The Swedish Social Insurance Agency s development activities

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1 Summary 2016:8 The Swedish Social Insurance Agency s development activities - focusing on support for the administrative handling process

2 Swedish Social Insurance Inspectorate Stockholm 2016 Inspektionen för socialförsäkringen Authors: Inger Solberg and Bessam Saleh 2

3 Summary The Swedish Social Insurance Agency s development activities focusing on support for the administrative handling process The Swedish Social Insurance Inspectorate (Inspektionen för socialförsäkringen, ISF) is an independent supervisory agency for the Swedish social insurance system. The objectives of the agency are to strengthen compliance with legislation and other statutes, and to improve the efficiency of the social insurance system through system supervision and efficiency analysis and evaluation. The ISF s work is mainly conducted on a project basis and is commissioned by the Government or initiated autonomously by the agency. This report has been initiated by the agency. Background The Swedish Social Insurance Agency operates on the behalf of the Swedish government and is responsible for a substantial part of the social security system. The Agency s administrative resources amount to approximately 8.6 billion Swedish Krona (SEK) per year. The mission of the Agency is to investigate, determine, and allocate around 40 different types of social security benefits. These benefit payouts amounted to just under 225 billion SEK in 2015, representing 6 percent of the Swedish GDP. In order to maintain effective, cohesive, and legally certain processing, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency is required to manage, improve, and develop its operations on a continuous basis. Objectives The ISF has, in previous reports, stressed several troubling issues in the support for the administrative handling process for social benefits. The purpose of this report is to further analyse the motivations, structures and basis for prioritisation in the continued development activities of the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. Methods This project has mapped current models, processes, and guidelines for management and development within the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. The basis for this review has been relevant documents and records, such as the Swedish Social Insurance Agency s appropriation directions, strategies, plans for operations, and development activities. These written documents have, however, been limited to their form, and 3

4 they often do not include enough material to provide a comprehensive impression of the situation. Hence, interviews have also been conducted to complement the written documentation. In total, 20 persons at different levels within the Swedish Social Insurance Agency were interviewed. Written questions were used to collect details regarding the organisation, management and prioritisation of development areas in different divisions of the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. This report is also partially based on findings from previous and ongoing ISF-reviews regarding support for the administrative handling process within the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. Findings The activities of the Swedish Social Insurance Agency are under constant political review. While the purpose of the social insurance system remains relatively constant, political signals can influence the activities of the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. These signals have proven to be fairly short-term oriented and are primarily expressed in the annual appropriation directions set by the Swedish government. This report finds that the shifting signals from the Government run the risk of undermining the long-term stability and mission of the Social Insurance Agency, as the balance between responding to short-term political signals and protecting the long-term core mission of the Social Agency is a challenging task. The Government s yearly direction has a major impact on the Agency s development activities, but it restrains a long-term perspective. The objectives in the Government s yearly appropriation directions to the Swedish Social Insurance Agency have varied over the years. The different objectives have had a major impact on the Agency s organisation, strategies, management control, and development activities. The impact of the yearly directions seems to have an even greater impact when a new Director-General is appointed. Since the Government s guidelines and objectives are the basis for the Agency s development activities, their variation has made it difficult for the Agency to maintain a long-term perspective on the development of the Agency s operations. Furthermore, constant and fundamental changes in strategy and organisation have required resources and have diverted the focus from the Agency s main task, which has remained relatively constant throughout the years. The management s focus on strategies and certain objectives, which are set by the Government, has undermined the development of support for the administrative handling process, which is the core business of the Agency. This mainly concerns the development of legal and other support for the case-workers in the Agency. There is a need to reinforce knowledge about the core activities within the Agency s development projects. The Swedish Social Insurance Agency has, for a long time, used different development tools and methods in order to manage projects, primarily projects concerning software. In spite of strong governance of development 4

5 activities, a large part of the Agency s projects do not meet the expected results, in time and on budget. One reason is a shortage of employees with comprehensive knowledge of the administrative handling process and the social security benefits, and with an ability to convert development needs to IT-requirements. Another reason is that the long duration of the projects, which average 17 months, may cause the initial requirement to be obsolete once it is implemented. Legal quality has not been expressed as a basis for prioritisation of developmental activities. Both the ISF and the Swedish Social Insurance Agency have noted that the administrative handling process and the legal quality are unsatisfactory. This particularly concerns the three largest benefits, which account for almost half of the Agency s payouts. Legal quality has not been expressed as an objective in the Agency s strategic documents, which are the basis for prioritising development initiatives. Legal quality has rather been taken for granted and been put aside in favour of other objectives and perspectives when prioritising and assigning resources. Instead, customer focus has been a major criterion in prioritising and assigning resources. Beginning in 2016, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency has also included legal aspects in its overall objectives. This will enable the Agency to take measures against the problems that the previous single-minded prioritisation based on customer focus has caused for legal quality. There are reasons to believe that this change will increase the Agency s focus on effective, cohesive and legally certain operations on a more long-term basis. However, the development of the Swedish Social Insurance Agency would benefit if the Government s management of the Agency had a more long-term perspective. 5

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