Finland’s political parties embrace experimentalism
Up at Europe’s most northernmost country, there’s another election clock ticking. Finland has just 38 days before the people vote for their next Parliament in April.
But you would hardly notice it. There is none of the perpetual and rather boring campaigning you see in the UK or US, as I found when visiting SITRA, its national innovation body based in Helsinki. The full-on Finnish campaigning doesn’t kick in until just weeks before voting.
And this is not the only breath of fresh Nordic air. Three of the main political parties have embraced experimentalism in their manifestos.
The polls’ current favourite is the Centre Party. A liberal, agricultural and, well, centrist outfit, it has committed to experiments in its manifesto. The Party says it will trial its basic income model for citizens, before it goes Finland-wide.
Interestingly, the Centre Party will also introduce legislation enabling experiments to happen. To get over the hurdle of its constitution requiring equal treatment of individuals, laws need changing.
It’s a frequent criticism of experiments such as Randomised Controlled Trials, that it can be politically impossible to offer a promising innovation to one ‘treatment’ group - while withholding it from another ‘control’ group. The Finnish Centre Party has tackled it head-on: it recognised that a radical roll out of a new policy, like a universal citizen's income, needs testing out on some people – before everybody can benefit (or everybody gets hammered with a failed policy).
It’s a change from The Big Push School of Policy, where you go for large-scale roll outs from the off. Ending up with policies that can be ‘too big to fail’ and little chance to test, learn and adapt.
Other mainstream Finnish parties have also thrown their towel into the experimentation ring. The more conservative National Coalition Party, part of the current left-right government, includes piloting activities in its manifesto. It wants to introduce 'piloting environments' in sectors where the public sector has a strong role in the market, in particular education, health, transport, spatial planning and building.
The Green League (which was part of the current coalition, but dropped out in 2014 over a spat about nuclear power), refers to promoting innovation through 'replacing investment and production subsidies with new ways to generate innovation, such as funding of competitions or experiments' . The League is also committed to a citizen's income.
Of course, any manifesto pledges should be taken with a pinch of salt. Promises get dropped when the reality of power bites. But it’s still extraordinary to find such honest and open commitments to experimental government. It’s not exactly a vote winner. Politicians usually have to proclaim that they have all the answers. Experimentation is a way of saying that we don’t have all the answers, and the prudent thing would be to try it out first.
We will watch this other Northern European election with interest and see if these commitments grow from election pledge to hard government policy.
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 I’m very grateful to SITRA for their insights into the forthcoming Finnish Election. Please note, however, that all the views expressed in this blog and any unintended errors are purely my own.