The narrative of Bildung (in Finnish: sivistys) must be updated to match today’s challenges. The social transformation that we all will be facing takes Bildung that gives us the capacity to reform and the wherewithal to respond to today’s wicked problems. Such Bildung also creates meaning and well-being that can replace consumerism.


This is what´s happening right now.


The Bildung+ project will increase the value of the traditional Bildung and update and expand this concept and all it encompasses. Hence the “plus” in the title of the project. The project was launched in spring 2020 and will run until June 2022.

Finnish Bildung has traditionally been strong. We have basic education that has been ranked as the best in the world, free higher education, a very extensive network of liberal adult education providers that spans the entire country as well as strong cultural institutions. Nevertheless, discussion around Bildung has slowed down over the past 50 years. It has been replaced by a lot of talk about competence. Now, however, the discussion around Bildung – which is a broader concept than competence – is picking up again. The Bildung+ project wants to support this new rise of Bildung together with the sector’s participants.

The goals of the Bildung+ project are:

  • strengthening public discussions on Bildung amid the societal changes caused by megatrends;
  • updating the narrative of Bildung, so that it becomes an enabling force for facing current societal challenges; Bildung+ creates meaning and well-being that can replace consumerism;
  • supporting new kind of Bildung activities.

What are we doing?

We work across the board with various participants in the field of Bildung. We are involved in several projects (either as a funding provider or as some other type of partner) that promote the development of a new narrative on Bildung and the strengthening of new kinds of Bildung activities. The projects share our goal of enhancing the public discussion around Bildung.

Our activities also include producing reports on topics related to Bildung. We are interested in how – and what kind of – Bildung ideals influence society and how these themes are reflected in media, the press and social media. For example, we explore the connection between Bildung and the relationship to nature, i.e. what is people’s place in the Bildung ideal and in nature.

We organise discussion events and workshops related to Bildung. Bildung+ breakfast meetings is a series of online discussions aimed at Bildung sector participants and others interested in Bildung. The focus is on working together to find a direction for Bildung in a time of wicked problems. Past topics of these breakfast meetings have included the ideals of lifelong learning, black feminism perspectives and the contributions of recent research to the discussion around Bildung. The Bildung+ experts also discuss Bildung themes in their blogs and articles.

Our sub-projects: 

  • DYNAMO, Dynamic Museum and Heritage Futures Workshop as instruments for ecological reconstruction. The concept of heritage futures (co-creation of new immaterial cultural heritage for sustainability transformation) has been applied in this sub-project, which aims to identify and develop the power of museums as actors in the cultural transformation for a sustainable future. Project is lead by the Finland Futures Research Centre.
  • Content creation for a permanent exhibition of the ”Bildung space” (a public showroom in Helsinki about the history and future of Bildung in Finland).​ The project is lead by the Finnish Lifelong Learning Foundation.
  • Future incubator of Bildung – a process to bring together old folk-Bildung organization’s and fresh new Bildung actors to learn from each other and to co-create deeper understanding on futures of bildung.​ The process was facilitated by Demos Helsinki.
  • A set of open discussions together with the Finnish National Gallery Ateneum to consider the curation and display of the permanent collection so that it embodies the current ideas of our time, including cultural dialogue, ecological sustainability and ideas of modernity and identities.
  • Sustainable Bildung for the Voluntary Sector. The aim of the project, managed by the Sivis Study Centre, is to create a vision for the Finnish voluntary sector over its current and future role as a promoter of Bildung. By undertaking a study, small-scale pilot activities and compiling a Bildung vision, the project helps civil society organization’s to improve the impact of their educational activities and foster Sustainable Bildung.
  • A study on the processes of how ideals affect society by Allegra Lab Helsinki.​
  • A study on how Bildung is present in the media (both regular and social media).​
  • A study on the relationship between people and nature: the classical theories of Bildung are anthropocentric, but are they still relevant?

Where are we now?

The last Bildung+ projects (link) and reports will be completed when the project ends in the early summer 2022.  There are also plans for two publications, one on the relationship between Bildung and future-oriented work and one that summarises the activities of the Bildung+ project.

Who is involved?

Sitra’s Bildung+ project involves a wide range of participants in the field of Bildung. They include both traditional Bildung participants as well as entirely new participants that may not have previously identified as being part of Bildung.

Why “Bildung”?

It is quite difficult to write about Finnish language concept of sivistys in English. There is no direct translation of the term. Sivistys encompasses aspects of such English terms as self-cultivation, scholarship, sophistication, civilisation, civility, education, edification, culture, creation, formation and literacy.

The same difficulty is also evident while trying to translate the Finnish concept to many other languages. The German word Bildung probably comes closest to corresponding to the meaning of sivistys.

Bildung is a complex concept that refers to knowledge acquired through education, transformative civic education, mental development and open-mindedness towards new information. However, even Bildung fails a bit in capturing the exact same meaning as sivistys. Bildung focuses perhaps more on the development of individuals than the term sivistys, which can cover more of the collective cultural aspect, too.

Sivistys is a broad concept that includes aspects from collective culture and its development to self-cultivation. The main aspects of sivistys could be described with three concepts: Bildung, civilisation and civility. But if one needs to choose only one, then Bildung is the best counterpart for sivistys to be used in texts, even in English.


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