Strategy for innovation and good governance

Status on how Norway is implementing the strategy for innovation and good governance

June 2009

1. Background

KS (Norwegian Association of local and regional Authorities) decided in 2007 to participate as a pilot country in implementation of the Strategy on innovation and good governance, agreed to by the Council of Europe conference of ministers in Valencia in October 2007.

A good dialogue between KS and the Ministry for local and regional affairs has been established. There is an agreement that KS will implement the strategy with activities partly financed with support from the ministry. There is a close cooperation and dialogue between the ministry and KS through a common steering committee.

2. Intro

In 2007 KS had just developed ‘Good local democracy – a platform’. This was done after inviting five different researchers to deliver to KS which criteria they think must be fulfilled to have a good local democracy.

The platform consists of principles which are divided under three headlines: citizens’ confidence in their elected representatives, those elected set the agenda and the representatives deliver on promises made.

The principles are to a great degree parallel to the twelve principles in the Strategy for innovation and good governance. However, the platform is more focused on democracy and aspects regarding the political level, the elected representatives and their relation to the citizens.

The platform is intended to be an aid and an inspiration for developing local democracy in the municipalities, and as a platform to KS’ own work to promote good local democracy.

As a follow up of this platform a project was initiated to develop a way of measuring how good local democracy is in municipalities. KS engaged researchers at the University in Oslo to develop a set of indicators with this purpose. The indicators were chosen with the platform as a starting point, but the researchers did also look at the principles chosen in the Council of Europe Strategy.

As this work was already started, and when the Strategy and the platform was to a great degree parallel in both aim and principles, KS and the ministry together decided that our participation as a pilot country in implementing the strategy would mainly be a continuation of this work.

2. Objectives

The Strategy has three objectives which focus on the citizens lead role in all democratic processes and institutions, that local authorities improve their governance and that the states makes sure that the preconditions for doing so are there.

The focus on citizens is at the centre also in the Norwegian platform. It is crucial how the citizens themselves experience the local democracy, and if they have trust and confidence in the local authorities, its political system and their elected representatives. It is also important to have functional channels to influence the political processes, as a supplement to the representative democracy.

The aim of constant improvement of local governance is also shared between the Strategy and the platform. The aim is to improve and develop how the local democracy functions.

3. Activities as a pilot country

3.1 Indicatorproject: How good is local democracy?

The indicatorproject mentioned above is a direct continuation of the work with developing the platform. The goal was to develop indicators on the quality of local democracy in Norway as perceived by citizens and local councillors with the aim of stimulating discussions on the state of local democracy in municipalities.

The indicators are summarised under four headings:

The indicators were transformed into two questionnaires, one to the citizens which were asked on the phone, and one to local councillors which they answered in a council meeting. The two questionnaires had partial overlap of questions.

Four municipalities were selected and invited for the surveys. The results brought out substantial variations between municipalities, which suggest that the citizens have varied perceptions about and trust in local politics. In one of the municipalities the results show that the citizens have a remarkable low level of trust in their elected representatives. The overall results in this municipality were very dissatisfying.

The results have been presented before the local councils and there have been a meeting where it was discussed how each municipality will follow up the results. Each municipality has put together a committee with council members and administrative personnel that together will work on strategies and activities to improve democracy.

The researchers delivered their final report in mid-may, and that was formally the end of the pilot project.

3.2 Follow up of indicatorproject

Our main activity as a pilot country will be to further develop this by inviting 30 – 40 municipalities to test and help us develop this tool. The aim is for this to be a standing offer to all municipalities that want to investigate how good their local democracy is and take action for development of democracy.

The municipalities that want to participate and make use of these surveys, will receive a report and a presentation of this. They will also be invited to small networks of municipalities to discuss results and exchange ideas and experiences on how to develop from there. These meetings will provide the participants with ideas from other municipalities that have experiences to share, and maybe also from different countries. These network meetings will also be used to give feedback on how this tool can be developed as a permanent offer to all municipalities.

In the future, if this tool is a success, we would like to see that municipalities can use this again after some while, to see if they have improved.

KS also aims to develop a catalogue or a democracy handbook of different tools, methods and organizational structures that have been used by others with success to improve democracy.

3.3 Testing of European label

Norway has signalled positivity towards testing out the European label on innovation and good governance.

Our indicator project has been presented on a meeting in Strasbourg in April as a possible module in a label package.

However, we see the proposed matrix in the label package as an opportunity to follow up on the four municipalities that were the first to test the indicators. We will invite these to test out the label matrix in partnership with the researchers from the University in Oslo.

3.4 Other ongoing activities that is relevant to the Strategy

There are several ongoing activities in KS that is relevant to the principles in the Strategy. Some are briefly mentioned here:

Consultations with the government – KS has had a formal agreement with the government about a common consultation procedure. There are 4 meetings a year on a political level between KS and several of the ministries. Different subjects are on the agenda, but most of all the financial topics.

Efficiency improvement networks – a programme for improvement and evaluation of public services with performance management as a tool. The programme is about obtaining comparative data on services on chosen areas and comparing effectiveness and quality with other municipalities. The municipalities exchange experience and learning in networks.

Quality in municipal services – a project with the objective of improving quality and efficiency in public service through constructive cooperation and dialogue between politicians, administration and the employees, with special focus on reducing sick leave in municipal sector.

Councillors training program – is a permanent programme for training of councillors within the council. This is offered to all local councils and consists of a two day basic programme offered after each local and regional election, and a ‘council day’ later in the period with different themes. The basic programme contains issues like ethics, role as a councillor, steering tools, relation between administration and council, among other issues.

Sustainable community development network – is a programme where muncipalities can work systematically and creatively in networks with other municipalities with environment and community development.

Ethics - there has been established a committee on ethics for local government sector. Municipalities and counties can send in dilemmas that they want advice on how to handle. There have also been developed guidelines on ethics, corporate social responsibility and anti-corruption. And also a register of board members among local and regional elected politicians has been developed with the aim of more transparency and openness.

5.  Administration

KS cooperates with the Ministry of local and regional affairs in implementing these activities, but there is a common understanding that KS will lead and implement the activities with financial support from the Ministry. A common steering committee will be formalised.