The Ecosystem Forum
The Finnish Government has piloted a new innovative operating model based on co-creation and networking widely within the society. This so-called ‘The Ecosystem Forum’ aims at boosting human-centric digitalisation policy and data economy. It is a new way to formulate policies, prepare decisions and improve implementation. The forum is led by the State Secretary at Prime Minister's Office. In addition, the Prime Minister's Office has an active role in the facilitation of the network.
The digitalisation policy needs to be run in a more coherent and co-ordinated manner. Therefore, the Finnish Prime Minister's Office together with the Ministry of Finance has created a novel way to formulate policies, the Ecosystem Forum. It brings together all relevant stakeholders from different sectors to discuss openly key challenges and possible policy options. The discussions are held on specific issues, ecosystems or new policy areas, eg. ethical standards of A.I, MaaS (Mobility as a Service) and information policy. The Ecosystem Forum is a two-year governance experiment, which started in June 2017.
The novelty in The Ecosystem Forum is that the participants of the Forum are not formally representatives of their ministries. The forum operates directly under the leadership of the State Secretary at Prime Minister's Office and the mandate is derived directly from the Government. Through the State Secretary, the stakeholders have a direct channel to communicate their views to the high-level decision-making bodies, as far as the Government as a whole.
The forum emphasizes ethical and human-centric approach on digitalisation and digital economy issues. Human-centric approach steers the focus towards the needs of individuals and companies instead of administrative agendas and silos. Thus far, we have had eight forums with very promising results. The participants have been very motivated, and we have found innovative solutions to common challenges. The challenges usually concern regulation, resources or out-dated operating models. We have been able to remove sectoral and administrative barriers and reach conclusions and proposals faster than previously.
It is not just about the workshops. Regular meetings and keeping in contact with the network actors are a key part of the operation. The role of Prime Minister’s Office includes active facilitation of the network of ecosystems and curating suitable strategic themes for the workshops. Monitoring by the Prime Minister’s Office is kept to the minimum: it is more about helping the line ministries to achieve their goals in relation to the Strategic Government Program. Compared to traditional administrative working groups and reporting procedures the forum is a faster way to reach solutions to complex challenges.
In addition, the Ecosystem Forum offers the line ministries a platform to align their actions towards common collective goals. It also reduces the risk of doing the same things all over again. As a policy tool, it adds more insight by giving the private and third sector actors active opportunities to have their say in the matters. This happens before new projects are started so it is not just an ordinary hearings which are usually held after the course of action has been already decided by the government. All events are streamed live online, and key findings of the workshops are available for anyone to utilize. This enhances the openness of the whole operation.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The Ecosystem Forum is a systemic innovation platform because:
1) It is a new way to formulate policies in collaboration with ecosystems, prepare decisions and improve implementation
2) A more collaborative style of leadership contrasting with the traditional command and control approach
3) The workshops themes are strategic and novel
4) The participants contribute to the policy design based on their expertise instead of their formal roles in their organisations
What is the current status of your innovation?
As of October 2018, we have arranged eight 'Ecosystem Forums' or one day events with approximately 100 participants in each. We have boosted themes like A.I, MaaS (Mobility as a Service), maritime policy and information policy. Currently, we are involved in preparing for the Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union by contributing towards the Finland's digitalisation agenda in our forthcoming cross-ministerial forum. We will also participate in finding solutions for national reform of social security system at the end of the year.
Collaborations & Partnerships
Prime Minister's Office and Ministry of Finance created and launched this innovative operating model. The core group consists of government officials who are key experts in digitalisation. They help to discover novel themes for the workshops. Civil society organisations, private sector companies and research society participate in the 'Ecosystem Forums'.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The Government comes across new ideas to boost digitalisation. Civil society organisations and companies get to have their say before the course of action is decided. Working in networked environment reduces the risk of overlapping and incompatible work within the government. Eventually this will lead to better services for citizens.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
We have achieved some very promising results. The forum has had impact in boosting and advancing the following areas:
- Government Report on Information Policy
- A.I service assistant Aurora for citizens
- Legislation for secondary use of health data
- IHAN-standard for human-driven data-economy
- MaaS (Mobility as a Service) -projects
- Maritime Policy
Interviews and discussions indicate a strong support for continuing the existence of the Ecosystem Forum method. Surveys made after workshops show that the participants have been satisfied with the working methods
Challenges and Failures
There is a need to find ways for citizens and companies to participate directly in choosing the forum themes. The operating model also has to strengthen its ties to the top-level decision making in government: the ministerial groups and the collective of permanent secretaries. The Ecosystem Forum is at its strongest when it operates as a mid- or expert-level policy-designing and co-ordination tool. In order to be more impactful, it also needs to find a balance between “the bottom-up” and “top down” approaches.
We are currently planning to design a new digital tool for more effective citizen and company participation in the forum. We are also drawing up plans to ensure the future of the operating model. The plan includes a proposal on how to integrate the forum with top-level decision-making while at the same time retaining its 'operational freedom'.
Conditions for Success
Support from the Government and the political leadership illustrated by the strong role of the State Secretary of the Prime Minister is essential. This ensures that the core group of digitalisation experts are highly commited to the common cause. The Government has to set a vision for the operating model, eg. "Human-centric digitalisation". Moreover, the informal manner of the operation is crucial. Line ministries, departments, companies and civil society organisations must be actively involved. The themes that The Ecosystem Forum engages in have to be strategic enough for the relevant stakeholders to have an interest. PMO needs to allocate sufficient resources for the day-to-day planning and running of the operation.
The Ecosystem Forum started by addressing policy issues related to digitalisation. It has proved to be effective in these matters. Moreover we have been testing the use of the idea in other new policy areas, eg. maritime policy. It seems that the concept can be useful more widely.
The method for finding solutions in cross-departmental stratetic workshops or forums with different key stakeholders involved has been enhanced in various Government sectors due to the example set by our forum. For instance, the up-coming Government Report on Information Policy and Artificial Intelligence has been prepared with using rather similar methods.
1) Mandate from the government is crucial
2) Leadership from a top-level civil servant is essential
3) Set a broad vision which engages the key stakeholders
4) Pick strategic themes; PMO adds the most value this way
5) Try always to connect with relevant ongoing key projects within the government
6) Make sure that the line ministries are involved
7) Build an environmet of trust and openess between different stakeholders
8) All of the above makes the companies and civil society organisations participation more impactful. They just do not have a say, they have to chance to connect, innovate and align their actions in a meaningful way.