The global financial crisis and the public sector in the Nordic countries
Public policy and management scholars have tended to study change dynamics within the context of a particular sector, thus giving rise to rather particularistic approaches. This is problematic for a number of reasons. First, since it hampers key lessons (comparisons) regarding broader change and adaptation processes affecting public sector organizations. Second, since it (often) conceives of interpretative accounts as framed around context-specific dimensions such as path-dependence (historical trajectories), deeply entrenched (taken for granted) values, professional norms and identities, etc. Third, since the increasing complexity associated with the modern economy/society is given rise to new multi-level and multi-layered governance approaches focusing on horizontal collaboration and coordination across policy portfolios and sectors.
Health and higher education are considered to be two key sectors of the economy. In Europe, an ageing population combined with the rise of the knowledge economy (and global competition) have put a premium on competences, skills, creativity and innovation. The economic and social wellbeing of a given society is often a reflection of its public investments in key sectors of the economy, contributing to institutional capacity building. Acute financial crises, as the one being experienced since 2008, tend to exercise a negative effect on the provision of public services largely as a result of resource stringencies and efficiency-enhancing measures. Despite the fact that the Nordic countries as a whole have been less affected by the current economic climate than other parts of the world (The economist 2013), governments across the region have, nonetheless, undertaken a series of policy measures aimed at ensuring the future financial sustainability of various arms of the public Obviously, this phenomenon is part and parcel of a broader “modernization process” which can be traced back to the late 80s/early 90s, but that it has intensified in the last decade or so.
In taking the global financial crisis (“crisis”) initiated in 2008 as our point of departure, our interest in comparing dynamics across public health and higher education in the Nordic countries is centered on the following research queries:
To what extent has the crisis affected ongoing reform processes and trajectories?
How have the main service providers – hospitals and universities – responded to the crisis?
Has the crisis created new strategic opportunities in the light of the vested interests of powerful stakeholders, internal and external, across the (2) organizational fields?
What has the impact of the crisis been when it comes to shifting strategic priorities (managerial level) and structural arrangements (e.g. internal allocation of funds) on the one hand and prevalent behavioral postures, norms, values and identities amongst professionals (doctors, nurses, academics, etc.) on the other?
How can the current dynamics across the two sectors be interpreted, and what does that tell us about the future direction of the public sector in (Northern) Europe?
Going forward, what are the major implications of the empirical findings when it comes to future policy platforms and research agendas involving the two scholarly communities/communities of practice?
In order to address these queries, four high level workshops involving researchers with intrinsic knowledge of the two sectors (see project team) was held in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark during 2014 and 2015.