Organised by the Strategic Research Council (SRC), the “Science meets municipal elections” discussion series challenged researchers and municipal election candidates to reflect on themes and decisions affecting municipal development. The first two sessions focused on the systemic change towards sustainability that is taking place in local authorities (Read the first part of the blog: Science meets municipal elections – promoting a systemic change towards sustainability). The last two debates focused on the digitalisation of local authorities and the organisation of health and social services.
Local authorities’ decisions on digital investments are not limited to economic and technical issues
The discussion moderated by Harri Junttila focused on local authorities’ investments in the digitalisation of infrastructure. The debates highlighted that decisions on digital investments involve a complex web of issues that need to be considered. Aside from economic and technical issues, challenges are posed by matters related to regulation, privacy, ethical questions and attitudes.
The first discussion took place between Marketta Niemelä (ROSE) and Johan Strand (Swedish People’s Party of Finland, Vaasa) on the topic of robotics in nursing services. The willingness to apply digital technology varies among local residents using nursing services. Individual solutions are needed, for example, in the care of the elderly: it is not possible for everyone to utilise the digital solutions available. Digital competence partly determines the position of local residents as service users and in society at large.
Kai Hakkarainen (Growing Mind) and Harri Lehto (Finnish Social Democratic Party, SDP, Satakunta) considered the digital leap in schools brought about by Covid-19. In schools, digital competence has reached the level that, in the future, the transition to distance learning can easily take place with a couple of days’ notice. However, a proper digital leap would require making teacher education more efficient in terms of opportunities offered by digital technologies.
Jyrki Nummenmaa (ETAIROS) and Mira Korhonen-Low (Finns Party, Helsinki) discussed the requirements set by artificial intelligence on municipal infrastructure. The discussion highlighted the need for stronger guidance and the necessity to set requirements for systems at national level (such as certain interfaces).
Tarja Heponiemi (DigiIN) and Sanna-Mari Bertell (National Coalition Party, Helsinki) tackled an important issue in their debate: how the digitalisation of services affects equality. One of the key concerns emerging from the debate was the worry that the more widespread use of digital services could increase social and health-related inequality. The prevention of digital exclusion will be essential as the digitalisation of services progresses.
Further progress is needed in health and social services
The last municipal election debate concerned health and social services and early childhood education and care falling under the responsibility of local authorities, and the last-resort form of financial assistance, jointly managed by local authorities and the Social Insurance Institution of Finland. The debate started with the topic of early childhood education and care, and was facilitated by Professor Marja Vaarama.
Maarit Alasuutari (ChildCare) called for a structuring of services in early childhood education and care on the basis of parents’ own assessment of their needs. She also emphasised that it is important to ensure that a child’s year in pre-primary education does not become too fragmented with its changing groups. Elin Blomqvist-Valtonen (Swedish People’s Party of Finland, Porvoo) stressed the importance of securing sufficient resources for early childhood education and care in order to guarantee each child equal access to day care and early childhood education and care.
Jouni Välijärvi (My Path) and Tiina Tuomela (Christian Democrats, Vantaa) discussed the development of education. Välijärvi said that the problem lies in the major differences between schools, and individual variations in learning outcomes. Competence rather than age group should be used as a starting point. Support processes should be developed. Tuomela saw room for further improvements at all levels of education. In basic education, large group sizes are a problem. In secondary education, sufficient study places should be offered at general upper secondary schools, and contact teaching at vocational colleges should be strengthened.
According to Iiris Hörhammer (IMPRO), health services can only be organised in an economically sustainable manner if decisions on resources are made within the entire framework of health and social services provision. In turn, Maria-Kaisa Aula (Centre Party, Viitasaari) emphasised that investments in digital health and social services can solve many problems related to the resourcing and availability of services. Digitalisation can also improve the cost-effectiveness of services.
Paula Saikkonen (BIBU) proposed that local authorities take better account of the different personal and individual service needs of those receiving last-resort financial assistance. Social assistance, as managed by the Social Insurance Institution of Finland and local authorities, should be better coordinated so that clients would not have to deal with multiple service providers. Heikki Autto (National Coalition Party, Rovaniemi) emphasised the importance of employment incentives and work in reducing the need for social assistance. Work is the best form of social security. According to Autto, we should also move away from food distribution and seek to replace it with communal services.
The series of four municipal election debates found a great deal of common ground and opportunities for using research-based knowledge in decision-making in both small and medium-sized local authorities. The directors of SRC programmes would like to thank all the participants in the municipal election debates for processing the research data presented at the webinars, reflecting on important social issues, and the refreshing perspectives.
The authors are directors of SRC programmes:
Mikael Hildén, A Climate-Neutral and Resource-Scarce Finland (PIHI)
Heli Koski, Disruptive Technologies and Changing Institutions (TECH)
Kaisa Korhonen-Kurki, Changing Society and Active Citizenship (CITIZEN) and Adaptation and Resilience for Sustainable Growth (ADAPT)
Helena Kahiluoto, Towards a Sustainable, Healthy and Climate-Neutral Food System (FOOD) and The Changing Role of Public Authority and the Potential for Steering Society (STEER)
Asta Salmi, Innovative Materials and Services to Promote Resource Wisdom and Sustainable Development (IMPRES)