Fredrik Svärdsten Nymans
I am an Assistant Professor in accounting at Stockholm Business School (SBS) at Stockholm University. I am also the deputy chair of the Academy of Management Accounting and Control in Central Government (AES), a meeting place for research, studies and dialogue about how the state should be governed. AES consists of representatives from various government agencies, working side-by-side with researchers to intiate, create and convey knowledge about governance.
I teach courses and supervise the writing of essays in accounting at both basic and advanced levels. I also supervise doctoral students in the field of accounting.
My research areas are:
- Management accounting and artificial intelligence
- Strategic management accounting
- Accounting literacy
- Audit and independence
- Performance audit
A selection from Stockholm University publication database
Strategic management accounting in the public sector context
2021. Linda Höglund (et al.). Journal of Public Budgeting, Accounting and Financial ManagementArticle
Purpose – The objective of this paper is to generate further knowledge about strategic management accounting (SMA) in the public sector context. We attempt to do this through a study of SMA work in a public sector agency (PSA), the Swedish Transport Administration (STA). The paper elaborates on the formation of the agency’s strategies and the challenges the agency’s SMA work had to deal with, and focuses its analysis on the interplay between SMA and the characteristics of the public sector as well as how it is constitutive of strategy.
Method – The empirical material was gathered between 2013 and 2015 and consists of documents that include the STA’s appropriation, mandate, strategic and operational plans, and balanced scorecard, as well as interviews with 35 civil servants at various levels of the STA.
Findings – The study finds that, depending on the performances of PSAs in their specific environment and the influences from the environment’s constituents, SMA may function as an instrument that makes or breaks strategies. The characteristics of the public sector context may therefore affect SMA, and by extension, strategy, in several ways. First, the present case shows that the inherent reduction that the focus of SMA techniques entails, and their inability to deal with the complexity of a PSA’s context, places them at constant risk of becoming strategically irrelevant in the eyes of knowledgeable local managers in a PSA. Second, interventions from the government may override a PSA’s SMA and in effect make a PSA’s strategic focus ambiguous. Third, outside monitoring performed by such actors as the National Audit Office and the mass media may influence a PSA’s SMA work both directly and indirectly when the agency and the government are responsive to the agenda set by such scrutiny.
Originality – The paper broadens the scope of earlier SMA research in the public sector by including the specific characteristics of the public sector in the analysis and how accounting techniques may come to compete for strategic placement as they are propelled from within and from without the organization.
The 'front stage' of substance auditing
2019. Fredrik Svärdsten. Financial Accountability and Management 35 (2), 199-211Article
Performance audit is a practice with a potentially high degree of democratic and political relevance. Supreme Audit Institutions (SAIs) have the authority to determine whether the undertakings in central government 'are working'; therefore, SAIs tend to be regarded as important guardians of transparency and 'good' public sector performance. For this purpose, audits of 'substance' are regarded as crucial by both the research community and the INTOSAI. Still, the literature on performance audit concludes that substance audits are rare, although they do exist. One explanation for this is that substance auditing can be a risky endeavour for the auditors, since the lack of generic accounting standards for 'good' public sector performance makes the performance audit reports vulnerable to criticism. The aim of this paper is to contribute to our understanding of substance auditing by detailing the ways in which such audits are presented in performance audit reports. Thus, the paper focuses its analysis on the 'front stage' of substance auditing and finds that the auditors rarely choose to stand on the front stage alone. Instead, they regularly support their authority by relying on other authorities, and when such authorities are lacking, the auditors are reluctant to present judgements in terms of 'good' (or poor) performance. In such cases, this paper suggests that the democratic relevance of the audits can be questioned.
Strategy work in the public sector-A balancing act of competing discourses
2018. Linda Höglund, Fredrik Svärdsten. Scandinavian Journal of Management 34 (3), 225-232Article
This study uses the concept of interpretative repertoires, i.e., localized discourses, to examine how facts are constructed about strategic work in a central government agency. It analyzes strategic work in relation to the public sector context and draws attention to power struggles among different discourses in this context. The identified repertoires can be related to wider public sector management discourses that civil servants need to balance in their strategic work. These discourses can both enable and constrain strategy work, and we conclude that strategy in the public sector needs to be understood in relation to these discourses.
Strategic Management in the Public Sector
2018. Linda Höglund (et al.). International Public Management Journal 21 (5), 822-849Article
Strategic management (SM) has become prominent on the agenda in several public organizations due to new public management (NPM) reforms. Nevertheless, there are few studies investigating how public organizations apply SM in practice and what tools are used. As a result, calls have been made for such studies. This article can be seen as an attempt to meet this call by presenting a qualitative case study of how SM has been applied in the Swedish Transport Administration (STA), a central government agency in Sweden, and what tools it used in strategy making. By analyzing the micro processes of strategizing at STA, our results indicate that public organizations need to be aware of at least three specific tensions that can enable or constrain strategy making. These tensions are: short v. long-term, parts v. whole, and reactivity v. proactivity.
Spänningar i styrningen: en strategisk angelägenhet
2016. Mikael Holmgren Caicedo (et al.).Report
In the absence of detailed steering
2015. Fredrik Svärdsten. Scandinavian Journal of Public Administration 19 (2), 109-127Article
One of the main unintended consequences of NPM-reforms is increased detailed -steering and recentralization due to attempts to decentralize the public sector, which, in turn, leads to restrictive hierarchical accountability relationships. This paper reports an attempt by the Swedish government to solve these problems by decentralizing the Swedish central agencies’ performance reporting and thereby broadening the possibilities of accountability in the Swedish central government. Whereas several studies have presented cases in which the “superior” (e.g., the government) is the main driver behind detailed performance control and recentralization, the findings in this paper show that centralized detailed control can be highly desirable for those accountable for their performance. In line with findings made in previous studies, the decentralization in the Swedish central government is now followed by a recentralization. However, this recentralization is mainly driven by the central agencies and not by the government. The paper suggests that to understand the dynamics between decentralization and recentralization in the area of public performance reporting, it is necessary to consider institutionalized reporting structures as well as the difficulties associated with defining performance. This allows for further insights into the possibilities of broadened accountability in the public sector.
Strategier och strategigenomförande: En fallstudie inom Trafikverket
2015. Linda Höglund, Fredrik Svärdsten.Report
Forskning om resultatmätning i organisationer inom offentlig sektor
2013. Fredrik Svärdsten.Report
2012. Fredrik Svärdsten Nymans (et al.).Thesis (Doc)
The aim of this thesis is to problematize how and under what conditions organizational performance is constituted in the practices of performance auditing and accounting. Organizational performance disclosure is a world-wide phenomenon for enabling accountability relationships in large organizations regardless of the societal sector they operate in. In constitutive accounting literature, there is a well-established notion that accounting and performance auditing enable “government at a distance” by representing organizational actions and results of those actions, i.e. by constituting performance. Accounting and performance auditing have been regarded as “technologies of government” that make government from spatial and temporal distances possible by linking political and programmatic ambitions, i.e., the will of a superior, to everyday organizational conduct. However, whereas many previous studies of accounting and performance auditing as technologies of government focus on the discourses over the technologies of accounting and performance auditing, this thesis focuses its analysis on the operationalization of these technologies in local organizational settings. By studying the constitution of performance in the practices of accounting and performance auditing this thesis contributes by problematizing that which supposedly makes government at a distance possible.
The thesis is based on two case studies of performance audit and two case studies of performance reporting. On the basis of these papers, the thesis studies the constitution of performance in performance auditing and accounting. Whereas the constitution of performance may seem stable and unproblematic at the level of discourse, this thesis suggests that constituting performance is a complex process of social construction that requires significant organizational efforts and that the ability of accounting and performance auditing to connect political and programmatic ambitions to daily organizational conduct cannot be taken for granted. The thesis suggest that once we acknowledge that performance is a socially constructed representation of organizational actions and begin to pay attention to how performance is constituted in local organizational settings, we can find new ways of addressing the ongoing challenge of constituting performance in accounting and performance auditing and increase our understanding about the ability of these practices to enable government at a distance.
Value for money and the rule of law
2011. Anders Grönlund, Fredrik Svärdsten, Peter Öhman. International Journal of Public Sector Management 24 (2), 107-121Article
Purpose – This paper aims to develop a classification scheme of different types of value for money(VFM) audits with different degrees of compliance audit, and to classify the performance audits carriedout by the Swedish National Audit Office (SNAO) during its first six years as an independent stateaudit organization reporting to parliament.
Design/methodology/approach – The empirical data were gathered from all of the 150 auditreports published by the SNAO from its establishment in 2003 to the end of 2008. Seminars werearranged to discuss the classifications for validation.
Findings – The focus on traditional VFM audits (the “Three Es”) is unusual. Most audits carried outby the SNAO combine different types of extended VFM audits with compliance audit. On the onehand, they audit how the government and/or central agencies fulfil their mandates (from good to bad).On the other, they audit how the government and/or central agencies adhere to legislation, rules andpolicies (right or wrong). In some cases, the SNAO equates compliance audit with performance audit.
Practical implications – The authors have verbalised and visualised performance audit activities of interest not only to state auditors, but also to external stakeholders. One practical implication is thatthe Swedish national audit committee has conducted an evaluation of the SNAO that is partly based onthe national report of this study, and has proposed a stronger focus on the Three Es.
Originality/value – The study addresses a new approach in terms of a classification scheme forperformance audits, consisting of eight types.
Accounting, Calculative Infrastructures and Commensuration work
2022. Fredrik Svärdsten Nymans, Sven Modell.Conference
This paper addresses the questions of what prompts organisations to engage in commensuration work, defined as the efforts that evaluated organisations expend in pursuing and dealing with resistance to commensuration, and how such work unfolds where a broader assemblage of calculative infrastructures underpins societal reform programmes. We explore these questions in the context of Swedish central government during a period when calculative infrastructures, that entailed a considerable element of commensuration, were partly de-stabilised by governance reforms that sought to increase the autonomy of government agencies. In contrast to prior research on commensuration, that has mostly conceived of commensuration work as a reactive response to external pressures, we advance a multi-layered view of such work that recognises that it may entail pro-active as well as reactive layers and that these layers may be implicated in an intricate interplay as organisations seek to align their accounting practices to calculative infrastructures. Through a field study in an individual government agency, we show how such commensuration work emerged and unfolded and how this helped the agency to reconfigure its accounting practices and realign them to the calculative infrastructures that evolved in Swedish central government. Our findings have important implications for how we conceive of organisations’ pursuit of commensuration and how organisations deal with resistance to commensuration. We discuss the implications for future research on commensuration as well as cognate areas of scholarship such as research on calculative infrastructures and the broader literature on governmentality from which we draw inspiration.
Partially responsible? Partial organization and (de-)responsibilization in sustainability standard work. Illustrations from two opposite certification practices.
2022. Fredrik Svärdsten Nymans, Kristina Tamm Hallström, Carl Yngfalk.Conference
The paper contributes to the emerging discussions on responsibility implications of partial organization in the world of standards, that is, decided order outside of and among formal organizations around the use of standards (e.g., Arnold, 2020; Gustafsson & Tamm Hallström, 2018; Gustafsson, 2020; Brunsson et al. 2022). More specifically, we are interested in responsibility implications in how sustainability is performed in contemporary markets through sustainability standards and certifications. Rather than focusing on how sustainability standards are implemented (or not) in organizations, the paper answers the recent call by Christensen, Morsing and Thyssen (2017) to examine productive implications of organizational work with sustainability standards in terms of contestation, reflection and innovation around sustainability issues.
Accordingly, we examine if, how and why different modes of organizing standard work construct and shape responsibility in and around organizations complying with sustainability standards. We draw on two empirical studies of certification practices with different degrees of partial organization: one where one and the same organization sets standards and performs certification (the Swedish LGBTQI certification used by e.g., preschools and libraries), and another where different “independent” organizations write standards and perform certification (the Swedish eco-label KRAV for organic produce used by e.g., farmers and retailers).
Our findings show that the conditions for contestation, reflection and innovation, and thus the performance of sustainability in markets, indeed are affected by the way certification standards are (partially) organized – and thereby the number of organizations involved in partially organizing others – however in more intricate ways than expected.
Arnold, N. (2020) Accountability in transnational governance: The partial organization of voluntary sustainability standards in long-term account-giving. Regulation and Governance, 28, 1–17.
Brunsson, N., Gustafsson, I., & Tamm Hallström, K. (2022). Un-responsible organization. How more organization produces less responsibility. Forthcoming in Organization Theory.
Gustafsson, I. (2020). How standards rule the world: The construction of a global control regime. Edward Elgar Publishing.
Gustafsson, I., & Tamm Hallström, K. (2018). Hyper-organized eco-labels – An organization studies perspective on the implications of Tripartite Standards Regimes. Food Policy, 75, 124–133.
The "death" of calculation
2020. Bino Catasús (et al.).Conference
This paper draws attention to people’s pension savings and their responses to the increasing calls urging them to engage in practices of calculation about their future life as retirees. Recurring studies report that these calculation exercises have turned out to raise problems to people, provoking – at times – frustration or even indifference among pension savers. But why is that so? Why do people not engage in this kind of calculations?
Prior literature suggests that mechanic calculation presupposes a set of conditions. Individual knowledge-based capacity (Lusardi and Mitchell 2007) as well as commensurate translations that enables possibilities for comparisons between different kinds of choices (Espeland and Stevens 1998; Callon & Law, 2005) are but a few conditions that are suggested to be fulfilled in order to make rational calculation feasible. There are situations, however, when calculation is called for and expected to be attended to without controversy, but still turn out as moments where rational principles of calculation do not seem to apply (Espeland and Stevens 1998). Calculating one’s pension might be argued to represent one such situation. Based on our empirical observations, the basis for rational calculation seems to be challenged when pension savers are asked to imagine an existence taking place in a future several decades ahead from the life they lead today. Hence, in order to further explore the reasons to this experienced calculative dilemma, we ask: What role does future play in practicing pension calculations?
The aim of this paper is to extend our understanding of the conditions of calculation. The idea is to investigate situations in which calculation entail dilemmas of rationality. To frame the conditions of calculation, we draw on Jaspers’ idea of boundary situations (2010). A boundary situation is a moment in which a person is faced with discrepancies and contradictions that cannot easily be resolved by means of rational thinking. We suggest that people’s pension management offers such a moment, investigating how people read and understand pension accounts in the light of a future that involves different kinds of ‘deaths’: the termination of professional life; the consequences of physical decay, and the end of life itself.
The study demonstrates that practices of calculations inevitably links to imagining the future but also, and by consequence, how calculations become circumscribed when these future imaginations involve existential concerns that rule out rational reasoning. In such cases, calculations transforms into a practice that stretches beyond rationality, suggesting that when the future is unimaginable, calculation becomes nonsensical or even absurd. This, in turn, adds a time dimension to the conditions of calculation, an issue which to date has not explicitly been addressed in prior accounting literature.
Accounting talk and emotions- a study of the sense making process of accounts
2018. Charlotta Bay (et al.).Conference
This paper is concerned with the role of emotions in reading and interpreting financial accounts. Even though people’s capacity to understand accounting to a large extent has been taken as given in the accounting research field, some studies have shown that accounting information nor the ability to interpret it, seldom inhibit any universal meaning. Prior research demonstrates how accounting users tend to engage in various kinds of sense making activities, referred to as “accounting talk”, in which cognitive capacities are developed, helping people translating accounting information into local contextualized knowledge. Whereas previous studies of accounting talk have focused on how the individual’s cognitive resources are developed, this paper broadens the analytical scope to include the emotive resources for making sense of financial accounts. The paper provides a detailed close-up of how pension-savers interpret and react to financial accounts presented to them during individual pension advisory meetings. Informed by a sociological approach to emotions, the empirical results indicate that emotions play several but different roles in people’s interpretations of financial accounts, and should not necessarily be perceived as inhibiting people’s cognitive sense-making ability. In fact, the relation between rational reasoning and emotions in relation to accounts should be understood as a symbiotic interdependence.
Demography, ideologies and finance
2018. Bino Catasús (et al.).Conference
This paper reports from a study of four pension reforms in Sweden over the last century. The paper tests the dominant idea that pension systems as well as accounting technologies are a part of the neoliberal influenced financialization of the private sphere. Although corroborating the proposition about financialization, the paper suggests that programs such as financialization is temporal because they are challenged by obligatory points of controversy. These obligatory points of controversy recur over time as issues that pension systems need to handle with decisions and calculations. The study finds that the obligatory points of controversy, however, are never solved because they interact and are in flux. In Sweden, the three controversies that are repeated are the discussion of demography, finance and ideology. These three issues forces the decisionmaker to answer such issues as “what is it to be Swedish?”, “can we afford this?” and “what is our idea of involvement between of the state/the private sector?”
The bumblebee flies - right? A story about an alternative construction of independence
2017. Fredrik Svärdsten, Kristina Tamm Hallström.Conference
Independence tends to be thought of as necessary for audit quality (Humphrey & Moizer 1990;Sikka & Willmott 1995; Jeppesen 1998; Power 2003, 2011; Kouakou et al. 2013; TammHallström & Gustafsson 2014). Auditors are experts with integrity – through their capacity tokeep a distance to the practice being audited and other commercial or political influences auditorsare expected to remain independent and thereby valuable. A central belief in auditing as well asother certification services is that users of these services should find value in receiving assurancefrom someone who has the incentive to provide good quality assurance, and this quality is partlydependent on independence (Jamal & Sunder, 2011).
Auditing can be understood as an assembly of techniques linked to ideas and rationales whosecharacter may change over time. For more than a century, the audit profession has played acrucial role in defining and promoting the independence of financial audits. Through standardsdeveloped by an independent, expert-based organization the politics involved in rule setting iskept at a distance from the auditing work that supposedly is turned into a transparent, neutral and“technical” matter of comparing rule against practice. Also, auditors are disciplined throughprofessional codes of conduct to support their independence towards the auditee. Withinauditing situated within a broader field of assurance, inspection, certification, accreditation andother oversight bodies, however, the role and organization of independence may differ bothacross time and space (Gendron et al., 2001; Power, 2011). The purpose of this paper is tocontribute to the emerging debate within critically oriented accounting research about therelationship between independence and audit and more specifically about ways of constructingindependence within diverse auditing contexts. This knowledge is specifically requested by bothaccounting and certification scholars, viewing independence as a social construct and thusdependent on context (cf. Jamal & Sunder, 2011; Power, 2011; Kouakou et al. 2013).
In order to advance the knowledge about the construction of independence within auditing, wehave studied an auditing practice in the “margins” (Miller, 1998), that is, within a new area ofauditing where independence norms and practices are not given or institutionalised. Morespecifically, we have studied the LGBTQ certification developed in 2008 and run by the SwedishFederation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Rights (RFSL). The RFSLcertification differs from many other audit operations in several ways: they decide themselveswhat standards should apply for the certification and adapt these standards to each operationbeing audited; they offer training to the operations that they are going to audit; and the auditorswho conduct the actual certification have no professional affiliation (like financial auditors) oraccreditation (like certification auditors) to guarantee their independence in the context of anaudit. From an independence perspective, this might seem like an “impossible” organization, andso to explain this we investigate how the RFSL works with and justifies the organization of itscertification, as well as how stakeholders around the RFSL perceive this certification.2 In thisway, we are able to analyse and explain what the RFSL bases its credibility and its potentialindependence on.
Opening the black box of distance within the context of auditing
2017. Ingrid Gustafsson, Fredrik Svärdsten, Kristina Tamm Hallström.Conference
In this paper we analyze the role of distance in the construction of independence in financial and certification auditing. The ideal of independence tends to be regarded as a core value and the key feature for our trust in auditing services and the construction of independence has been of interest for auditing researchers for a long time. Previous studies of financial audit have shown that independence is commonly secured through the establishment of generic auditing standards. Through standards auditing work supposedly is turned into a transparent, neutral and rather “technical” matter of comparing rule against practice which, in turn, also safeguards independence in relation to the auditee. Another, complimentary way of constructing independence in financial auditing is to refer to a professional ethos, disciplining the auditor to be independent from the auditee. In the world of certifications, the idea of using a generic standard dominates and for the construction of independence to be credible, it is also important that the organization setting such standards is not the same as the organization performing the audit. Moreover, there are specific accreditation organizations auditing the certification auditors with reference to standards set by another (standard-setting) organization and by such auditing procedure granting independence for the certifier, a rational ideal of a watchdog watching the watchdog through means of organization. In sum, independence is constructed by referring to a professional ethos, by using generic auditing standards or by organizational separation. Furthermore, auditing work is supposed to avoid involvement of political and commercial interests.
One common denominator in these independence constructions is that independence is closely connected to the idea of distance: in order for the auditor to be independent, some sort of distance is needed from the auditee. Being independent and keeping a distance from the auditee is, in turn, assumed to create trust in the audit. However, as we conceptually elaborate and empirically show in this paper, audits can gain trust in other ways than the common assumption: trust can be installed in audits even though the auditor is not clearly separated from the auditee, even though the auditing process is not made transparent by standards, even though the auditor is providing consultancy and even though the audit has a clear political agenda. By discussing ideas of independence in relation to different dimensions of distance, we contribute with new insights into how auditing practices are organized in order to be trustworthy. We also contribute with new theoretical insights to the discussion about distance and independence within both the financial and certification audit literature.