From coats and arms to brands

Research project
Active research
Project owner
Department of Journalism, Media and Communication

Ridderstads stiftelse för historisk grafisk forskning

Short description

The aim of the project is to describe and explain Swedish governmental agencies’ efforts to create an image have changed from the early 1970s until today. The project analyses, among other things, the signs and symbols agencies make use of, what activities agencies perform and how the work is conceptualized as well as organizational and institutional factors influencing these efforts. A central part of the project is to see if these efforts have changed over time and how such changes can be understood and explained.

The conditions for Swedish governmental authorities changed during the latter part of the 20th century, just as they did for public administrations in many other countries. A number of reforms – sometimes subsumed under the heading ”New Public Management” (NPM) – were implemented to reorganize the organizations in accordance with market principles. From the political sphere, the aim was to increase efficiency, improve quality and strengthen the public sector’s reputation.

As a consequence of this, the organization, direction and management of governmental authorities have changed. One of the more obvious transformations is that authorities have transitioned from being administrations to being organizations. In this way, management has been given greater autonomy and scope of action to independently make crucial decisions on goals and strategies. As a result, governmental authorities have increasingly come to be directed on the basis of business-like principles.

During the same period, visibility, reputation and trust have become important aspects of government agencies’ communication activities, and the emphasis on creating an image for the organization has increased. Just as businesses have done, authorities have begun developing visions and core values, and the ”brand” has come to be a recurrent concept in authorities’ communication strategies.

Government agencies brand orientation could be considered a direct consequence of NPM reforms, but as opposed to municipalities and counties, there are few authorities whose activities are exposed to competition. The question is: If it is not a matter of competition, what is driving agencies’ focus on their brand?

The aim of the project – entitled ”From coats of arms to brands” – is to describe and explain how Swedish governmental authorities’ efforts to create an image have changed from the early 1970s until today. Five specific questions constitute the project’s point of departure:

  1. What signs and symbols do Swedish authorities use, and from what symbolic worlds are they derived?
  2. What do the image-creation efforts of Swedish authorities consist of? What products, services and activities are involved? Who is responsible for these efforts and to what degree do these efforts direct (or are they directed by) other enterprises – and if such external involvement exists, what enterprises are involved?
  3. What concepts do authorities use to describe their efforts to create an image and what do these concepts stand for? Are certain concepts of actual importance to how work is done, or is it simply the case that new labels are being attached to what the authorities have always done?
  4. What is driving Swedish government agencies’ efforts to create an image? If it is not competition, what is it?
  5. How have the answers to the above questions changed over time, and how can we explain and understand these changes?