Task Force Experimentation!
Meet Johanna Kotipelto, Senior Specialist in Finland´s Prime Minister´s Office, as she and her team redefine the process of policymaking by encouraging experimentation on a large scale.
While Finland is well known for its many societal achievements, e.g., in the education sector, the Finnish Government, like many others these days, faces the challenge of adapting a rather slow process of doing politics to the fast pace of our time.
“Finnish people overall have a very hands-on mentality. If we see a challenge, we try to solve it,” Johanna Kotipelto says and adds, “but on the other hand, there are many laws and the public sector becomes more and more complicated. It´s almost a system of systems already and that makes change very slow.”
In 2015, Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s Government therefore introduced the notion of implementing an experimental culture as one of its 26 key projects. It started with a research programme called “Design for Government” that was commissioned by the Prime Minister’s Office and created by DEMOS HELSINKI, an independent think tank. The programme offers a model of evidence-based experimentation and a behavioural approach to problem solving. Other remedies tackling systemic slowness are administrative reforms and streamlined legal provisions.
When Johanna Kotipelto was recruited from the tax administration in May 2016 the team worked already at full speed.
“Our team of 4 to 5 people is often called task force, rapid action group or even government startup.”
The title is well-deserved! With their digital platform called Kokeilun Paikka, which roughly means a place to experiment, they mainly focus on supporting small-scale experiments with funding and crowdfunding, but also on offering a network to connect and exchange ideas.
Some of the experiments so far revolve around the topics of circular economy, new work in the future, basic income and volunteer work. People can propose their innovative ideas in the particular field and if they get selected, receive funding as well as help to execute their concept in a small controlled setting. If it proves to be working and benefitting people and society overall, it can be adjusted to also work on a larger scale and ultimately be implemented on government level.
At first, they were searching for completely new ideas, but with the help of a very qualified jury then realized that a lot of ideas already exist, but maybe need more recognition or can be executed in a different location. As a consequence, they also allowed the proposed innovations to be relational instead of absolute.
While the experimenting government got a lot of attention worldwide, especially with the large-scale basic income pilot study, there are still a lot of mountains to climb.
“If you compare it to flying a jumbo jet, for example, it is very difficult to switch the motor while flying in the air.”
Johanna explains some of the more challenging aspects of change. The learning curve for the task force was steep as they realized after their first publicly advertised challenge in 2017 that, “we needed to be more careful, more accurate and also more demanding in how to reshape and redesign the actual experimenting.”
Amongst community building and network detecting, having enough patience and perseverance are important qualities for this job. The outcome of the basic income study, for instance, will only be revealed after taxation for the year 2019.
“You need to really believe in what you are doing,” Johanna Kotipelto shares passionately, “and not being put down by the first or the second or third NO you get. You need to still believe that there is a point in doing this and that you just need to push forward.” No wonder she is sometimes called the spirit of experimentation
The passion and excitement for the work they are doing is as big in the government startup office as their plans and visions for the future. Johanna and her team definitely keep their eyes on the myriad of possibilities of collaboration, technology, exchange and human capabilities of this time and age. As the team is already functioning as an important force for spreading enthusiasm, their hope for democracy and an improved system of well-being for everybody is very high.
“It´s going to be a movement! I would like to see that governments, whether locally, regionally or on a country level, easily find best practices and good tested ways of action plans, services or projects and cooperate. And I hope that our work can serve as a role model!”
I love my city because it entails a lot of networks in different scenes.
I am a very passionate person.
The best work-related decision I ever took was to take this challenge and do this work.
Everyone can live more sustainable, simply by learning from others.
Every city should reach out for each other.