Programme Director Olli Kangas: Exceptional times call for new forms of cooperation – An agreement of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between strategic research and social security reform?

Olli Kangas

Olli Kangas is the director of the strategic research programme Equality in Society and Professor of Practice at the University of Turku.

The social security reform recorded in Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Government Programme has been launched. The parliamentary committee includes parliamentary parties, key stakeholders and research institutes in the field. The committee’s term of office will continue until spring 2027. Working beyond the term of government will anchor the reform in a broader political field: the reform is not an effort of one single government but a joint undertaking.

Information-driven decision-making

The long term of office is useful in that it allows reforms to be carried out in stages, taking small steps. There is also time for various socio-political experimentation, allowing the effectiveness of planned measures to be tested. Pasi Moisio, the chair of the Committee, emphasises the significance of research data in reform work. Research data has a twofold role. Firstly, the Committee’s work has its basis in research data on various policy options and their outcomes. Secondly, research data and information-driven decision-making has the potential to level out political conflicts and reduce the effect of passions based in political beliefs, which the Committee will need to tackle in any case.

In accordance with its mission, strategic research looks for concrete solutions to complex social problems. This is why strategic research can be a particularly useful partner to the Committee. Of course, the Committee’s research unit already has no shortage of specific expertise in social security matters from which strategic research teams can learn. Likewise, the Committee offers opportunities to create dialogue between information providers and decision-makers. Academic researchers outside the Committee can also act as commentators and reviewers of proposals when necessary.

Consequently, the prospects for an agreement of friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance between strategic research and the Social Security Committee look promising.

The contents of the agreement?

The Committee’s work relies on a sufficiently strong shared understanding of the current condition of Finnish society. The strategic research programmes focused on sketching out that understanding, whether they are starting up, ongoing or have already been completed, have much to offer.

After all, social policy has never been – and never will be – about simply moving money from one pocket to another. Social policy also shapes and maintains societal power relationships. Social policy has relevance to environmental questions, education, culture and sustainable development. It affects circular economies and platform economies. Digitalisation, robotisation and new ways of working are changing what is required of social policy, shaping the risks that it needs to address. Immigration, internal migration and regional development are challenges all their own. More precise themes that specifically surround social security questions are being touched upon in a number of consortia.

Everything mentioned above has been a subject of research in the programmes and associated projects funded by the Strategic Research Council. We are, therefore, capable of offering a broad spectrum of expertise to the Committee when it comes to the search for a common understanding of the state of society. Certain projects are associated with or are themselves performing experiments, large and small, the experiences and results of which may be of use when the Committee launches its own experiments.

Strategic research projects contain a wealth of experience in diverse and innovative stakeholder collaboration. Together with the various units of the Committee, strategic research could develop this experience-based knowledge and expertise. Correspondingly, the members of the Committee have knowledge that researchers and research consortia would benefit from.

Of course, the programmes, projects and Committee have their own plans and they operate within those frameworks. However, these plans intersect in so many places that the conditions exist for effective bilateral exchange of information and expertise, supporting both strategic research and the work of the Committee.

History teaches us that exceptional moments in time facilitate exceptionally large social changes. Now, the window is open for even the largest of socio-political reforms and new kinds of cooperation between research and decision-making.

Last modified 4 May 2020
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