Lab 3: Bottlenecks to democracy

Sitra Lab 3 is a training programme that seeks solutions for overcoming the bottlenecks that hinder democracy and social participation.


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What is it about?

Societies are constantly changing on multiple levels. Today’s complex problems are not easily addressed by old paradigms and solutions. As the challenges faced by the environment and society change, we need to update our approaches.

A future laboratory is a practical training programme focused on finding new ways to solve complex societal problems. There are no exams or diplomas in this training programme, but there is a lot to do and many of the lessons learned are put into practice during the programme. This intensive programme will provide you with plenty of new networks, practical approaches and food for thought.

The training programme is based on future-oriented thinking, systems thinking and design thinking as well as the social innovation process. It brings together professionals from different sectors of society to co-operate and learn together. We are looking for a diverse group of participants to combine various types of knowledge, resources and experiences.

The aim of the future laboratory is to enhance the participating change-makers’ ability to create change, and their desire to be a problem solver and to acquire the capacity to take action in a complex world.

Theme: bottlenecks to democracy

The third instalment of the future laboratory is about to begin and the application period is now open. This time around, the theme of the future laboratory is bottlenecks to democracy.

The avenues and forms of participation are changing. Technological development, the diversification of the population, social media and the forms of relational power are creating a growing number of avenues and opportunities for participation and influence. The transformation involves both direct and representative participation methods.

Democratic participation is becoming more unequal. A recent survey by Sitra showed that there is a tremendous number of people in Finland who would want to exercise influence on societal issues if it were made easy enough for them. The avenues of participation also need to enable real impact. This way, people feel that their voices are heard and their participation is genuine.

Sitra Lab is a training programme and a community of changemakers. It is Sitra’s own future laboratory.

Who is it for?

We are looking for teams that aim to expand or establish forms of participation. They could represent a movement, community or operating model that has already been successful in creating the experience of participation but is having difficulty with the impact or dissemination of the model. The team’s initiative could also be an effective service or solution from a different field that the team wishes to apply to democratic participation.

We are looking for teams that work across the boundaries between sectors, whose activities are already reaching people, and that bring together complementary competences, such as an understanding of political decision-making and the accessibility of civic action or experience related to new social media channels and democracy education. We particularly value teams that have the necessary resources to reach target audiences that suffer from a participation deficit.

Examples of the intended participants in the future laboratory include active citizens, those who engage in preparatory background work for political decision-making, reformists with vision and specialists who want to apply their knowledge. What these groups have in common is the desire to address a current social problem and take action to solve it.

We will select a maximum of 10 groups of three to five members each.

This future laboratory is for you if:

  • you want to find and apply new perspectives and approaches to a topic that is relevant to you;
  • you have a team or group you can work with on this;
  • you can allocate a total of 12 days between 8 April and 9 December 2021 (the lab’s contact days) to developing your competences and making progress on the topic you have chosen;
  • you can also make progress on your topic outside of the lab’s contact days;
  • your team’s background organisation is committed to making progress on your topic.

Application process and the selection of participants

Admission to the future laboratory is based on an open application process. We are looking for participating teams that can represent any organisation or community. Teams can consist of three to five members. The team must have a topic or project that is related to the theme of this future laboratory.

Teams that are selected for the future laboratory can apply for pilot funding of 8,000 euros later on in the process. Applying for funding is contingent on the team having a community or organisation that is eligible for funding. Applying for funding is not a mandatory condition for participation.

We hope to find applicants from different parts of the country. To this end, we will enable participation in the future laboratory by teams from different regions of Finland by covering travel and accommodation costs incurred from participating. Collaboration between the participating teams will primarily take place online.

The application process for the future laboratory consists of two stages. To apply to participate in the future laboratory, teams need to submit an application form. Of the teams that submit an application form, we will choose at most 15 to be interviewed. Of the interviewed teams, we will choose a maximum of 10 to participate in the future laboratory. The selection process is based on the teams’ application forms and interviews with the teams.

Application process and training programme


  • The application period for participants is from 1 December 2020 to 11 January 2021.
  • Application clinics on Zoom: 4 December 11:00-13:00, 11 December 8:00-9:30, 16 December 13:00-15:00, 5 January 15:00-17:00 and 8 January 8:00-10:00. More information is available on the event page.
  • Interviews will be held during the period 1-16 March 2021.
  • The teams chosen for the programme will be announced on 19 March 2021.
  • The programme will start on 8 April 2021 and the other lab days attended by all of the teams together will be 13 April, 26-27 April, 6 May, 18 May, 15 June, 17-18 August, 31 August, 20 September, 14 October and 9 December.

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