Monthly Archives: May 2012

New democracy is something you can do!

Kalle Nieminen of Sitra’s Synergise Finland development program blogs about new implementations of democracy.
The word ‘synergy’ implies energy, interaction, dynamics and the interest in new ideas. Synergy is created when people get active, creative, proactive and enthusiastic. Sitra’s Synergise Finland development program looks for solutions to today’s challenges from these perspectives. The first forum was held in spring 2011, focusing on the concept of new work. The topic of second forum, and the theme of this blogging, was new democracy.

We believe that, with cooperation across traditional social borders, it is possible to invite something new and answer to really hard main questions about today societies. New democracy forum brought together 30 people who looked issues about the theme from very different viewpoints. They worked together trying to find ideas and concrete solutions to renew democracy. What did they learn? What did we do? And what is the future of democracy? Here is a small summary about the results of new democracy forum.
Paradigm is changing. When we speak about New, we accept that we have something that is old. In this case old democracy is voting every four or six years. As one attendee of forum says: “Do you want to play football, in a game where you are able to touch the ball every six years?” Ways of influencing are century old. In these days people want to participate and have a conversation, not just to see what somebody else has decided inside big fancy building.
Democracy of the day is communal, open and visualized. New democracy is something you can do, not just something you watch from television.
There are lots of projects going on at grass roots level, which government should notice and take seriously (see this: This grass root movement is what we want to call democracy. Finnish Ravintolapäivä (restaurant day) is a really good example of these kind of projects. Bunch of people just think that everybody should have a right to run a restaurant. So they invented this day when anybody could pop up the restaurant. By doing so, they are testing and showing the limits of governance and starting a good conversation about the issues they saw being wrong in the society.
In New democracy forum we also want to do something concrete. Beside of think tanks we want to promote testing culture. Testing culture means that, when you have an idea you don’t start three years lasting outlining, drafting and planning. Instead of that, test it. Test or pilot could be as small as you want. It don’t have to cover the whole idea, just one corner is enough. Main point is that you test it! Test it as soon as possible. Testing is best way to learn something new and validate ideas.
In this case we made 12 pilots. Regarding the testing culture, we had these 12 ideas about, how to promote democracy. We put our hands to the plough and start doing. It was worth a go! Below I summarize couple of tests, more you can read here (In Finnish, sorry).
Social hub was one of the most successful pilots we made. Idea is that we need free of charge social hub in addition to commercial hubs. In our pilot we found free and empty old office that was waiting for renovation. We bought some coffee and wired up the Internet. After one week, there were over 15 players working with their own projects, but together. Pilot lasted for three weeks and was a great success! During these weeks city of Helsinki noticed that this kind of action could be okay. We also found the organization, that wants to continue work with Social hub.
Another test we made was participative budgeting. An idea behind this is that community can directly decide how to spend part of the public budget. First we visualized Sitra’s budget. After that we committed to spend 115 000 € in a way that participants of forum decided. After open conversation and decision-making event, the money will be used to speed-up three projects. What did we learn about this pilot? Obviously the challenge in this kind of budgeting is, how a big organization like Sitra could change it into a long-lasting culture.
Read more about New democracy forum.
Sitra’s third Synergies Finland forum will start in the autumn. Third forum will concentrate in sustainable economy.
Do not hesitate to contact us if you have any further questions!
Kalle Nieminen
Trainee at The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra

Notes from the Education Seminars #4: Policy transfer, or an opportunity for reflection on ourselves?

Senior Researcher at the RSA, Louise Thomas, blogs about gaining new perspectives on England’s schooling system through comparing it with the Finnish one.

The education debate in the UK seems mired in sets of assumptions about accountability, teachers, curriculum, notions like ‘excellence’, ‘dumbing down’, ‘prizes for all’ and so on. Our opinions of our own education and that of our children, coupled with the peculiar English prejudice towards academic excellence, means that our thinking is often clouded by prejudice. I, for one, have found reflection on the Finnish system a tonic, allowing me to think outside of the particularity of the English system.

The question of whether education policy can be transferred successfully between nations with very different social and political structures is a particularly pertinent one to the UK at the current time. This seminar was therefore timely and asking all of the right questions; providing a critique of the construction of Nordic models of education used by UK politicians to justify reforms at home. Mary Hilson has critiqued this construction in some depth in her blog [link ‘her blog’ to

However, doubtful as we may be over whether policies transferred from one society to another will have the same beneficial outcomes, reflecting on another system is an important tool to enable us to understand our own better, and to imagine possible alternatives.

I’d like to share some of the elements of Finnish education (drawn from the discussions on the day, as well as Pasi Sahlberg’s Finnish Lessons (2011)) that might illuminate how we might think differently about our own system, and perhaps begin to develop our own ideas about what an improved English education system might look like…not because we need to imitate another system. But because the contrast between the direction of travel for the UK and the assumptions that underpin attempts to ‘raise standards’ are contradicted by much of what happens in Finland, indicating that some of the things that we take for granted as necessary, although perhaps not desirable, might be questioned anew.

Assumption: high stakes external testing of children is necessary to maintain standards

•    In Finland there is no high stakes testing of children before the final certificate, or league tables for schools, yet standards (as measured by PISA rankings) are higher than in the UK

Assumption: Diversity of types of schools and competition between them is the best way to drive up standards

•    In Finland there is fully comprehensive provision for the first 9 years of schooling with very little variation between school performance. Ideas of good and bad schools are not relevant.

Assumption: starting formal schooling early is the best way to give children a head start in their education

•    Formal schooling in Finland does not begin until age 7, and all children have access to high quality, free at the point of access early years provision

Assumption: teachers should primarily be expert in a specific subject area and learn their ‘classroom craft’ in schools

•    Finnish teachers are trained as expert pedagogues and educational researchers to Master’s level in universities. Teacher education takes 5 years.

Assumption: children have different capabilities, and will perform at very different levels at age 11, and these levels can be given a number. A small minority with special educational needs are always going to perform less well than others.

•    All Finnish children are expected to be able perform at the same high level, with additional help provided to any child who is not keeping up. More than half of Finnish children have received some form of special educational needs provision by the time they leave school.

Louise Thomas
Senior Researcher at the RSA

Open Data Monthly Review 04/2012

A review of latest news and blog posts in the field of open data.


Open data user group: giving everyone a say on public data
This week, we’d like to take you through the Cabinet Office’s recent announcement that the private sector, including the open data community, are to have a greater influence over the release of public sector data – and, more importantly, how you can play a role in making this happen.

Open data in action: education
Anjanamma sits on the floor in her one-room tenement in Bangalore. She has three children – a girl and two boys – who study in nearby government schools and is a strong supporter of education. “It is necessary,” she says. “Let children attain something. Let them study.”

Open-data Cities Conference in Brighton, England: turning municipal governments into open data collaborators
Adam sez, “The first Open-data Cities Conference takes place in Brighton, England next week. It’s aimed at local councils and government agencies who want to open up more of their datasets, and giving them ideas and practical help on how to do it. There’s some good speakers, including Tom Steinberg from MySociety and Rufus Pollock from the Open Knowledge Foundation.”

Open-data Cities Conference: discussing the data that can build a better society
The UKs first Open-data Cities Conference will take place at Brighton Dome Corn Exchange today. Greg Hadfield, a former journalist and internet entrepreneur, explains what to expect.

NAO: Gov open data policy disorganised and costly
The government’s open-data policy has no proven benefits and could actually be costing taxpayers more than it’s worth. That’s the message from a National Audit Office report that tells Whitehall it’s time for some proper cost analysis on the policy of unloading vast data sets on the public.

Open data ‘must be driven by need’
The open data movement needs to be driven and managed more by what people want to find out, and less by public bodies’ own agendas, the online democracy pioneer Tom Steinberg told last week’s Open-data Cities Conference in Brighton. (

New World Bank Policy to Open Up Data to Public
The World Bank has announced an “open access policy” in which its data and publications will be licensed under Creative Commons copyrights and made free to the public. The policy, announced on April 10, will go into effect in stages starting on July 1.

#ODCC – Open data and the ‘new digital fields of exchange’
Today marked the first Open Data Cities Conference which kicked off in Brighton, set up by former head of digital development at the Telegraph Greg Hadfield.
The conference said it would “focus on how publicly-funded organisations can engage with citizens to build more creative, prosperous and accountable communities”.

Helping to make the most of open data
People across the country jumped at the opportunity to gain a greater understanding of open data and put tools and techniques into practice at a series of free masterclasses we hosted recently.

Brighton and Hove: becoming an open data, collaborative city
Sadly, John Barradell, chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council isn’t with us, as he’s sick. He’s got stand ins: Charlie Stewart, strategic director and John Shewell, head of communications at Brighton and Hove City Council. (

EDF2012 Hackathon – is your business ready for Linked Open Data?
Copenhagen Business School (CBS) will host an European Data Forum 2012 (EDF2012) on June 6-7,2012. This two day conference is a meeting place for small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), researchers, policy makers and community initiatives to discuss challenges of Big Data, novel data-driven business models, technical innovations and other important aspects (does open government data rings any bells?). 

Open data can benefit voluntary sector
The Nominet Trust team is spending a fair amount of time thinking, investigating and experimenting with open data. The trust’s aim is to seek and support new uses of digital technology for social good. We recently co-hosted a conference on charities and open data with the Big Lottery Fund and NCVO, which indicated a growing interest from the voluntary sector. The opening of public sector data over the past few years is one obvious stimulus for this, particularly since many charities are data suppliers due to their work delivering a public service contracts.

US government deploys open data standards created in Ireland

The open data movement is in full swing and tools and standards created in Ireland are to prove pivotal to open data employed by the US government. It emerged today that agencies in the US Government have adopted a set of web tools and standards developed in Ireland by researchers at NUI Galway’s Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI).


Open Data: UK sets Open Data Example, Leapfrogging US Efforts
In a written memorandum, Barack Obama promised that “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.”  Since then the federal government has set up and a variety of sites that publish data sets.

Can Open Data help conflict prevention?
We’re in the planning stages of a conflict prevention project called PAX and open data perspectives have fed into our thinking in its processes and structures.
PAX aims to provide early warnings of emerging violent conflict, through an online collaborative system of data sharing and analysis.

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