Prime Minister Juha Sipilä visited the University of Oulu on Monday, 26 February. The Toward the Next 100 event, which was set up by the Government and the university, focused on key questions of the future facing Finland and the EU. Five thematic workshops were held to seek answers to these questions and they were joined by university employees and students.
Sipilä said that with the upturn in the Finnish economy and with big projects being put before Parliament, work on the future is the main theme of the last year of the government. Sipilä had got the idea for university-driven work in September from French President Emmanuel Macron. The event in Oulu launched a whole, which Sipilä said will include "about ten events".
The growth has had side effects
The first substantive statement was from four researchers at the University of Oulu who spoke about data management, lifelong health, sustainable growth, and the strengthening of human capabilities in a changing world. For instance, Professor Rauli Svento ponders if artificial intelligence, digitalisation, and the fifth-generation 5G data network are as seminal inventions from the point of view of productivity as electricity once was. Climate change sets limits on growth, and new energy sources are needed.
Between 16 and 24 people from the university took part in each workshop. The workshop on materials and systems that create sustainability pondered issues such as how to attitudes can be affected in such a way that people would consume less and in a more sustainable manner. For instance, would a personal recycling account help, or would it lead to excess consumption?
One of the participants in the workshop, Professor Mirja Illikainen, saw the work as interesting.
“In a one-hour effort the structure worked well, when the questions were first pondered in small groups. I feel that the thoughts of everyone were heard, and there was also a surprising amount of consensus in the work of the group.”
Illikainen had never taken part in an event before where the thoughts of the research community were presented directly to the Government. The visit of the decision-makers seemed to be a good way to bring out personal thoughts and those of the university.
Important relations with decision-makers
Antti Niskanen, a fourth-year student of machine engineering, took part in the Lifelong Health workshop.
"I am interested in caring for and maintaining health also on a societal level. It has been interesting to take part in the workshop and to listen to competent professionals."
Niskanen reminds decision-makers of the challenges of scientific research:
"The backgrounds and the funders of research need to be examined closely, lest they get to influence the final outcome."
Professor Björn Klöve was also satisfied with the group work, which he says brought forward new points of view and reinforced his own. Klöve took part in the Research and Innovation workshop.
Klöve feels that scientific research is best brought to the attention of decision-makers through participation in common events and by creating long-term relations.
"It is important that ministries are familiar with who is researching what, and that we know them.”
Results are utilised
The thoughts brought forward in the workshop were presented at a shared event in which Prime Minister Sipilä interviewed the chairs of the groups. Issues that were raised include the vast need for different kinds of learning, an initiative for the establishment of a ministry of technology and innovation, and the complicated nature of data management.
"Companies such as Google do not pay taxes anywhere. Should data have state ownership, so that it could generate revenue for the welfare state?" Sipilä pondered.
According to the Government, the yield of the day's events will be utilised in the Government's report on the future, the work on issues related to the future by the Government and the different ministries, and in the preparation of Finnish EU policy. Future work will also serve Finland's next Government and the writers of the Government's policy programme.
In recent times there has been much talk about the utilisation of researched information in politics. For example The Finnish Cultural Fund recently announced that it would accept applications for funding for research projects in the programme for Researched Work and Decision-making.
Tweets from the event can be seen on Twitter under the hashtag #seuraava100.
Last updated: 1.3.2018