Back to search

DEMOS-Demokratisk og effektiv styring, planlegging og forvaltning

Reshaping the Map of Local and Regional Self-Government. A study of the Norwegian Local Government Reform (NLGR) processes 2014-2019

Alternative title: Det kommunale og regionale sjølvstyrets grenser under omforming. Ein studie av prosessane knytt til kommunereforma 2014-2019

Awarded: NOK 16.1 mill.

The project analysed two major reforms in the Norwegian system of local government: the municipal reform and the regional reform, from initiation (2014/15) until implementation (2020). The project has been a cooperation between Nordic social scientists and research institutions and has resulted in a long range of publications. The research group has collected data as the processes unfolded, on local, regional and national levels. Both reforms could partly be characterized as top-down; anchored in parliamentary and governmental decisions - and partly as bottom-up; locally organised and with (mainly) decentralized decision-making power. Consequently, both reforms have been highly differentiated regarding processes and results. The municipal reform, the most comprehensive structural reform of Norwegian local government since the 1960ies, reduced the number of municipalities from 428 to 356 through amalgamations. Still, in large parts of the country, the traces of reform are few, despite extensive use of time and resources. The bottom-up elements of the reform have facilitated local political commitment and entrepreneurship. However, the reform's organisation model and the political terms have frustrated many local and regional reform supporters: Tight schedules, combined with unfulfilled expectations (concerning economic grants; new responsibilities) and unclear premises (how would the premise of local 'voluntariness' be operationalised?) gave grounds for political shadow boxing, and gave reform antagonists free hands, it is argued. The number of political amalgamation agreements were much higher than the number of actual amalgamations. Many agreements were rejected through one of the 200 formally consultative (but in reality, conclusive) referendums. In addition, national political support for the reform turned out to be weaker than expected when the reform was implemented. Many state officials responsible for promoting the reform have regarded this as a problem. The final assessment of the municipal reform 2014-20 will partly depend on the reform?s ability to inspire to further amalgamations. Government will extend reform incentives - but from now on, it also guarantees full local 'process ownership' and decision-making power. Experience indicates that such a 'reform-without-reform-strategy' might have advantages. Local government could be secured sufficient time to gain decisive public support for municipal amalgamations. However, for this strategy to succeed a local majority have to recognise the gains of amalgamation - and Norway's 47 new municipalities would have to serve as good examples. In that respect, our studies give reason to lower the expectations. Many 'old' municipalities facing termination react by hoarding (i.e., a last-minute flurry of spending), thus 'robbing' the new municipalities. Complaints from new municipalities about the reform being underfinanced have the same impact: It can be more demanding to convince municipalities that the gains of amalgamation are bigger than the losses. The regional reform reduces the number of counties (and county councils) from 19 to 11 (Oslo included). This is the most extensive reform in the regional geographical structure since the introduction of absolutism. The reform is sort of a miracle, initiated by the small Liberal party and Christian people's party at spring 2015. Now it is completed, despite government's primary wish to abolish regional government, and despite the opposition's resistance. The reform may have revitalised county councils suffering from low legitimacy for decades. However, it is too early to conclude that the reform has given us more potent and relevant elected regional bodies, in accordance with the reform's aims. The reform has provided Norway with a new county structure, and parliament has decided that Norway will retain a system of regional government. Still, the regional reform's legitimacy is low in national politics. The reform gained a parliamentary majority due to political horse-trading. The opposition, still expressing discontent with the process and (partly) the result, was fought down in a divisive voting. Overall, very few central actors feel a strong commitment and ownership to the reform, partly due to the fact that that promises of decentralisation from the state to county councils - so far - are fulfilled only to a small extent. Moreover, local legitimacy of some of the new regional bodies seems to be low. Some amalgamations were decided on by parliament without the support of the county councils. Claims that these amalgamations should be reversed are strong in these counties. The starting-points for new county councils are very diverse, both when it comes to process experiences and other basic conditions. Common for them all, is that the amalgamation processes have been elite projects. public involvement was not required in the regional reform processes, as they were in the municipal reform processes.

Prosjektet står bak ei rekkje publikasjonar som bidreg til den norske og internasjonale kunnskapen om territorial strukturreform. Prosjektet har bidrege til å forsterke og fornye nettverka kring kommuneforskinga i Noreg og Norden, og har rekruttert inn nye krefter. Data som er samla inn i samband med prosjektet vil, i samråd med NSD, bli lagt til rette for forskarar som ynskjer å forske meir på reformene. Som følgjeforskingsprosjekt for reformer som føregjekk i sanntid, har prosjektet og prosjektets deltakarar lagt vekt på å bidra til prosessen gjennom formidling. Målgruppa har her både vore praktikarar/ aktørar i reformene (departementalt embetsverk og regional statsforvaltarar, i tillegg til folkevalde frå kommunar og fylkeskommunar), og den breie ålmenta. Vi meiner her å ha bidrege til ein opplyst og kunnskapsbasert fagleg og politisk diskusjon kring reformprosessane, vel å merke på ein slik måte at vi ikkje har pressa på for det eine eller det andre konkrete reformutfallet.

The object of the study, NLGR, was initiated in May 2014, and is supposed to end when a second main phase of municipal amalgamations has been implemented by the end of 2019 - which is also the project's end point. Based on a model where the reform is seen as a case of multi-layered policy co-formation, the project distinguishes between three main research themes; 1) NLGR as reform craftsmanship at central-government level; 2) NLGR as a series of local and regional reform processes; and 3) NLGR as a nationally consistent reform, with institutions and processes that coordinate across the reform's layers. These themes, each with specified research questions and topics, are reflected in the project's organisational model of data-gathering and thematic work-packages and sub-projects. Theoretically, the project is unified by attention to how reform processes at all levels are influenced by context (basic conditions, contemporaneous events and the NLGR process dynamics itself), and by the interplay of interests, ideology, information/facts, and institutions/history. Methodically, comparison is an essential tool - across countries, sectors, localized processes and historical time periods. Data collection in Norway involves survey methods, interviews and document studies, analyses of existing statistical data sources, as well as a number of case studies. The project is designed to accommodate cross-cutting use of data sources across research themes and by all members of the consortium. The project design will also be adjusted if the reform's progression makes that necessary.

Publications from Cristin

No publications found

Funding scheme:

DEMOS-Demokratisk og effektiv styring, planlegging og forvaltning