Thursday, October 19, 2006

Please be prepared to prove your Finnish creativity

Border Sign, Finland
Originally uploaded by Le G.
A working group has just published a proposal for a new creativity strategy for Finland. The report was commissioned by the Minister of Culture. I read it through with a high level of confusion. I would so much like to support its direction but find this to be somewhat difficult. I will elaborate why.

I did my Master’s thesis on the information society policy of the current Finnish cabinet. In my thesis I analysed the reasoning for the investments and the position of the citizen in the implementation process. It feels somehow disappointing to see exactly the same problems in the creativity strategy as I pointed out in the conclusions of my thesis. I am starting to be quite convinced that Finland has a big issue to solve in the relationship between the state and the citizens. The policy documents of the Finnish government put the citizen over and over again into a passive role. The belief in the power of the state is enormous. Even though the report talks about the responsibility of parents and individuals, the approach follows the lines of the information society policy: the government strengthens certain qualities in individuals.

If the citizen approach would be the only problem in the creativity strategy, I could avoid falling into despair. However, the bigger issue is the traditional Finnish view on the world. The national identity still starts from the notion that Finland lives in its own universe – a world with fixed borders and national structures. A world where we interact with the rest of the world but are not part of it.

A look into the composition of the working group gives us more tools for understanding the tone and approach. It consists mostly of people who have worked their entire life in Finnish national stuctures. The working group was led by Mr Esko Aho, the Prime Minister during the severe economic recession of the 1990s. Only two members of the working group come from the cultural sector. Twelve out of the twenty-one members are civil servants – most from ministries. Most of them have sat in half a dozen of these committees during the last ten years. Only eight of the twenty-one members are women. Nokia is of course represented.

This may not come as a surprise but not a single member is under the age of fourty. And this shows. I don’t think most of my generation would start a document with the following sentence:”The Finnish society is economically and socially stronger than ever.” This makes most of the document useless. I remember Aho himself saying in a seminar in 2004 that only the atmosphere of a crisis made it possible to make the difficult decisions in the 1990s. The working group does not seem to follow the strategy once outlined once by its Chair. By painting a rosy picture, they dissolve all the ground for brave actions. Most of the eleven recommendations are about increasing, widening or strengthening.

A relaxed translation of what is proposed:

1. Fostering children’s creativity – stressing the responsibility of parents
2. Complete school day – innovative combinations of leisure and educational activities, more skills and arts in schools
3. Cultural policy integrated more to other policy areas, widened funding basis (corporate) and new funding methods for culture
4. Increased efforts into debating and discussion skills, bigger commitment in international cooperation and intercultural dialogue
5. Creativity playing a bigger role in urban planning
6. Experiments and research on the links between working conditions and creativity
7. Management of creativity a priority, new ways for cycling jobs
8. Creativity a component in regional and business funding structures and support actions
9. Entrepeneurship more integrated in education, closer links between educational institutions and companies
10. More flexible public administrations, new ways of working with NGOs
11. Policy programme on creativity for the next cabinet led by the Ministry of Education

All and all the working group favours polishing and adjusting to suggesting something actually different. And as the document outlines, the creativity in Finland should benefit the individuals, their communities and the Finnish society. Global solidarity is not in.

I saw on Monday the hilarious film Devil Wears Prada, where Meryl Streep does a magnificently vicious role as the bitchy Editor in Chief Miranda Priestly. The creativity committee’s approach is very much in line with how Ms Priestly justifies her actions:”Don’t be silly. Everyone would want to live this life.” Even after Aho’s committee, Finland still has work to do in shaking off the image of being the wonderboy of the class.


Anonymous said...

Hei Tommi!

Just found your blog, and thought I'd comment.

I agree, one of the major challenges Finland faces is shaking the notion that everything is great, hence nothing needs to change. This is strongly linked to the idea that state takes care of everything (or conversely, that the state is to blame for all problems).

I think one good example is in the interview of Risto Linturi in last weeks' Suomen Kuvalehti, he was touring the world to present the "Finnish information society". Does it actually exist?

Another example is from a few years back when I was evaluating the Finnish master's programs. We were visiting the Uni of Lapland at that time, but it could have been any university. We were worried that one unwanted consequence of the otherwise good idea of splitting the 5 year degree according to the "European" 3+2 model was that students would find it difficult to find time to go study abroad. The students in an ICT master's programme told us there was actually no need for that, because Finland is leading the development in mobile communications etc. anyway, so why go anywhere else?

Why do MIT and Cambridge foster a bilateral student exchange programme? Why do Harvard graduates go to other universities for post-graduate studies, if they are already in the best uni in the world? Why are there Oxford students in student exchange in Amsterdam and vice versa? Because thinking that you've "got there" is the best way to start slipping. And thinking that there is a canonical "there" to get to is the best way to show your ignorance about the importance of "doing" and "creating".

To misquote out of proper context and badly paraphrase G.H. Mead and Herbert Blumer, the meaning is not in the structures of society but in the actions and activities that people do within them.

Tommi H.

Tommi Laitio said...

I would still say that there a number of good things in the so-called Finnish model.

The notion of equality is relatively deep-rooted which you can see in the opposition towards dividing pupils in secondary schools based on their learning results. I wonder how it would be possible to combine the notion of All Together Now with the notion of I Change Things.

I see traits of that in the Netherlands with the stronger understanding towards global solidarity and these kind of issues. That's my mission in life towards my country at the moment: lobby for practical idealism which is not stuck on old left-right or evil capitalist - good state ideas.