective temporary efforts to societal problems already of concern to existing organizations. The Metropolitan Initiative is an example of a reform that is organized as a multi-project, that is, where several parallel projects are launched to implement various aspects of the reform. SOCSAM is an example of when various authorities and organizations construct a spatial interaction, that is, collaboration projects in order to jointly implement the reform.

THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

Like most other European countries, Sweden has some districts in urban areas that are struggling with escalating segregation. Compared with the general population, social problems among residents with a non-Swedish background in those areas are much higher. Many recently arrived refugees have settled in these areas, but there are also a large number of labor immigrants who arrived earlier. The unemployment rate in these areas is very high; 30–50% live on supplementary benefit, almost 100% in some areas. Public health is lower than average. The education level, as well as knowledge of the Swedish language, is low. Participation in elections is also below average in the disadvantaged areas. The growing predicament is of major concern for society. The so-called Metropolitan Initiative is an area-based initiative trying to solve or at least reduce the problem in and around three Swedish metropolitan areas: Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö. The following example is based on a longitudinal case study conducted in Gothenburg between 2002 and 2007 (Jensen, 2004, 2007) based on document studies (investigations, policy documents and project plans); 55 interviews with politicians, public managers, civil servants and project managers; and participant observations on meetings and conferences on both local and national levels.

The Metropolitan Initiative is part of the national metropolitan policy adopted by the Swedish parliament in 1998. The initiative is described (SOU, 1990:36; 1998: 25) as a coherent policy that brings together aspects previously handled within many different policy domains, such as an integration, housing, health and employment. The aim was to break down social, ethnic and discriminatory segregation in some metropolitan areas and to work to bring about equitable conditions for people living in the cities. As a temporary additional contribution, during 2001–2005, parliament provided funds of 2.1 billion SEK (235 million EUR) from the state in return for a commitment of matching funds from participating municipalities. As it was a new policy, the government regarded the initiative as an investment in social infrastructure. Extra funding should enable a new way of thinking; additional money would make it possible to stimulate development work, and the government stressed the importance of learning and capturing knowledge.

As part of the metropolitan policy, the government required the municipalities concerned to sign local development agreements. These agreements were promoted by the government as a new tool to end segregation, and the overall aims of the policy were also broken down into seven operational objectives: (i) to reduce benefit dependency and increase the level of employment; (ii) to strengthen the status of the Swedish language; (iii) to raise the level of education among the adult population; (iv) to raise secondary school performance; (v) to make environments/areas safer and more attractive; (vi) to improve public health; and (vii) to increase democratic participation. The time-limited contribution from the government was not to be handled within the regular budget of the municipality; rather, it should be registered on a separate account. Actors who had ideas about how to solve specific challenges had to apply for the money by submitting project plans to the local government. According to the local development agreement, the local government had a coordinating function within the initiative. The concrete activities were thus organized as projects with clear-cut goals, time frames and budgets.

The multi-project setting was framed within a governance structure guided by the government's local development agreement. The initiative at the local level was organized as projects in which the policy formation process was open-ended and was supposed to continue during the implementation and afterwards. For example, in Gothenburg, slightly fewer than 200 projects have been in progress over varying periods of time during 2001–2005. The residents' involvement, influence and participation are central elements in many projects; increased democratic involvement is both an objective and a means of realizing the Metropolitan policy. A lot of project work has taken place through broad-based collaboration with a range of different bodies, mainly district administration, local associations and housing companies. In addition, bodies at the state level (such as those responsible for employment, social insurance and policing), county level (primary health care) and also local business and industry have taken part in the collaboration. Realizing the Metropolitan policy at a local level has depended on an intricate policy network between mutually dependent (within the project) but autonomous public, societal and private parties. For government to obtain an overall picture of whether the measures taken had produced results in the different projects, the agreement was monitored and evaluated. Meanwhile, regular operations already have been mandated to perform these services, so those representatives perceived the initiative more as an increase in resources than as a new way to address social challenges.

The Metropolitan Initiative is an attempt to change the living conditions in deprived housing areas. It is, however, complicated to transfer knowledge and new ways of thinking and doing from the project to other permanent settings. To bridge knowledge between different settings (project and permanent organizations) implies finding ways of negotiating this learning. In budget negotiations, for example, it proved difficult to gain acceptance for new ideas. There seemed to be an asymmetric distribution of power. Representatives of the project had the burden of proof when lessons learned from the project were discussed, and representatives of the regular activities had precedence. It was, therefore, difficult to make a change in priorities within the existing activities, which, indeed, was one of the implicit aims of the initiative.

SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

Resources for social insurance, health and medical care, and social welfare services are traditionally divided into separate regulations and different responsible authorities. Contacts with various authorities often mean that people are circulated among officials from different authorities, without anyone taking responsibility for the situation as a whole. It turns out that the lack of coordination between different authorities makes it difficult for individuals to reach the labor market. By creating a temporary special law (SFS, 1994:566), the government has made it possible to try political and financial collaboration between the national government, the counties and the municipalities. The program was based on legislation that permitted collaboration between different transfer systems such as social insurance, social security benefits and unemployment allowance. The aim was that people who had no access to the labor market would not circulate between the authorities but would instead get vocational rehabilitation and, thereby, increase their opportunities to be employed (Hultberg et al., 2003). Also, this study is a longitudinal case study based on interviews, participant observations and detailed studies of documents and relies in various parts on work previously published in Löfström et al. (2001), Löfström (2001), Kihlström and Wikström (2009) and Löfström (2010).

The guidelines for the program state that each local effort should be organized through an association of local authorities, which formally takes over the responsibility for the activities in the program. Therefore, the three responsible authorities, the social insurance office (state), the social welfare service (municipality) and the health and medical care service (county), established an agreement that regulates their activities and agreed on a joint financial contribution to the operations. Thus, they have a common responsibility for the costs of the activities involved in the program. The program annually budgets and accounts for the financing of the activities. However, they have no responsibility for tasks that directly concern the clients or patients in the program. This responsibility remains with the respective responsible authorities. The Swedish Social Insurance Board and the National Board of Health and Welfare have the task to execute the national evaluation of the local initiatives and to monitor compliance with the special trial legislation.

In the City of Gothenburg, the regional health and medical care organization and the Gothenburg social insurance office launched a local program called DELTA in 1997. The budget was 50–60 million SEK a year. The overall purpose of the trial was to reduce the cost for sickness absence, unemployment and social security benefits by giving vulnerable groups better opportunities to enter the labor market. The target group was about 78,000 people of working age. Around 15,000 of them were unemployed, disabled or welfare recipients. More than 5500 of these have participated in project activities. The program launched 26 projects over the years, and the trial used three different approaches: prevention-oriented, social/medical-oriented and occupational-oriented.

Each project was organized with a project manager, a project team and a steering group. Members of the steering group were local managers from the authorities that had employees in the projects. Project managers and project staff were recruited through an internal application process within the involved authorities. The staffs were granted leave from regular service within their authorities during the time they worked in the project. They were still employed by the authority, which paid their salaries and charged the program for its costs for the project. During the project, the project management sent in reports to the board of the program every 3 months. The reports outlined the status of project, the financial situation and how the project was developing. The project managers were also expected to make diary notes of the project, which were the basis of the project's self-evaluation report.

In addition to assisting the long-term unemployed, the projects dealt with a range of inter-organizational challenges—different sets of rules, responsibilities, cultures and governance structures. Several projects were also started because of the lack of collaboration between involved agencies; through the projects, a temporary structure for collaboration was created. But because the projects were demarcated from ordinary operations, the projects had difficulties implementing the results in the permanent organizations. Facilitators for the process of implementation were hired to inform their colleagues in the regular activities of the projects' results. Still, the problems implementing the results from projects into the regular activities remain. The program had, in other words, great difficulties in building lasting structures for collaboration.

ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

We will here investigate how the projects as an organizational form fit into the governance structure when they are used as a means for implementing public policy. The first part of the analysis will highlight how and why the projects were created as a part of the policy formation process and what consequences this choice had for the institutional setting (Hill and Hupe, 2009). The second part of the analysis will highlight the focal projects and their relationship to the permanent organizations at the local level, with which the projects were supposed to cooperate to fulfill their tasks and we will analyze whether and how implementation occurs. We finally discuss how problems related to boundaries between projects and permanent organizations could be overcome in order to facilitate policy implementation.

The creation of project organizations in the policy processes

As was indicated in the case studies, the policies concerning the Metropolitan Initiative and SOCSAM did not contain any explicit information about how the implementation should be organized; the policies could thus be characterized as open-ended (Hill and Hupe, 2009). Yet it became obvious to the parties involved that it was appropriate to organize the reforms as temporary project organizations, which meant that the prevailing hierarchical mode of governance in the mainstream public organization was challenged (Hill and Hupe, 2009).

One important reason for organizing the reforms as projects seems to be political. It was important for national policymakers to signal to the public and to other stakeholders that they took the addressed problems seriously and, therefore, had developed a special policy with earmarked resources, which were not allowed to be absorbed among other financial allocations in the general budget process. The national policymakers had thus put the policies in some kind of political “display windows”, with a different logic compared with the enforced operations funded in the regular budget processes (Hill and Hupe, 2009), and therefore also stated that these allocations must be systematically evaluated. As policymakers both want and need to show initiative and drive in order to be seen as legitimate representatives, forming a project organization through which to implement policy allows the creation of a boundary around a specific policy and, thus, enables greater symbolic power (Sahlin-Andersson, 2002). In the Metropolitan case, the different projects were also embedded in a local development agreement, which was a new governance model to manage the relationship between central and local governments. This agreement permits the principal to share the responsibility with local providers—in case something goes wrong.

Another reason for establishing project organizations, which was indicated in the case studies, seems to be administrative. From the national government administration, there was a need to establish more clear-cut objectives for making the reforms easier to control and to evaluate. Although the outcomes of the reforms are very difficult to evaluate, there are still demands on some kind of control and evaluation. One way for government to facilitate such hierarchical control and evaluation seems to be to allocate and earmark funds and organize the implementation in separate projects in parallel with the recurrent regular operations, and the actors found it therefore appropriate to establish a project organization for each allocated fund. Opportunities for supervision and control also seem to be better as the policy area is clearly defined in time and space, where project directive, project organization and various project tools help to enable a firmer control.

A third reason for establishing project organizations seems to be organizational. The case studies indicate that the projects were created in order to get people and involved organizations to do things they otherwise would not have done and to secure the realization of the intentions from interference from other ideas and activities. By organizing the policy into projects, the national policymakers could, on the one hand, keep the issue separate from existing agencies' operating activities and, on the other hand, create networks in order to involve actors (e.g., voluntary organizations) who are difficult to engage within the mainstream hierarchical structure (Hill and Hupe, 2009). To organize the policy into projects signals innovation, allowing those involved to deviate from traditional operations and to act in new ways. This kind of behavior was favored by creating project organizations, but the activities that were funded by the national policies became in many cases encapsulated, to keep them separated from the recurrent operations in the permanent organizations (Sahlin-Andersson, 2002).

In summary, we have in this section described and explained how and why the projects were created as a part of the policy formation process. By organizing the reforms in temporary organizations, the hierarchical mode of governance and implementation are challenged by a network mode of governance and implementation (Hill and Hupe, 2009).

The implementation of the policies in the local government organizations

As indicated in the case studies, the permanent local organizations were not so much affected by the reforms; several problems occurred when projects were used as an organizational arrangement to implement policies. According to Hill and Hupe (2009), the possibility of implementing a policy depends on the collaborative arrangements of the inter-organizational processes (see also Hjern and Porter, 1981; Klijn and Koppenjan, 2000). We will in this section discuss three reasons why these collaborative arrangements between temporary and permanent organizations are difficult to achieve.

One reason is that the project imposes clear organizational demarcation rather than an unlimited exchange with the environment. When activities are organized as a project, there is a variety of boundaries that define and limit the entry and performance. Organizing projects is about developing structures and processes to coordinate activities and human action. The aim of creating boundaries is to separate the action from the regular activities and to create an organizational identity. In our cases, it was clear that the demarcation was an important issue, both initially and later during the project. For example, through the various demarcations, it was determined who worked in the project. Demarcation also made clear who was to develop new working methods or practices by implementing the policy. A common attitude is that a project enables learning, a way to break old routines, discover new methods, achieve change or offer more flexible solutions than the permanent organization normally does (Bresnen, 2006). This makes it suitable to use projects for implementing new policies. However, if the aim is to change the ordinary course of business, it is important that there is a link between projects and regular activities (Johansson et al., 2007).

Another reason for the difficulties to achieve collaborative arrangements is the development of separated parallel activities that are prevailed during the project cycle. As indicated in both cases, a primary cause of difficulty in implementing the policy in the regular activities was that the activities in the project were not integrated with the regular activities. In our case studies, project management and teams spent all their time trying to implement the task and working mainly within the project, whereas the permanent organization's managers and professionals were fully engaged with their regular mainstream activities and did not devote much attention to the project. It was not until the project was about to finish that a serious discussion on implementation between representatives from the projects and the permanent organization began.

A third reason is that the system of monitoring and evaluation of the policy was directed towards the projects themselves and not to the permanent organizations. According to project management discourse, projects are expected to be organizationally and financially separated from regular operations mainly because they are time-bound and have a beginning and an end. In our cases, the project was separated from recurrent regular activities; the only ones who spent time trying to understand the intentions of the policy and how it could be implemented were those who were working in the project. It was also shown that it was difficult to transfer knowledge, and the project outcomes were often limited to individual learning. Furthermore, there were no arrangements in the permanent organizations for receiving the experience and knowledge from the project, and this was not required in the evaluations. The hierarchical mode of governance and implementation is, in other words, not congruent with the network mode of governance and implementation (Hill and Hupe, 2009).

Encapsulation—can it be avoided?

We can thus summarize the previous sections by saying that the project as a policy tool operates in an environment that can be captured in the relationship between the two concepts “government” and “governance” (Hill and Hupe, 2009). The first section, in which we adopted a vertical perspective, is more of a government approach, where the national level assumes a “straightforward consequentiality” (Ciborra and Lanzara, 1994). The second section is more of a governance approach: we emphasize the need to study the context of the policy initiative; both the environmental context and the horizontal inter-organizational relationships between different agencies; and the more narrow project context and the relationship between the temporary organization where the initiative was conducted and the permanent organization, which in the longer term should be affected by the initiative. Here we highlight the difficulties in exceeding different boundaries, with the result that the policy initiative was isolated and even encapsulated in the project.

A relevant and justified question is whether the policymakers could have organized the policy formation in a different manner to facilitate implementation. The analyses of the case studies showed that there were fundamental differences between the project organization and the permanent organization that created boundaries and that these boundaries were difficult to cross to avoid the project activities being encapsulated.

Encapsulation can be understood as a metaphor for trying to protect an item from a possible hostile environment, and the concept is used in many different contexts such as biology and chemistry and sometimes also in computer programming. This meaning of the concept is partly applicable also in an organizational context as there might be a need to secure the boundaries of an organizational unit (such as a project) in order to maintain some kind of control of the activities and survive as an autonomous organization.

Projects are temporary and are goal-oriented and action-oriented, whereas public administration is incremental, institutionalized in a long tradition and governed primarily by political decisions and legislation. The various organizational forms have different logic, and they are held accountable and evaluated in different ways. These differences will probably not cause any particular problems if they are kept separate. Projects as an organizational form that are used in typical one-time tasks, such as, for example, investment in infrastructure, will not create any problems because of their organizational form. However, there is always a risk of implementation problems when the national government runs parallel policies in the same policy domain where one policy branch is implemented via the traditional route through the existing public administration and the other policy branch is run through the project.

One possibility for governments to avoid the problems of encapsulation that have been demonstrated in this article is, of course, to give local authorities temporary increase in resources and to allow local authorities to organize their efforts so that the integration and implementation is facilitated. But the risk is then that the national body might lose control over the policy initiative and/or that the activities would not be as innovative as promised. Another possibility for governmental bodies could be to be more active in employing network governance that has been discussed by scholars like Sorensen and Torfing (2007) and Klijn and Edelenbos (2007). As networks cannot be easily controlled, network management is about guiding and facilitating interactions through process design as well as institutional design, which include joint goal-setting, joint knowledge production and other activities that generate trust (Klijn and Edelenbos, 2007). We suspect that this way of implementing public policy is not yet seen as natural in the Swedish welfare sector but should be considered by responsible policymakers.

CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES

The purpose of this article has been to investigate the project as a policy tool to examine how such temporary organizations function as a specific form of organization and how they function when interacting with permanent organizations. We have combined knowledge and insights from two fields: policy implementation and project management. The reasoning behind this lies in the perceived benefit of pluralism; that is, because any one perspective offers only a partial account of a complex phenomenon, multiple perspectives provide, in our case, a more comprehensive understanding of policy and policy tools.

The case studies and the analysis have shown that it is crucial that project organizations fit in the overall governance structure when they are used as policy tools. By fit, we mean having congruent rules for interaction, coordination and integration between the particular project organization and those organizations the project organization depends on to fulfill its task. If such congruence is missing, there is a risk that the project organization will remain isolated and will, like other foreign bodies, be rejected and become “islands in the stream”, and the policy will not be implemented. Project organizations may, in some cases, even function as barriers that hamper implementation of urgent policy reforms and thus a favorable development of society. Hence, the question of fit is also a question of capacity of governmental institutions on different levels to “steer” or govern societal development. When using the project as a policy tool, it is therefore important to incorporate complete understanding of the multiple levels of actions and different kinds of variables that can be expected to influence both output and outcome. The implication of this is that organizational design as a policy tool is a matter that deserves more attention in the strategic discussion both on implementing public policies and on the suitability of using certain policy tools.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. ABSTRACT
  3. INTRODUCTION
  4. ORGANIZATION DESIGN AS A POLICY TOOL
  5. THE PROJECT ORGANIZATION AS A POLICY TOOL
  6. CRUCIAL ASPECTS OF PROJECTS AS POLICY TOOLS
  7. THE METROPOLITAN INITIATIVE
  8. SOCSAM—FINANCIAL AND POLITICAL COLLABORATION
  9. ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
  10. CONCLUSION
  11. REFERENCES
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