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Nordiska museet – a central museum in foundation form. An analysis according to the agency analysis model (2014:9)

On behalf of the Government, Statskontoret has analysed the Nordiska museet foundation according to the model for agency analysis. We have briefly gone through the museum's conditions, operations, performance and challenges.

Nordiska museet – a central museum in foundation form

Nordiska museet (the Nordic museum) is one of Sweden's 14 central museums, active in the culture-historical field. In 2013 the museum had an average of 153 employees and approximately SEK 160 million in revenue, 70 per cent of which government appropriations accounted for. The museum's collections consist of about 1.5 million objects, which take up about 25,000 square metres of warehouse space. Furthermore, the museum's archives house 4,700 metres of shelving, the library has approximately 3,800 metres of shelving, and the museum's photography collections contain around 6 million photographs. Nordiska museet conducts operations on Djurgården in Stockholm and in some external cultural environments (Julita manor, Tyresö Castle, Svindersvik and Härkeberga chaplaincy) in property owned and managed by the foundation. In addition, warehouses and archive facilities are rented from other property owners.

Ten of the central museums are government agencies, while Nordiska museet and three others are foundations. The central museums shall preserve, develop, make available and initiate research on their collections. Nordiska museet's conditions correspond in many respects to those of other central museums. For example, the museum's assignments, as stated in the foundation's statutes, are more or less identically worded to how the agency museums' assignments are formulated in their instructions.

However, the fact that Nordiska museet is a foundation does entail several significant differences compared with the agency museums. A foundation is a legal entity and Nordiska museet does not answer to the Government to the same extent as agencies do. The Government has no power to decide what the museum should do. It is the foundation's statutes which ultimately govern what Nordiska museet can do and it is the museum's board of directors (the Board) that assesses what activities are consistent with the statutes. Nordiska museet is also exempt from most of the rules that govern government agency activities, such as the Public Access to Information and Secrecy Act and the state regulations on financial administration. Therefore the museum has, among other things, greater economic freedom than the agency museums, such as the opportunity to own real estate.

However, the Government has some abilities to steer and monitor the activities of Nordiska museet. In an annual decision, the Government issues guidelines on how the Government funding for the museum is to be used, including requirements relating to how the operations' performance shall be accounted for and reported. These requirements essentially correspond to those imposed on the agency museums. According to the foundation's statutes, the Government also appoints the members of Nordiska museet's Board, with the exception of the museum's manager (the Director), who is appointed by the Board.

Statskontoret's overall assessment

Our impression is that Nordiska museet's operations are well within the boundaries set by the deed of the foundation, the foundation's statutes and the Government guidelines.

Generally, Nordiska museet also appears to have both a good understanding of, and have addressed the issues that are of particular strategic importance for the operation's continued survival and development. Thus, over the past decade, the museum has significantly improved its financial standing. Furthermore, the visitor figures for Nordiska museet on Djurgården are historically relatively high and the visitors give the museum a good rating. In recent years the museum has also taken more active responsibility for the management of its properties, since for example taking over the technical management of the buildings on Djurgården in 2006. Furthermore, the museum has in the past decade made a major investment in the collections' care and storage, for example, by having a large number of objects moved from the museum premises on Djurgården to external, more appropriate warehouses. The museum has also in recent years increased its involvement in digitisation issues.

It has been more difficult to assess whether the museum's activities are maintaining the intended quality. There is much to suggest that it does, such as the fact that the visitor figures and ratings are high, and we have not received any indications that the quality would not be good. But the analysis has not provided us with sufficient evidence to say this with certainty.

That being said, Statskontoret's overall assessment – with some reservation due to insufficient data to fully assess the quality – is that Nordiska museet is, in all essentials, fulfilling its mission.

Nordiska museet's future challenges

Nordiska museet's future challenges do not differ significantly from those of other central museums. For example, the museum needs to continue to work actively with digitisation issues; the museum's current strategy for new media seems reasonable according to Statskontoret. Furthermore, the museum needs to continually attract both existing audiences and new groups. This is both for economic reasons, in order to increase revenue, and to further develop and remain relevant as a museum. Nordiska museet must also continue to successfully recruit, retain and further develop the skills of employees within the many different professions required for a central museum's wide-ranging activities.

A particular challenge in terms of recruiting, which in the short term must be handled by Nordiska museet and partly by the Government, is to find suitable replacements for senior staff whose employment will end in the next year or few years. In 2014, the appointment for all members of the board expires, including that of the chairman and another member who have held the position for six years. Furthermore, the holder of the Hallwyl professorship is retiring in 2015. In addition, the museum director has reached the statutory retirement age.

A basic condition is also for Nordiska museet to be able to balance its economy over time and to continuously produce satisfactory financial results. The museum's current economic situation appears to be sound, since the results have improved over the past decade. This development has largely been a result of active initiatives from the museum's side.

In the coming years, it should also primarily be the active initiatives of the museum itself that will contribute to a positive economic development. This is because the museum can hardly count on the appropriation to, in real terms, increase significantly in the next few years, and it is also unlikely that the museum's associated foundations and funds will provide more than relatively marginal contributions to the annual results. It is therefore probable that the museum will have to, as it has done over the past decade, continue to work with the review and streamlining of operations and seek to increase revenue in parallel with government grants.

According to Statskontoret, it is the real estate that constitutes the greatest risk in Nordiska museet's operations. However, we have not seen any indications that the museum would not be able to cope with the role of property manager. The property portfolio's size also suggests that internal management of the real estate is a reasonable approach. The issue of the properties' care and maintenance currently seems to be a high priority of the museum management.

In the short term, an important issue within the property management is to complete a planned renovation of the museum building on Djurgården so that, among other things, the intended benefits of housing the museum's archives there can be achieved. The biggest challenge, however – both in the short and long term – is to deal with the properties' maintenance. Constant monitoring of how these needs are evolving is a strategic issue for the museum's management, as maintenance work in some cases can be extremely costly.

In our opinion, there are also reasons for Nordiska museet to be attentive to certain criticisms that have emerged in our, albeit relatively few, contacts with actors in the museum's sphere of operations. The overall picture is generally positive. For example, it is often emphasised that Nordiska museet is Sweden's largest culture historical museum, with a broad and important mission and competent and knowledgeable staff. However, some interviewees have said that, in recent years, they have perceived some tendencies towards a reduced level of ambition from Nordiska museet in terms of supporting other museums. In a few cases, it has also been noted that the museum has room for improvement when it comes to capturing and highlighting interesting topics in the current public debate. It should however be noted that Nordiska museet does not agree with the criticism. Collaboration and playing an active role in the community are also issues addressed in a target and strategy document recently adopted by the museum's board.

Recommendations to Nordiska museet

Using a survey method, conduct research on the staff's view of operations

According to Nordiska museet, the staff represent the museum's most important resource, which we agree upon. The museum accumulates staff opinions and viewpoints through, for example, performance reviews, active work environment initiatives and internal training programmes. The tools used by the museum are essential. In our opinion, it would also be worthwhile to periodically carry out employee surveys among the museum's staff, as a survey allows for broader questions relating to the operations. Statskontoret therefore recommends that the museum should, in the future, systematically and periodically accumulate knowledge on the staff's view of the operations and the museum's work environment using employee surveys or a similar method.

Essential to find a balance between revenue and maintenance needs

Statskontoret has proceeded on the assumption that all of the current real estate will continue to be owned and managed by Nordiska museet and will mainly be used for museum operations. However, we would like to note that, in the long term, it will probably be necessary for the museum to find a better balance between revenue and maintenance needs for some of the cultural environments, with Tyresö Castle being a particular area of focus. We are unable to assess whether this can be achieved for Tyresö Castle with the current conditions or if it, for example, requires permutation of the benefactor's will.

Need for developed follow-up information

Nordiska museet's annual report essentially provides a comprehensive and informative view of the operation's performance. However, to better comply with the Government's guidelines and to facilitate comparisons with other central museums and assessments of the museum's performance over time, we recommend that the following information also be included in future annual reports:

  • an account of how the total costs are divided between larger groups of activities (according to some suitable subdivision),
  • a more detailed presentation of staff information, corresponding to agencies' activities, including a description of what work is being done to ensure the museum's skills provision,
  • more detailed comments than hitherto received on the results in relation to the Government's guidelines for the operation,
  • a clearer definition and presentation of the qualitative aspects of the operation's results, in accordance with the Government commission which the central museums have had since 2011, and
  • an account of the existence, position and annually used funds for the museum's associated foundations and funds.

Recommendations to the Government

In our analysis, Nordiska museet has pointed out weaknesses in the annual dialogue between the museum and the Ministry of Culture, in particular the lack of routine direct contact between the museum's management and the Ministry's political leadership. Statskontoret's analysis has not provided sufficient supporting data for us to suggest that the Government change the contact forms currently being used in relation to Nordiska museet. However, it should still be noted that, in the activities pursued by Nordiska museet – to a large degree funded through government appropriations – there are certain circumstances, such as property management, where it may be justified for the government to keep itself more well-informed.

Furthermore, we want to draw the Government's attention to the fact that, in the guideline decision to Nordiska museet regarding the use of state funding, it refers to "the objectives for the operations as stated in the Nordiska museet foundation's statutes". However, the term "objectives" is not found in the foundation's statutes. There may therefore be justification for the Government to revise the wording in future guideline decisions.