Determined Finns believe in the future and build it

Amidst a changing environment and societal changes, we Finns still have a strong belief in the future. Even in the midst of surprises and crises, we feel that we can make a difference to the future. This was reflected in Sitra's latest Future Barometer and the publication Megatrends 2023.
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The Future Barometer, published by Sitra in early March 2023, is based on a survey of 2,150 continental Finns aged 15-84. They were asked not only about their attitudes towards the future and how they had influenced the future, but also how Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine had affected their views on the future and what is important for the future in Finland. Previous Future Barometers have been published in 2019 and 2021.

Finns' strong belief for the future surprised Jenna Lähdemäki-Pekkinen, Sitra's foresight expert. She says that we clearly have crisis resilience and confidence in society. In her view, a strong belief in the future is an asset for Finnish society.

Despite the crises of recent years, Finns still have a strong belief in the future. Belief in the future was measured by interest in the future. 87% of respondents said they strongly or somewhat agreed with the statement "I am interested in the future". There are some differences between respondents in terms of education, age, and life situation. In particular, those most interested in the future were those with an academic education (91%), those aged 15-24 (91%), those aged 25-34 (90%), those with an excellent or fairly comfortable financial situation (90%). Those who were least interested in the future were those who would not vote (76%) and those who have to make financial compromises from time to time or on almost everything (79%).

Finns will not remain inactive. 81% of respondents to the Future Barometer survey feel that we can influence what the future will be like. In addition, 80% believe they can influence their own future. 84% of women believe in the general and 82% in their own influence, while men have 78% in both cases. Western Finns experience the strongest opportunities for influence, Northern and Eastern Finns experience them the weakest. Young people (15-24 years old) are the most confident that we can influence the future (87%)

How is Finland's future seen?

According to the Future Barometer, around one third see the future as better than the present and around one third as worse. A little more than one third of respondents see the future as neither better nor worse than the present. Russia's war of aggression in Ukraine, Finland's accession process to NATO and other changes have not dramatically altered Finns' attitude towards the future. In 2021, the percentage of those who see Finland's future as worse than the present was 25%, in the latest barometer it was 28%.

The major crises of recent years - the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian War of Invasion - have made it even clearer how the consequences of these events affect different parts of the world. No change happens in a vacuum. Sitra's Mega Trends 2023, published in January, presents the big picture of change through five themes: nature, people, power, technology, and the economy. Based on research and statistics, future trends are summarised as follows.

Nature's carrying capacity is crumbling. The ecological sustainability crisis of global warming, habitat loss, overconsumption of resources and environmental pollution is seriously destabilising our society. There is a growing urgency for ecological reconstruction, i.e., the transition to a society that improves the state of nature and human well-being.

The challenges to well-being are growing. Many changes in Finnish society and globally are challenging human well-being. Population is ageing, becoming more varied and concentrated in growth centres. Changes in working life, environmental crisis, pandemic and general uncertainty about the future are increasing anxiety and mental health problems.

The battle for democracy is getting tougher. Social systems are being put to the test as crises accumulate. Democracies are being challenged from within society and from outside - also in Finland. The escalation of debate, stirring up confusion and geopolitical power struggles create the need to reform decision-making and strengthen democracy, participation, and citizen empowerment.

Competition for digital power is intensifying. Technology is evolving rapidly, and new technologies are being introduced in new areas of life. More and more data is being collected and used to provide new tailored services for both individuals and organisations. At the same time, there is a dispute over digital power, i.e. who collects and uses the data. There are also battles over the rules of the game in the digital world, the resources that technology requires and, more generally, the direction of technological development.

The foundations of the economy are cracking. Growing global inequalities and the environmental crisis create the need to reform the economy. Prosperity is concentrated among a shrinking number of people, and the rise of extreme weather conditions and the collapse of services provided by nature are eroding economic conditions. Accountability is emphasized in all operations.

According to the Future Barometer, the majority of Finns agree with the proposed development costs. For each development path, at least more than half of the respondents feel that it corresponds to their own views. On the other hand, at least a quarter (26-31%) of respondents feel that each of these developments does not correspond at all or corresponds only slightly to their own vision.

Most Finns feel that they can influence the future when asked on a general level. The scope for influence in relation to the developments described in the survey was perceived as limited. However, young people felt more often than other age groups that they could influence future developments.

The Future Barometer survey also provided an opportunity to highlight other developments affecting Finland's future. Debt, immigration, inequality, youth issues, energy and the energy crisis were the most frequently mentioned.

Respondents were asked to select the five most important objectives from a list of 17. The most important wishes for Finland's future were common to all respondents: maintaining the welfare state, balancing public finances, and controlling debt. Next in importance were job growth, a high level of national security and improved well-being for children and young people.

From knowledge to understanding and action

When you look deeper into the Future Barometer and the megatrends reports, you find some interesting differences. It is interesting to challenge one's own ideas about what might affect the future through an outline developed by futurologist Sohail Inayatullah. He urges us to look at the past, the present and the future. The push of the present and the weight of the past are based on existing knowledge. The push for the future, on the other hand, is visionary. It consists of what we think is possible.

Pushing the present draws attention to what is changing right now, how the changes are interlinked and what interpretations are given to them. At the same time, we need to look at which changes reinforce each other and which are in tension with each other, what perspectives are involved and how the effects of change are seen by different people.

It has been said that if you want to look ten years ahead, you have to look at least twenty years back. The inescapable weight of the past therefore leads us to look at history, at what has happened in the past and at the impact of past decisions. These are the foundations on which to build the future we want.

Future enthusiasm covers views of the future, whether they are desirable images of the future or threatening ones. What kind of change are we hoping for? Do we have the ability to create inspiring and forward-looking visions of the future? Do we believe in them ourselves? Can we get others on board? Pioneering futurologist Fred Polak has argued that societies will only remain vibrant as long as they retain the ability to imagine a desirable future.

Imagination is not enough. It does not happen by itself. The future is made together, through everyday choices and actions. What does all this mean for my own work? I will continue to reflect on it and raise proposals for consideration with my colleagues.

Eija-Riitta Niinikoski, Development Manager, University of Oulu Kerttu Saalasti Institute

Pexels, Juan Mendez

Sitran tulevaisuusbarometri 2023 (in Finnish)
Sitra Mega Trends 2023
Futures Barometer: Finns’ confidence in the future has not faltered even amidst crises (Sitra news 9.3.2023)