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Protect democracy against violent extremism. Evaluation of an action plan (2015:6)

Statskontoret (the Swedish Agency for Public Management) has been assigned by the Government to evaluate the action plan of 2011 to protect democracy against violent extremism. The purpose of the action plan is to protect and strengthen democracy and thereby make society more resistant to violent extremism.

The Government's action plan covers 15 measures which have been sorted below six interim goals. The six interim goals specify the strategic focus for the future work within the area to prevent extremism. The measures cover a number of different assignments to different agencies. Among other things, the Living History Forum has been assigned to develop methods and work material to strengthen the democratic values of youths. The Swedish Agency for Youth and Civil Society has received two assignments to allocate funds to organisations within the civil society who work with activities which strengthen the democratic values of youths and prevent individuals from joining extremist movements or help individuals who intend to leave such environments. The Government has also assigned the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention (Brottsförebyggande rådet - Brå), the Swedish Defence University, the Swedish Commission for Government Support to Faith Communities (SST) and the Swedish Media Council. The 15 measures have been funded by the Government allocating approximately SEK 61 million during the period 2012-2014.

Statskontoret evaluates the action plan and its measures. The assignment includes evaluating whether the purpose of the action plan has been fulfilled. According to the assignment, the measures which relate to efforts for promoting democracy and efforts against violent extremism are covered. The evaluation includes 9 of the 15 measures.

An action plan based on the work to promote democracy

In the action plan the Government states that it is essential that the work on protecting democracy is strengthened in order to combat anti-democratic tendencies. For this to take place, it is important that agencies and relevant social actors receive tools and resources to prevent violent extremism.

The issue of work to promote democracy covers a number of different policy areas. Statskontoret assesses that an action plan is an efficient way to systematise this type of work.

Sweden's action plan differs from many of those which are in different countries. One difference is that the focus is not only on the extremism which has a religious background, but covers the three most prominent violent extremist environments in Sweden; the left-wing environment, the white power environment and violent Islamism. The action plan also focuses on the democratic problem of violent extremism, while several other countries only focus their work on violence and terrorism. Statskontoret assesses that there are benefits of framing the action plan in this manner, among other things because the approach has probably reduced stigmatisation of those who are in or are close to the environments. The plan has also covered specific funded measures, which is a prerequisite for attaining the results.

Several areas were missing in the action plan

The action plan lacks a detailed analysis on who the plan focuses on. As the Government has not conducted any target group analysis, the Government has neither decided which measures are expected to have an impact for which specific target groups.According to Statskontoret, this has entailed that it has become unclear what should concretely be achieved.

In relation to the purpose which has been specified for the action plan, according to Statskontoret it contains too few initiatives and too few actors. There are examples of more measures in other countries and these can serve as a role model even for what Sweden can work with in the future. Statskontoret is of the opinion that the local perspective was not clear enough in the original action plan. Later the Government has tried to rectify this by establishing a national coordinator to protect democracy against violent extremism.

Weak coordination and governance

Demokratienheten (the Democracy division) in the Government Offices of Sweden has coordinated implementation of the action plan. However, the Government has chosen not to establish any formal network within the Government Offices of Sweden to coordinate the work. Neither has there been any formalised collaboration between the agencies involved. This has affected the prerequisites to influence the work in an efficient manner, among other things in terms of handling received proposals for development and analysis of the measures' results.

The measures have contributed to the interim goals

Most of the measures which Statskontoret has evaluated have contributed to each interim goal. They have also thereby contributed to the overall goals of the action plan. However, it is not possible to express an opinion on whether extremism has been affected by this, among other things because the overall goals and interim goals are formulated generally and are difficult to measure. Statskontoret assesses that, among other things, the action plan has provided a knowledge base to the Government which can be used for the future work. Statskontoret also asserts that many of the measures have been incorporated in the regular activities of relevant agencies and organisations. Thus, they are not only of an individual and fixed-term project nature.

The work on strengthening democracy against violent extremism should continue

Statskontoret recommends that the governance of work to protect democracy against violent extremism should be strengthened.

  • A new action plan or other systematic summary of the measures is required in order to supplement the work which the national coordinator is managing.
  • The action plan should be preceded by a target group analysis.
  • The work on the action plan should be coordinated with the national coordinator's proposal.
  • Issues related to governance and collaboration should be prioritised in the future work, among other things, an inter-departmental working group should be established and agency collaboration should be formalised.