Work Packages

To carry out the project, we have developed a research team consisting of highly experienced academics from nine Nordic universities. The team has been selected based on

- significant and relevant experience in research on Nordic democracy and public administration at different levels of government:
-  interdisciplinary understanding and experience (i.e. in the fields of political science, leadership, sociology, public health, economy, law and technology)
methodological diversity, that is, solid capabilities in advanced quantitative and qualitative data collection and analysis. 

The project is organised in five WPs and four professional research teams. A Nordic Coordinator (NC) heads each WP and is partnered with Nordic colleagues to ensure data collection in each country.

WP 1: Legal Focus 

A Legal focus on regulations adopted by the municipal councils. The implementation of national and regional measures and injunctions to manage the COVID-19 pandemic represents comprehensive intervention in people's lives (Graver 2020). WP1 will, through comparative legal dogmatic methods and interpretative text analyses, investigate the implementation of measures and injunctions to manage the COVID-19 pandemic with a special emphasis on the distribution of authority between the national, regional and local levels in Nordic countries. In Norway, the municipalities have adopted more than 300 regulations during the pandemic (, whereas decisions regarding infection control are largely made by national authorities in Sweden and Denmark. The study of the interaction between national, regional and municipal authorities emphasises on the distribution of authority in particular; who can decide what and who did what at different times; overlapping competences; a review of municipal decisions (what schemes exist and how are they used?). With regard to municipal decisions, prohibitions, injunctions and recommendations will be studied: the legal framework; scope; and international law and constitutional barriers, with a particular emphasis on human rights provisions. Furthermore, what purposes do municipal decisions serve? As to comparative analysis, the distribution of authority between the national, regional and local levels will be a starting point. We will shed light on this by selecting two or three types of infection control measures, such as closing schools, prohibiting visits to health care institutions and restricting inland travel. Another perspective is the role of the administration versus the elected representatives at all levels. This includes the extent to which local self-government across Nordic municipalities acts as an amplifier or suppressor of national crisis management strategies. 

A key result of the study will be a comprehensive overview of the regulatory frameworks for multi-level governance in the Nordic countries. While this outcome has its own value, WP1 will also provide input to the entire project. Furthermore, because the other WPs (especially WPs 3 and 4) will use surveys to collect and analyse data on experiences, including regulations from administrators, politicians and the population, the project will capture the experiences with the various national regulatory strategies in a unique way.....

WP 2: Public Health 

Public Health focus on the infection control and vaccine measures that have been implemented and the extent to which these measures have had desirable health effects in varying social policy contexts. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected population health (Greve et al. 2020) both directly and indirectly. Striking differences in the direct effects of COVID-19 (infection, hospitalisation and mortality rates) have already emerged between countries and between regions and municipalities within countries. The direct negative effects of the virus are evident as 

  • (i) immediate sickness and hospitalisation, 
  • (ii) COVID-19-related mortality, and 
  • (iii) long-term health impairments, such as reduced lung capacity, fatigue, and so forth. Increased prevalence of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) (cf. FHM 2021) is also likely among next of kin and among health personnel and other professionals working directly with COVID-19  patients. 

WP2 will examine cross-national, cross-regional and cross-municipal differences in the effects of COVID-19 and infection control measures on population health using administrative register data from the five Nordic countries. Direct effects will be captured from cause of death registries and COVID-19 infection registries (e.g. the Norwegian Surveillance System for Communicable Diseases (MSIS)). Indirect population health effects will be measured with register data on (somatic and mental) healthcare utilisation. A cornerstone of WP2 is the tracking and mapping, on the national, regional and municipal levels, of 

  • (a) the infection control measures implemented, and
  • (b) citizens’ access to health-promoting and -protecting public welfare services (e.g., income maintenance schemes) during the pandemic. 

The entire POLYGOV project team will assist in this mapping task (e.g. WPs 1 and 3), resulting in a rich contextual database that will be linked with the register data. Data on COVID-19-related mortality and infection rates are freely available on online platforms, whereas accessing individual-level register data on healthcare utilisation is both time-consuming and costly. For the latter analyses, WP2 will choose two Nordic country cases after careful scrutiny of the contextual database. By linking sociodemographic information to the healthcare utilisation register data (using approved security solutions), 

WP2 will investigate which social policy context has been best able to protect vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, the low educated and immigrants from low- and middle-income countries, from the harmful indirect health effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and support the SDGs. 

WP 3: Governance

A Public Governance focus on political and administrative leadership, management and the legitimacy of crisis measures. 

This WP is critical to uncover the management and outcome of the pandemic in the Nordic polygovernance setting. Through comparative case studies of policy choices identified in WP1 and WP2, each type of coordination and cooperation strategy will be related to the institutional framing of its logics and political leadership (Boin et al 2008, Nohrstedt et al. 2018). 

Central to this is the division of responsibility and authority, especially between politicians and CEOs. However, the composition of this apex varies between the Nordic countries (Mouritzen & Svara 2002). Our analytical points of departure will be 

  • (i) democratic challenges: Who is running the show? Are local politicians in the front seat, or are they just backseat drivers? What is the democratic anchorage, legitimacy and accountability of the coordination and cooperation measures?; and 
  • (ii) administrative managerial and leadership challenges: What form does crisis management take in practice in Nordic municipalities? The WP is guided by the idea that leadership matters, but how, where and under what conditions does it matter? 

WP3 will use data from WPs 1, 2 and 4 and combine them into general governance and institutional analyses, both of each country and comparatively. 

A significant result from this WP will be an updated overview and analyses of how the management of the pandemic is experienced by key actors in the local public governance systems.

WP 4: Organisational focus

An Organisational focus on how governance structures are implemented in the polygovernmental structure of the Nordic welfare states and on their citizens/users. 
The specific analytical unit of WP4 will be how the municipalities organise operational crisis management and coordination, including preparedness pre-outbreak plans and the succeeding operational handling of the crisis. Internally, this includes establishing municipal crisis staff, organising infection control teams, formulating strategies to track infection and transmission patterns, staffing of social and health departments, information units, technical services, systems for home offices, and so forth. 
For instance, the Infection Control Act in Norway gives authority to municipal doctors, and in practice, we see that municipal doctors have had a very strong position in the local infection control work, which will be further critically reviewed in relation to organization and the governance structures. 

Their relations, resources and power have to be seen in relation to the elected representatives and administration. They are key actors, or mediators, with a potential to reframe organizational settings and decision-making power that we will analyse through our comparative case studies. In addition, the handling of the pandemic also requires ongoing contact with a conglomerate of external agencies: local police and other emergency organisations, local and regional health authorities, NGOs, local labour and social authorities (e.g. NAV in Norway), other municipalities and private welfare providers, as well as national authorities, health supervision boards, medicines agencies, the County Governors and directorates for civil protection and emergency planning. These governance networks will also be mapped and analysed through a comparative organisational approach. 

The aim of WP4 is to map and analyse three different phenomena: 
  • (i) the organisational experiences in municipalities related to the organisation and coordination of the crisis, that is, actor constellations, strategies, processes, personnel, management and leadership and (crisis) communication; 
  • (ii) the experiences among County Governors (and alike) in all Nordic regions; 
  • (iii) the citizens' experience of the crisis and crisis management (attitudes, experiences and views), for instance, the extent to which the authorities' decisions are perceived as legitimate in the population. 

WP 5: Co-ordination & cross-country comparison 

Co-ordination and facilitation of cross-country comparison and learning. The cross-cutting theme that binds the previous WPs together is how (and how clearly) the inhabitants perceive the division of authority and responsibility, their relation to infection control measures in their own municipality (compliance and legitimacy), and whether the measures have affected the views of local political leaders. These results from the WPs builds on the common data collection, including the use of surveys (level 1), register data and process-oriented case studies of a small number of municipalities with a view to reconstructing decision-making processes (level 2).