Towards new forms of cooperation – Finnish social security reform boosted by strategic research projects

28 Sep 2020

Research projects funded through the Strategic Research Council (SRC) established within the Academy of Finland produce valuable information for decision-makers. The parliamentary committee in charge of Finland’s social security reform has made a public commitment to basing its work on scientific evidence. A new partnership model based on interaction between the scientific community and the Social Security Committee is being launched this autumn. The common agenda for the committee and strategic research projects includes planetary boundaries, technology, institutions and social philosophy as well as population shifts.

The Social Security Committee began its work at the start of the year. The committee has been tasked with drawing up a roadmap for a gradual reform of the country’s entire social security system. To do this, it first needs to establish a way to make the concept of social security simpler and more approachable and then build a more effective, human-centred system that balances the interests of the labour market and the welfare state while supporting individuals and families through the increasingly varied challenges of modern life.

The committee’s term of office does not end until 2027. In other words, the committee’s work will span multiple governments, enabling its decisions and recommendations to garner support across the political spectrum. The fact that the decisions and recommendations come from a parliamentary committee is hoped to further foster political commitment. All of the political parties that are represented in the Parliament of Finland are also represented in the committee. The committee is assisted by a large pool of permanent experts from labour market organisations, the third sector, ministries and research institutions.

A broad-based composition is known to build a stronger level of commitment. However, the broad-based composition of the Social Security Committee also has its problems: what is the smallest common denominator that the members can agree on, and is it even possible to find one? People generally agree on the main issues with the current social security system. Most are also on the same page when it comes to long-term social objectives. A clear social security system and a fair society are likely to be high on everyone’s list of priorities. However, finding consensus on the practical obstacles that must be overcome to fix the current system – let alone agreeing on the fixes themselves – is considerably more difficult.

Research-based approach

One way to solve the problem is to base decisions on scientific evidence. Finland has long believed in research-based political decision-making, and Finnish committees have historically worked on the basis of a large pool of data. In a way, the Social Security Committee is a return to the old institution of committee-based decision-making on major social reforms. One of the benefits of a committee-based approach is the ability to build a consensus on the current state of affairs even when individual members disagree on the underlying political values. Agreeing on the current state of affairs nevertheless requires time and constructive and mutually respectful dialogue – as well as reliable scientific data.

The Social Security Committee has made a public commitment to basing its work on scientific evidence, and the application of research and information will play a major role in the committee’s work. The committee has its own research and evaluation division, which is responsible for coordinating the research-based elements of the work. The research and evaluation division consists of representatives of the country’s leading research institutions, and academic researchers from various universities can be invited to join the team as necessary. The committee also intends to consult academic papers and build a range of scientific networks to ensure that it has enough information at its disposal and is able to approach the issues from multiple perspectives. The committee has its own series of publications, including broad-based reviews and studies on relevant social topics and developments.

Role of strategic research projects in the committee’s scientific networks

The scientific findings of strategic research projects can help the Social Security Committee’s networks in many ways. The ultimate aim of research funded through the Strategic Research Council is to produce information for decision-makers. All of the SRC’s current programmes have links to the committee’s work. Some of the research consortia involved in the programmes could come up with tangible answers to questions of social policy, while others can provide different perspectives and help the committee to visualise future scenarios. What makes up the ecological sustainability framework for our way of life? What does climate change mean for food production, and what migration trends can be foreseen? How will changes in population structure shape our economy and society? How will the emergence of robotics and platform and circular economies affect the demand for social security and the nature and financing of the system? What will the relationship between the rights and responsibilities of individuals that forms the sociophilosophical basis of social security be like in the future? How will changes in politics, the media and monetary policy affect our ability and possibilities of reforming the social security system?

Strategic research programmes and projects can both help to paint the big picture and add important sociopolitical details. The starting point could be a broad-based look at the planetary boundaries set by climate and environmental sustainability, technological developments and population shifts, institutions and the social power stored within them. More detailed themes need to be agreed between strategic research project teams, programme coordinators and the Social Security Committee. This will ensure that all those who contribute to the committee’s work have a common understanding of what the world will be like in the future and the framework that will define Finland’s social policy.

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