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Lab log #27: How are innovation portfolios applied in Finland and around the world?

Global and societal challenges can’t be solved using individual projects and short term, siloed investments. Innovation portfolios seek to help tackle these challenges of innovation by promoting long term collaboration between different stakeholders and practices for learning together.


Mikael Seppälä

Living Labs specialist, Laurea University of Applied Sciences


In the spring of 2020 Sitra’s societal traning organized a series of workshops on innovation portfolios that was attended by participants from almost 20 Finnish or Finland-based organizations. The outcome of the series of workshops was the Radical uncertainty requires radical collaboration – Stepping stones towards systems transformation with innovation portfolios memorandum. The series of workshops began with an international workshop in January 2020 where we heard about the innovation portfolio approach and its applications from organizations that use it to deal with challenges related to sustainable development.

About a year later on wednesday 5.5.2021 the group came together again to share thoughts on the challenges and opportunities of applying innovation portfolios – now with a years worth of experiences. We heard from Niina Kuusanniemi-Abbotts from Cursor Ltd which develops entrepreneurship and tourism in the Finnish Kotka-Hamina area, Arnaldo Pellini from Capability Ltd who works on international development projects, Jenni Räsänen from the City of Helsinki and Päivi Myllykangas from the Council of the Tampere Region.

Innovation portfolios are applied in many ways

Jenni Räsänen coordinates an innovation portfolio in a programme that bridges the City of Helsinki’s culture and leisure division and social and health care division in order to promote services that support the movement and exercise of the elderly. The innovation portfolio they use supports building a holistic understanding of all the services the city and its external partners provide. Thus the services will better serve the needs of the elderly. The City of Helsinki has a project portal (in Finnish) where anyone interested can see the projects and their impact metrics.

Päivi Myllykangas from the Council of the Tampere Region spoke about their efforts in applying innovation portfolio thinking to the assessment of EU-funded projects. Different ideas were initially clustered around strategic themes according to official choice criteria and after doing that their possible impact was assessed from three different perspectives: systems orientation, capacity building and third, renewal and sustainability. During the process the innovation portfolio approach helped them make abstract concepts visible, visualise the connections between actors and issues and create a promising collection of projects that are linked together.

The international guest of the event was UNDP Innovation’s Giulio Quaggiotto who updated the group on what UNDP has been doing lately in applying innovation portfolios. Even though the approach has been taken forward for many years in the institution, they are still looking for answers for example on how to move from siloes to transformation funding. In addition to this, UNDP is considering how to move from leading projects to stewarding innovation portfolios and how to move from accountability to learning-based monitoring and evaluation.

You can watch Giulio’s presentation on YouTube:

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Giulio’s slides are available on Slideshare:

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Sitra’s societal training is continuing its strategic efforts in strenghtening the society’s capacity for change and increasing co-operation. One of the goals of this event was to probe the group’s perspectives on how we might promote the application of innovation portfolios in the future.

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