The thesis deals with responsibilities and social interactions in auditing political accountability in Swedish municipalities and regions. Can local audit institutions and their practices help to strengthen democratic leadership and responsibility?
Case-studies have been performed in ten municipalities, one county council and one regional unit across Sweden during the period 2003 to 2007. They were selected with regard to variation in size, political majority and through informed observers’ knowledge of their auditing strategies and structures. Documents describing their audit institution were also used in the selection process. The regional political unit is an innovation in public sector organization in Sweden. It comprises many municipalities in several earlier county councils forged into one regional politico-administrative unit, mainly concerned with citizens’ healthcare. All political units in the study have democratically elected bodies and are legally similarly state regulated.
The field-studies started with interviews in the audit institutions of municipalities and regions. The responsible politically elected auditors have repeatedly been interviewed throughout the period of research to ascertain developments. Questions have been asked about how they select challenges to be audited, their use of and experience with professional auditors and their relations with the political bodies and professional organizations in their municipalities and regions. Documents from the audit institutions have been perused and their use in formal, political decision-making pursued and registered.
The results of the study show that auditing processes have impact on the organizing of services in the researched political units. But it differs, and is significantly related to local practices of organizing processes. More successful are organized when audit institutions relate well to professionals in services, invite them to participate as equals in auditing dialogs. It creates learning, for auditors as well as for responsible persons in the services. Important is also that municipal auditing is supported by legitimate political bodies and get the resources to contract professional advice by relevant external actors. This is not always the case, either for lack of asking for it or lack of political understanding of the necessity of learning by auditing.
Successful auditing practices, in the complex organization of very specialized production of local welfare for citizens, depend on the leadership capability and legitimacy of political auditors to create trust and motive for specialists to engage in common endeavors, organized across, what Max Weber calls, ‘iron cages’ of bureaucratic organization. The democratic ethos of welfare states demands that resources politically are reserved for the ‘have-nots’ rather than for the ‘haves’. Due to centralized ‘iron cages’, the general principles of welfare states today cannot cope with this localization. Since the 1970s, it has become the remit of welfare municipalities and regions.
In Sweden ‘have-nots’ usually have multiple needs. An auditing focus on the ‘have-nots’, in line with the democratic ethos of welfare states, signifies more successful auditing practices. Auditors know ‘for whom or what’ they audit and are able to organize and motivate so that specialized, bureaucratic organizations combine their competences and skills.
The results of the investigation show that auditing in few researched units are high on the learning curve of competent, inter-organizational political accountability. Several are moving upwards, but most are on the lower end on the curve.
Jönköping: Jönköping University, Jönköping International Business School , 2009. , 468 p.