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Taneli Heikka: Network media is a digital hug from an expert

Can a group of experts communicate publicly in social media from the beginning so that anyone can listen in, provide comments and participate in the activities of the group?


Can a group of experts communicate publicly in social media from the beginning so that anyone can listen in, provide comments and participate in the activities of the group?

Sitra’s Synergise Finland development programme uses new methods in its internal and external communications that some may even find radical. The 23 development programme participants will follow the following principles in their communications:

  • Openness – The online group discussions will take place on open forums. Sitra’s Synergise Finland website and the related Facebook group are open to all.
  • Interactivity – The course participants will contribute to content production together with the Sitra experts.

In practice, this means a meeting room without walls: a descent of the expert group from the ivory tower to the ground level. Consequently, Sitra’s president Mikko Kosonen’s vision of Sitra as a platform on which Finnish well-being and competitiveness are developed will get an open digital form.

Dynamic interaction and appreciative encounters instead of ‘top to bottom’ communications

What is so radical about the activities of the Synergise Finland development programme? After all, this is part of everyday life for many young people and entrepreneurs working online.  However, expert groups’ chosen method of communication continues to be to provide officials and the public with an end report, ‘a mission for Finland’, to implement. As a result of this method, Finland is home to a pile of reports the size of a house; so high that if you were to jump from the top of it, you could hurt yourself badly. For years on end, these reports repeat more or less the same conclusions about what the crucial issues are for the retention of the Finnish well-being; conclusions which no one has ever implemented. No one has taken them as their own, since the mission has been given from above. Why is this?

‘New work’ is one of the themes of the Synergise Finland forum. Currently, it is not only the Finnish work life that is in crisis but also the top-down communications and management models typical of the old work practices. They are being replaced by two-way, interactive digital communications. It is possible that one reason new ways of working have not been found is because the attempt has been to create them through out-dated communications methods.

This change in thinking can also be described in very concrete way. To take the most tactile of examples: hugging.  

The participants of the Synergise Finland development group course met at Sitra last spring. The philosopher Esa Saarinen immediately got the group on the right track by talking about dynamic interaction and appreciative encounters. These kinds of appreciative encounters were experimented with in a three-minute hugging session at the beginning of the lecture. The atmosphere loosened up quite a bit. According to Saarinen, these kinds of appreciative encounters and walking side-by-side can generate ‘a magical uplift’ in working life which will help us surpass our limitations. 

Social media is a digital channel for tender and appreciative dynamics. Digitalisation offers a channel for presence, participation, reception of feedback, liking and commenting in a way that did not exist before. It is a form of appreciative interaction that authorities include the public as early as the beginning stages of planning.

It is a form of appreciative and economically necessary interaction that customers participate in digitally buying the products and even planning them in Finland that is moving on to service orientation.  It is a form of appreciative and cost-effective interaction that NGOs work where people anyway spend their time; in digital networks.

Crowdsourcing as a wellspring of new effectiveness

The Synergise Finland programme operates openly over the Web. Forum members can collect comments and hints for their coursework through Facebook or Twitter. This is commonly known as crowdsourcing. Despite its name, crowdsourcing does not always involve great masses of people. Even a single observation can increase the effectiveness of the work, take it in a completely new direction or add new spice to it.

The bottom-up communications method may be radical but when looked at more closely it is not entirely new. Many already implement this method in Facebook and Twitter. Incomplete issues are openly discussed. They may change directions or become something else along the way but this is not considered a public failure. It is seen as a smart operating method.

It may come as a surprise to many that government also expects its officials to learn these methods. The report Productive and innovative Finland – Digital agenda for the years 2011-2020 adopted by the Finnish Parliament in early 2011, requires that officials know how to use social media in their work. The future vision says:

”Social media is a crucial part of interaction and communications. The public has the opportunity to affect the preparation and decision-making through data networks and digital services.”

Moreover, the Finnish Business and Policy Forum EVA has expressed a wish that Finland move to the ranks of pathfinders in interaction on the field of e-democracy in particular, in which even numerous developing countries have overtaken Finland in the use of social media:

“These kinds of means may at first sight look like gimmickry or inconsequential from the perspective of traditional official work. However, the fact remains that the need for introducing these tools is acute.”
(In search of Modern Times – Finland’s Digital Future, EVA 2009).

The operating models are not yet ready. The tools are developing and no one knows what the correct method might be. President Obama is active in Facebook and collects thousands of reactions with each of his updates. President Halonen is only learning how to use Twitter. We at Sitra are collecting experiences and changing our operative model on the basis of what we have learned. Tell us what works.

Taneli Heikka

The writer is the founder of AvajaOpen Oy and works as a communications expert in Sitra’s Synergise Finland development programme.