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Time to start a governance revolution?

Sensemaking / Time to start a governance revolution?

How citizen innovation for sustainability could transform policy and management practices, and vice versa

By Corina Angheloiu / 02 Feb 2017

As pro-democracy and diversity marches meet Donald Trump’s inauguration, it’s a powerful time to ask, how can citizens enable new approaches to governance, and how can governments enable individuals to foster change?

Forum for the Future’s investigations into the scope for citizen innovation and its role in driving systemic change across Europe suggest that policy and management are vital - both in enabling innovation, and as a field for innovation itself.

Our 2050 scenarios for sustainable lifestyles in Europe highlighted some specific ways in which citizen innovation could transform policy, and vice versa:

  • The social role of policy and government undergoes radical transformation, as an outcome of a transition towards sustainable lifestyles
  • Policy and management play a vital role in enabling a staged transition to sustainable lifestyles
  • Sustainable lifestyles enable a continuous dynamic of transition and evolution
  • Policy and management embody a new paradigm to enable long-term transition through user innovation and entrepreneurship

We also identified a number of policy and management shifts to enable these changes. In the short-term, these require:

  • A systemic mode and mindset for operating with skills and capabilities to embrace a new cultural context consistent with sustainable lifestyles
  • Interventions that lay the path for these elements to flourish in the longer term
  • Constructive challenges to the role of policy and management in society.

For the full report on implications for policy and management, please follow this link.

CASE STUDY // Experimenting with governance: lessons from Finland

How come Finland is able to conduct experiments in areas such as Universal Income?

Finland has overhauled its whole approach to innovation, policy and management. It offers a rare yet comprehensive example of a government experimenting with its role by trying out different approaches to citizenship and governance in making policies.

The experimental program of Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Center, True Finns and Conservatives) sits alongside an experiment fund for civic innovation (currently under evaluation) and over 20 other experiments, exploring everything from schooling to digitalisation. An Experimentation Office has been established within the Prime Minister’s Office and includes innovative procurements as well as a code of conduct for experiments.

”The aim is to reform the existing social policy to better match with societal changes, abolish work disincentives and diminish bureaucracy”, says the Nordic non-profit research and development organisation, Demos Helsinki.

Transformative shifts were required to reach an operational model based on best practice for  human-centric governance, expert insights and an understanding of how Finnish society operates. The process drew heavily on evidence-based policy, behavioural approaches and experimentation.

Key steps in this transformation included:

  • Setting international benchmarks and field trips to map out methods used in other countries
  • The Design for Government course organised with Aalto University’s Department of Design, during which 25 students solved challenges set by different ministries.
  • Seven workshops and public events which were attended by over 250 participants, including civil servants, designers, researchers, students and enthusiasts for public governance.
  • Over 20 interviews, including international experts and representatives of parliamentary parties.

This example shows a successful approach to a growing gap between the needs and expectations of the citizens, public sector funding and organisational capacity. This leads to increasing calls for agile, co-created policymaking processes which are experimental, behaviourally informed and future oriented. There is a potential for policy to shift from managing linear incremental change to systemic change, but for this to be achieved, innovation in policy processes and capacity building for policy makers is needed. For this to be achieved, we need mechanisms for sensing and identifying opportunities to involve a wider range of actors in order to support these complex processes.

This month in our Citizen Innovation explorer we discuss how citizens are creating change, how we can rethink governance, what role citizens can play for a world where life can sustain itself, and what it will take to unlock a paradigm shift. This article is part of a series about the role of citizens in bringing the future forward; we will soon be publishing the full scenarios report. If you’d like to hear more, please get in touch with Corina ( and Louise ( Together let’s make this a revolution. // #citizeninnovation

SPREAD Sustainable Lifestyles 2050 was a project funded by the European Commission, and the corresponding scenarios have been developed by Demos Helsinki ( For more information on the original scenarios, follow this link.

EU-InnovatE is a ground-breaking initiative funded by the European Commission aiming to accelerate the shift towards to a sustainable future.

Like this article? Don't forget to check out our other pieces on Citizen Innovation:

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