Welcome to my bubble! Many of us in Finland see it as the best place in the world to live. It has the quirkiest people, the most poetic, though incomprehensible and inaccessible language; a remarkably beautiful but often harsh nature endowment; the coolest urban centres, even though they can seem a bit ‘edgy’ at times and the most enlightened governance/ government which seeks to help its citizens to pursue their lives in sustainable and meaningful ways, with a sense of purpose and contentment. “What’s not to like?!”… as my better half would say.
Plenty of room for improvement however remains. One of the issues that I’ve mulled over in recent years is our ability to be resilient and agile, inclusive and welcoming and to work across geographical, professional and disciplinary as well as sectoral boundaries. In 2018, I was involved in a Sitra (www.sitra.fi) project where we explored the possibilities of a more systems- and phenomenon-based approach to governance and administration, building on the tradition and historical success of Finnish good governance, whilst at the same time wishing to renew it in ways that are better suited to the complex societal challenges of today – from global mega trends to everyday conundrums. The project resulted in a discussion paper aimed squarely at policy makers and a collection of tools promoting a more phenomenon-based dialogue and planning approach, aimed at everyone and anyone wishing to engage in a more system-driven and multi-perspective approach to planning and strategy-work. It also provided a platform for thinking about our societal dialogue and knowledge base. Systems-thinking provides a useful starting point for many human and social endeavours. It may help us to escape our bubbles, even.
This was the start of a journey that has, for me, been one of discovery and joy but also one of deep frustration. Why is it so difficult for us to work together across boundaries? Why are we so easily dissuaded from making the effort to conceive of problems and solutions across boundaries, from multiple perspectives and in exploring issues and phenomena with empathy? Why are we so easily locked in our perspective(s) and unable to shift focus with empathy? Why are cognitive biases so strong? In order to train our minds, our thoughts and actions to be more phenomenon-based and systems-oriented, we also launched a loose network together with colleagues from ministries, agencies and small expert companies, entitled “ILMIÖKERHO” (“Phenomenon club”) in collaboration with fellow experts, civil servants and people from different walks of life in order to ponder these issues further. It was initially set up as an informal network, with a Facebook page and a few engaged individuals. We now number about 260 people in this “club”, meeting occasionally around a phenomenon that we consider worth exploring from multiple perspectives (ranging from climate change and its impact on consumer behaviour and lifestyle choices to trust, confidence and integrity in the public sector). In May we even organised a pop-up club meeting at the Finnish parliament, thanks to a fellow “clubber” from the State Audit Office.
During the last year or so we have collectively and individually explored what a more “phenomenon-based” policy, planning or exploration or our society could entail. This has led us into really interesting discussions about why we need a more phenomenon-based mindset, the changing nature of expertise, changing our everyday practice, solution-based methods, empowering dialogue, collaboration and cold and warm data. There is so much to explore and we can only do it in a collaborative framework. This also brings into focus the need to look for better ways of working together, as networks and teams. I’ve often used the wisdom of Stanley McChrystal’s “Team of Teams”, where the three E’s are central to coming to a shared understanding and collective solution: engagement, exploration and empowerment. When working together towards a shared goal or solution, we can only achieve common value if we are willing to engage on equal terms and are able to explore, experiment and search for answers together. In so doing we can even be empowered. Who knows.
This goes to the heart of the promise of phenomenon-based policy. I see it not as being intrinsically of value in itself but rather as being more in line with the conundrums that currently crowd our societal agenda and by extension as being at the heart of the main characteristics of policy today: 1) the capacity for better policy consistency and coherence which can, in turn, be more effective in achieving policy impacts; 2) the systems-approach: making the causalities, root causes and interconnections more visible and in so doing, focusing greater attention on the knowledge- and evidence base of policies; and 3) creating a more open and inclusive dialogue across the various sectors and policy spheres – each of which can be seen as having an intrinsic value of their own – leading, perhaps, to more inclusive policies and a more deliberative-style of public policy-making.
Now I wish to open up the discussion further by establishing this blog. My intention here is to discuss, share and explore what I feel are interesting phenomena in Finland. Some of them may be connected to political debates, some are professional musings, while others are altogether more personal explorations, perhaps discovering hidden gems when travelling to different parts of Finland.
I love my hometown, Helsinki, but I am always eager to explore new places to visit and to find interesting and enjoyable corners in everyday life. Finland for me is a phenomenally good place to live, but we should not be complacent; things can always be improved, and this requires collaboration across societal sectors. Society as a whole is also very contextual, fragile and susceptible to contrasting interpretations. This is why phenomenon-based thinking and dialogue is so valuable. I hope you will join me in this journey of discovery into Finnish life and its phenomenal potentials!
Some Finnish phenomena and some external glimpses into them worth checking out:
Hyvä elämä, “the Good Life”: https://www.helsinki.fi/fi/uutiset/hyvinvointiyhteiskunta/frank-martela-hyva-elama-on-itselle-arvokkaiden-asioiden-etsintaa, https://frankmartela.com/2017/12/22/the-meaning-of-life-what-makes-life-worth-living-in-one-sentence/
Good life in the shrinking regions and communities:
Happiness (in all of its shapes and sizes, though not everyone would consider it happiness, some – especially Finns ourselves – have been sceptical and see the ranking more in terms of the absence of unhappiness or misery than active happiness. See: https://qz.com/1276649/the-happiest-country-on-earth-is-finland-and-finns-arent-happy-about-it/):
Urban life in Finland: https://urbanfinland.com/
Kaupunkiaktivismi, ‘urban activism’: https://kaupunkiaktivismi.wordpress.com/
Local action in villages and suburbs: www.suomenkylat.fi
Finnish research in rural development: http://www.mua.fi/the-finnish-society-for-rural-research-and-development/
Finnish research in urban development: http://www.kaupunkitutkimuksenseura.fi/tutkimus
The Nordic Theory of Everything: https://www.anupartanen.com/the-nordic-theory-of-everything/
Phenomenon-based education: https://www.progressiveteacher.in/the-finnish-phenomenon-in-education/
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