«Comparing to Improve, or Simply to Assert? A Case Study of the Application of the Benchmarking Theory within the Public Sector Lii Lindgren Wictor ...»
3.4 Ethical Considerations Ethical principles were regarded in this study, where an important feature relates to the harm of participants. Multiple codes of conducts exist, one of them, the AoM Code of Ethical Conduct, states "it is the responsibility of the researcher to assess carefully the possibility of harm to research participants, and […] the possibility of harm should be minimized" (Bryman and Bell, 2011, p. 128). In this regard, emphasis was put on maintaining anonymity of the respondents in the main text. Only a few respondents wanted to be anonymous, however, a presentation of all respondents was carried out since it was relevant for aspects in the analysis, of which all approved. The main text, do not present anyone with name or municipality. The municipalities are instead referred to as municipality A-G. This will not impact the results, since it is not relevant who asserted what. However, a separation is made between CFOs and officials whom are operating at different levels and possess diverse responsibilities, which makes it interesting to distinguish their viewpoints.
The researchers adopted an overt role, where the study’s aim was communicated before conducting the interviews, giving the respondents a chance to truly understand the intentions. It was further stated that the data obtained and recordings made only was intended for this study.
Further, meaning, as argued by Bryman and Bell (2011), that the respondents were informed about the consent and given an active choice whether to participate. This was regarded as important, to reassure the participants a comfortable position, which hopefully entailed them to open up.
4. Empirical Findings The following chapter will comprise a presentation of the empirical results obtained in the study.
The section begins with demonstrating the findings received from the semi-structured interviews with the CFOs and officials from respectively municipality within Network Södertörn. This chapter will then be finalized with a document analysis of the networks project directive.
4.1 Structure and Building Blocks 4.1.1 The Structure and Building Blocks of Network Södertörn The construction of the network was mainly of equivalent description throughout each municipality, but some differing elements and characteristics could be identified. From the interviews it was acknowledged that the operation of the network could be divided into different instances with specific responsibilities attached (see organizational scheme in Appendix VI).
According to many interviewees, the networks aim is two-folded in terms of being useful to politicians and higher authorities within each municipality, as well as for officials (more precisely the workgroups). One interviewee described the purpose being constituted of conducting analysis and producing bases for decisions (showing how one municipality stand in relation to others) for politicians, senior management, and the City Council. Thus, on an official level, the aim is to obtain collaboration, exchange knowledge, draw lessons from others, and to attain statistics for analysis. Another respondent also stated that the aim is to identify abnormalities, and in those cases also distinguish the reasons behind them. Contrarily, some interviewees asserted that the aim is not clearly stated anywhere, where one official even said that all they know is that they should make comparisons, but that is it. However, in the project directive the intended aim is stated, which full description can be viewed in 4.4 Document Analysis.
4.1.2 CFOs One paramount component of the structure consists of the municipalities’ respectively CFO, which main responsibility is planning the project, deciding areas to address, and to produce the project directive that contains guidelines, intended purpose, and aim of the network. In one interview, CFOs were referred to as “watchdogs” (CFO, municipality G), since they have an enforcing role when things not work or proceeds, accordingly. The CFOs should administer the work to be conducted, in which the tasks involved in general are viewed as basic and not comprises too much work or time to be set aside.
The CFOs own attitude towards the network has generally been positive and an understanding of the expectations is prevalent. Thus, some officials have indicated a lack of engagement from the CFOs. One CFO stated that this resulted from that there are many different measuring systems within the municipalities and the related to the network was not of the subject’s personal preferences. Moreover, it was not believed that additional time, except time set aside for meetings with the other CFOs (to engage in the data obtained), was required (CFO, Municipality F). This adheres to a central finding noted throughout the interviews, namely that the networks operation is built upon personal engagement and initiatives from participants. Meaning, that potential achievements obtained through the network virtually correlates to individual efforts and actions, which is an important component of the network’s construction.
4.1.3 Administrative Management The interviewees also referred to the role of administrative management, whom also is supposed to engage in the network. However, the degree of the administrative managements’ involvement has been of divergent views. In some instances, these individuals contain a similar role as CFOs, in terms of creating a driving force when tasks are not performed. One CFO exemplified this as if the groups did not “behave”, in terms of attending meetings etcetera; the administrative chiefs are responsible to report this to the CFOs, in order for them to take actions (CFO, municipality C). Interviewees have also referred to them as a connection between CFOs and the workgroups, representing a core function, and assigning tasks that should be done. Although, in some cases they are basically absent from the network. This can be exemplified from an interview by that “… it is the CFOs that should assign the work, but it is then up to the administrative management to delegate this and then inform the CFOs, who in turn should report this in” (Official, municipality A). However, it is also stated, “… that this list, of the allocated, not always is followed” (Official, municipality A). Thus, this appears to be the predominant case in general.
A few interviewees argued that the network is not the administrative managers’ way of managing their operations and therefore it receives less attention. Thus, when the administrative managers, and other managerial functions, actually engage in something it automatically gains more attention, since it signalizes importance. One respondent further argued; ”If the administrative managers weren’t participating on the conference day, I would start to question why I am here, and why I am supposed to do this, and what the purpose actually is” (Official, municipality F).
4.1.4 Workgroups Another instance within the network is the workgroups. These are derived from respectively operational area that is represented, which, according to the interviewees, constitutes a core function that performs the main work. In summary, the workgroups are responsible for compiling data and withdraw information from KPIs mainly obtained from public databases 7.
That will later on comprise the final report, which is published after the conference day (the conference day is further scrutinized in 4.1.6 Conference Day).
The workgroups participants consist of selected officials, who are chosen and asked to participate by recommendations made by the administrative management, based on whom they think is relevant. However, what positions these people possess within each municipality varies, and it was stated that;
Another aspect acknowledged throughout the interviews were differences regarding the workgroups structure, as well as their engagement. Numerous interviewees stated that most For example SCB, SKL, KOLADA etcetera.
For examples of the varied academic backgrounds see Appendix IV workgroups operates in different ways. One interviewee working within three workgroups exemplified this as particularly apparent, and further argued that some procedures conducted were considered more successful than others, depending on the operational area. On the contrary, another official participating in another workgroup, affirmed that they have a clear internal structure, where everyone understands what they are expected to do and why. In this matter it was stated that;
4.1.5 Project Directive As stated, the project directive is developed and designed by the CFOs. This document includes main objectives of the undertaken work, as well as directives regarding how this should be conducted, and further what is expected from the participants (see 4.4 Document Analysis). The interviews stated that the project directive basically has remained the same over the years. Thus, more emphasize nowadays are that the groups should try to attain as much data as possible from national databases, in order to focus more time on analyzing the data and identifying explanatory factors. Something that has been acknowledged to, more or less, worked quite well.
Various opinions have been expressed regarding the project directive. The interviews have shown that both officials and administrative management not always possess knowledge about its existence, much less align their operational work to its comprising dictates. This indicates inconsistencies between the CFOs initial plan for the network in theory, and how it is transferred into practice. One interviewee claimed that the only directives given are “You should produce a report, end of story” (Official, municipality D). Onwards, another official stated that “The project directive is important, and if you have it you should follow it, it makes it easier for everyone. Further, that everyone knows their role in this, because it has been a disaster” (Official, municipality F). This implies that the project directive is not always that obvious
among officials and that it is vital to make it a more central element.
However, one official argued that since the network has existed and been active for a long time, most people know the assignments; “The continuity of its participants is perhaps not that good, people are often replaced, but I still think the network is so established that everyone knows what they should produce, and so on” (Official, municipality B). Further, one CFO expressively considered the project directive as good, and that it entails dictates for the entire network that explicates its ambitions and overall objective. However, it was recognized that nothing expresses how the workgroups should work, which correlates to acknowledgements made by officials. For example, an official stated that “Well it rarely tells us if we should do some sort of niche or similar in our work, it is more basic and states the fundamental aspects” (Official, municipality G). One suggestion acknowledged during the interviews was to attempt to standardize the reports by setting its headlines, and by that forcing the workgroups to address certain aspects (CFO, municipality C). Further, when asking one CFO whether the construction of the network entails a clear structure (i.e. if everyone is aware of which tasks that should be carried out), it was stated, “I do not know, but I would not think so, it would surprise me if it did exist” (CFO, municipality E).
4.1.6 Conference Day The work sums up to a conference day, where good examples, of both positive and negative nature, are presented. Only a few workgroups are selected to present (those who can contribute the most) due to time restrictions. The conference day provides opportunities to meet, i.e. the City Council, CFOs, administrative managers, officials and politicians, to further discuss potential issues. A lot of politicians do attend the conference, and it is expressed that ”politicians and the City Council should be present at the day and listen to the presentations” (Official, municipality A). Some respondents argue that they really absorb the information presented, although another interviewee questions ”Why are not more politicians attending the day, since it is so important that we work with this?” (Official, municipality E).
4.1.7 Development Over Time When the network started it was a clear focus on financial indicators. One interviewee described how their financial manager came and said, “Tomorrow we have to submit our accounting summary, so take out some reports and enter some numbers so that we can submit it” (Official, municipality A). The current situation is rather different, and the workgroups are careful with how numbers are selected and reported, mainly using public databases. As the work progressed focus has also been directed more towards quality indicators, since economic indicators do not provide considerable insight regarding each area. The workgroups have also realized that they need to study the same KPIs over several years, in order to discover trends and developments over time. This also facilitates the statistical preparation, which could enable more time for analysis.
4.1.8 Target Group The majority of the respondents expressed that the networks main target audience are politicians.
Many politicians are participating on the conference day and can, through the cooperation, attain an overview of how services and costs evolve over time, which in turn can guide priorities. Some respondents also believed that the work is important for senior management within the municipalities and officials, in order to acknowledge what results different operational areas have achieved and how. However, several officials claimed that they often already know what the reports will encompass, and that they obtain more utility from the relation created between participating municipalities. Some group members alleged that the work is really about preparing material, in order to provide bases for decision-making.