By Vanessa Deggins
At the end of April, I along with other Master’s Students from the Futures Studies program visited the Finnish government’s foresight unit in Helsinki. It consists of specialists from the Prime Minister’s office and Sitra, The Finnish Innovation Fund. The National Foresight Network is a mostly online forum of Finnish organizations that are active in foresight. Online forums and social media are used to engage citizens, businesses and other actors who may have valuable input. There is also an annual FinnSight Forum where government officials and foresight specialists come together to discuss various issues in preparation for the government’s annual report on the future. On the regional level, each of the 19 regions in Finland have at least one person working on foresight as part of a council that focuses on the areas specific interests and issues.
We started by introducing ourselves to our hosts and what future trends we were interested in. This ranged from education to renewable energy to artificial intelligence. Next, there were two presentations, the first from Kaisa Oksanen, a senior specialist with the Prime Minister’s Office. Kaisa explained the national foresight process for Finland and her unit’s role. They are able to work independent of parliamentary influence but their work is made available to them. Some reports include sustainable growth and its contributions to quality of life and the future of work and working life in Finnish society. They also hold workshops for civil servants to help them understand foresight and to develop a future oriented mindset in their policy decisions. One new trend Kaisa said they are working on is focusing on using experimentation in the decision making process and trying to encourage members of Parliament to take a more evidence-based approach to their work.
The next presentation was from Elina Kiiski Kataja, a foresight specialist with Sitra. She discussed one of Sitra’s most recent reports on the Future of Democracy. She explained that it is a system that hasn’t necessarily adapted much from it’s initial processes almost 100 years ago. This has lead to “democracy fatigue’ which is characterized by lower voter participation due to disillusionment or feelings of disconnection from elected officials. Key to fixing these issues, she said, is new methods of operation to bring about greater inclusion. These issues, it is believed, have lead to the rise in far right parties and populist politicians in many European countries and the United States. Specific examples include Donald Trump’s election in the United States and the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, which were not predicted by the current political models. Part of this change will be reconciling the differences and seeming conflicts between representative democracy and futures thinking, both of which Elina feels are important for any move forward.
Her article on the topic chronicles Finland’s representative structural changes since the 19th century. It has changed from the House of Estates, mostly aristocratic, to a representative democracy brought in by the Industrial Revolution and the rise of a large working class population. As the country has moved away from an largely industrialized society, the key is to figure out what will be the next class or estate that defines the next composition of society and future form of administrative authority.
(opinion) I found the visit very thought provoking as I am interested in how technology has disrupted and continues to disrupt not only society’s standard practices, but some structures of inequality that have been maintained throughout society for a very long time. The other side to this are the people who feel left behind because of the technology. These of course, are the people who are and have been losing jobs to automation, which is projected to continue. The bright side to this is that many jobs will also be created because of automation and I think key to this is to try to find a place for those who feel left behind. A hurdle would be people who don’t want to adapt to fit into these changes. We are all human after all. Another possible negative, as has been seen throughout the entire world, are outside forces, mainly politicians, using these issues to further ulterior motives that have had dangerous consequences. There is no silver bullet of course, and any plan to move forward will require changes on many different levels.
- Kansallinen Ennakointiverkosto – http://foresight.fi/info-in-english/
- National Foresight Cooperation – http://vnk.fi/en/foresight
- Committee for the Future – http://bit.ly/2pfM06V
- Sitra – sitra.fi
- Elina’s article on Democracy Fatigue – http://bit.ly/2qyV0YE