The 2015 parliamentary elections are approaching; they will put Finland on a new path towards the future. Or will they? What will it take to set a new course for Finland? This was the theme of discussion at the weekly team meeting of Sitra’s strategy unit.
There is a very simple way of visualising this. In a linear model, the path can be indicated with two points: a starting point and an end point. Then we can select time as the dimension and the “current state” as the starting point for society. What is the current state of our society? What problems do we have? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What threats and opportunities does the current state harbour? The end point will be the “desired future state”. What will Finland be like in the future, for example in 2025? What should we prepare for? What is possible? What is desirable?
You might think that finding answers to these questions is easy, but it is not as straightforward as that. Our world is not linear. Our society is multidimensional and, depending on whom you ask, views and opinions on the current situation tend to differ. The public administration is tasked with the continuous formulation and updating of our understanding of where we are at the moment. This should also apply to the future.
In my work, I am particularly interested in drawing a picture of the future we need in order to find the right direction for Finland. There is no way of knowing, for sure, what the future will hold. We can envision an infinite number of alternative futures. But building scenarios will help us to prepare for whatever comes. In order to be as prepared as possible, we should examine the future from as many viewpoints as possible and try to pick what is relevant to our activities. Bearing this goal in mind, the Prime Minister’s Office is developing a new national foresight network, and the related co-operation models, for Finland. Sitra is contributing to this.
One way of testing these co-operation models in practice is through the “Futures” work of the National Foresight Network. The goal is to have an open and extensive group of participants imagine possible alternative futures for Finland. Other, equally important goals include developing the network and co-operation, and testing various tools.
The work of the National Foresight Network began with the collation of previous foresight work and opinion sharing at a joint workshop in December 2014. A long list resulted, from which topics were selected for further consideration. In the second workshop organised in late January, seven small groups discussed the topics selected, recording their ideas on a template. The idea-filled templates were then digitised and transferred to the public domain for comments via Word Online. The commenting phase will end this week and then preliminary future scenarios will be formed on the basis of the ideas collected. These draft future scenarios will be further processed in a third workshop, to be held in February 2015. The National Foresight Network’s final scenarios for the future will be published in March 2015. As the scenarios are further developed, it is hoped that they will provide us with greater help in reaching our desired future state, i.e. to make visions a reality.
The formulation of a national vision is the responsibility of the government, which enjoys the confidence of democratically elected MPs. The strategy for achieving the desired future state is presented in the strategic government programme. A vision thus forms a key part of the programme. For example, such a vision has occupied centre stage in the final report of the OHRA project and Sitra’s SAG research project. Sitra will present its own version of a strategic government programme in an event to be held on 10 February 2015.
What about my vision?
In 2025, Finland will have a leading national foresight network. New Finnish foresight techniques and tools will be developed to meet global needs. Open and inclusive processes will transcend sectoral and territorial boundaries and societal decision-making will be supported through close-knit foresight co-operation, in order to build a better tomorrow for Finland.