Blog I – Strategy for Expatriate Finns

Survey sent out by Supergroup 3. Image: Hannah Roche, Group 3B

These blog posts report on work-in-progress within the DfG course! The posts are written by groups dealing with the Ministry of Interior’s brief on ‘Strategy for expatriate Finns’. 

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Group 3A: Rūta Šerpytytė and Liisi Wartiainen from Collaborative and Industrial Design program, Chloe Pillon from Creative Sustainability program, and Kaisa-Maria Suomalainen from Future Studies program (University of Turku).

Two weeks and dozens of open tabs: understanding the brief – Group 3A – Blog 1

Backstage of online work

The spring of 2021 started together with the Design for Government course. Together with our diverse, multicultural team of four, we began tackling the brief provided by the Ministry of Interior. The project focuses on the strategy for expatriate Finns with the aim to get design concepts for how to increase the participation, cooperation and communication of expatriate Finns with Finland. In the past two weeks, we have done a lot of background reading on the topic, organised an online roundtable discussion with the stakeholders, and started working on theresearch – questionnaire and the interviews.

The strategy for expatriate Finns – what is it about?

There are around 2 million people living abroad with Finnish roots. (Statistics Finland, 2019). The Ministry of Interior is setting up a strategy for these expatriates for the year 2022-2026. The strategy aims to support expatriate Finns, expand their representation, create new ways to strengthen their relationship with Finland as well as make it easier to come back and integrate into society. Keeping in mind the huge number of Finns living abroad, some groups might be left underrepresented – one being Finnish youth, who are not very active in expat organisations (according to Suomi-Seura, the majority of participants of Finnish Expatriate Parlament is over 70 years old). But who are the other underrepresented groups? How can we increase their involvement in the development of the strategy? How to ensure that the strategy will work? These are only a few of the questions that have been raised during our discussions. To answer at least some of them, we organised an online roundtable discussion with our stakeholders.

Discussing with the stakeholders

To prepare for the roundtable, we gathered together with other two groups working on the same project (supergroup), shared our insights, divided roles, sorted the technicalities and prepared questions for the stakeholders. The discussion, which lasted 2,5 hours, was efficient and informative. We had a chance to get to know the people behind our partners –  institutions, such as the Ministry of Interior, Suomi-Seura (the Finland society), the Migration Institute of Finland and he Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. During the discussion, the effectiveness of the strategy and the Expat Parliament was emphasised. Some problematic points were touched, such as the low rate of postal voting by the expats, the language barrier which prevents young people, who do not know Finnish, from participatingin various activities, and the lack of one centralized communication system/channel. Yet, one main focus of the brief appeared to be the need to find the underrepresented groups and hear their needs. As Mariana Salgado, the service designer from the Ministry of Interior said during our discussion: “In terms of the strategy, what we aim is to listen to the needs of as many different voices as possible.”

Roundtable discussion with our project stakeholders / Screenshot Hannah Roche Group 3B

Let’s hear more voices!

After the discussion, we definitely felt wiser and more confident about the brief, but new questions have emerged as well. We realised that there is a risk that our stakeholders might be “blinded by their own expertise”.So,we needed to reach out to the expats themselves, hear them out and see another point of view.We have prepared a research plan, which includes our goals, research questions and methods that would help to answer these questions. One topic that we will try to explore more is national identity – when do people identify themselves as Finns? We understand that this is an extremely subjective question, and yet very interesting for us. The world is getting more and more global, and the strong national identity, as a concept, might be very different than it was 10-20 years ago. Thus, we believe that looking deeper into this subject would help us to understand the needs of expatriate Finns, especially the young ones, better. As for the methods, we are conducting desktop research, preparing for the one-on-one interviews and, together with our supergroup, we have prepared a questionnaire, which has received844 responses in less than a week!

What’s next?

So, after these two weeks of a lot of reading, understanding, hearing different opinions, looking for examples, raising questions and discussing, dozens of open tabs – including related web pages, academic articles, Miro boards, Google sheets, Facebook groups – we are finally starting to understand what this brief is about. We are very excited to talk to the expats and see their point of view as well. After that, we will hopefully start connecting the dots and make sense of all of this information. 

You can read more about the project here (in Finnish).

Group 3B: Amir Tahvonen and Savannah Vize from Creative Sustainability, and Hannah Roche and Shuaijun Zhang from Collaborative and Industrial Design.

Beyond borders: understanding the complex emotional needs of Finnish expatriates and the systems in place to support them

Our group member Savannah co-hosting the round table discussion (Image: Hannah Roche)

During the first two weeks of Design for Government, our main objective was to understand our project brief: the Strategy for Expatriate Finns, and the people affected by it. We started by doing preliminary research, organising fieldwork activities such as interviews and surveys, and participated in a round table discussion with our main project stakeholders. The participants of this remote meeting included members of the Ministry of the Interior, the Migration Institute, Suomi-Seura, and the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment. Together, our goal was to create a shared understanding of the brief by resolving any questions or concerns, especially regarding the emotional needs of Finns living overseas, the desired scope of participation, and stakeholder expectations.

Some of our main takeaways from the round table discussion were that current information networks need to be coordinated, that there is currently no system for staying in touch with Finns once they leave and when they return, and that young people are interested in participating in Finland from abroad, but need to be enabled via the right channels. Most stakeholders also agreed that maintaining ties to Finland through language and/or culture is vital. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that these elements often tie us to our heritage: shared ways of communicating or participating in traditions that stay with you no matter where you are.

Our brief focuses specifically on how we might “increase the participation, cooperation and communication of expatriate Finns with Finland” (DfG Strategy for expatriate Finns – Project brief, 2021). Emphasis was placed on wanting to gain active involvement from the 300,000 citizens living overseas, reinforcing their liaison with Finland, whilst also bearing in mind the Sustainable Development Goals. In addition, our stakeholders hoped we might identify who the most underrepresented groups may be, and help map the strategies / policies other countries have in place to support expatriates.

“We are looking for ideas and concepts that relate to how we could better integrate expats into the strategy (…). With that in mind we are also interested in mapping what services are provided, and need to be provided, tomorrow and for the faraway future.”

– Mariana Salgado, Ministry of the Interior

Perhaps this need for a new strategy is all the more important now, with 1,657 Finns immigrating home in 2020. This is the first time in 10 years that there has not been an excess of Finns emigrating: in 2016 a record 4,079 persons left Finland (Finnish Migration 2010-2020. Statistics Finland). Whether a result of the global pandemic or general feelings of uncertainty, it seems that Finns want to return to their home country which is worth investigating. Another explanation may be that, even with postal voting introduced in 2019, the highest voter turnout amongst expatriates was just 13.9%, during the 2012 presidential election (On the Borderlines of Voting, 2018). In addition, a survey of over 1,000 Finnish expatriates showed that 54.6% were not very interested in the political situation in Finland, or lacked the knowledge to make an informed decision (On the Borderlines of Voting, 2018).

Part of our ongoing supergroup survey sent out to former and current Finnish expatriates (Screenshot: Hannah Roche)

Cultural identity is an incredibly complex issue that many expatriates and dual-citizens have to come to terms with. Therefore, our group is especially interested in the long and short-term needs of this target group, and how we can best provide solutions for them. This is due to the incredibly diverse (emotional) experiences these individuals go through: regardless of how long they stay abroad, everyone reacts differently to new surroundings and requires different levels of support at different stages. To better empathise with our users, we have started to arrange a series of interviews with service designers / organisers, researchers, and a multitude of expatriates in order to hear more about the emotional side of this experience. In addition, we have created a survey with our supergroup in order to gather qualitative and quantitative data to further our understanding. At the time of writing, our survey has received over 800 responses. This high level of engagement is an insight in itself, perhaps indicative of people’s keen interest in this topic, and how it relates to their journey.

Group 3C: Phuong Nguyen from the New Media Design program, Mõtus Lõmaš Kama from Collaborative and Industrial Design program (Exchange), Mariela Urra Schiaffino, Creative Sustainability program (Design track), and Nicholas Colb from Information Networks program.

Design diary: Kickstarting the journey to create a positive impact for expatriate Finns

This blog reflects on the first two weeks of the design project, of which the main actions were: team building, roundtable discussion, and design research. Besides that, we have done tons of reading, desktop research to understand the Finnish government context and its different institutions and structure, as well as the current state of Finnish expatriates. 

“If you wanna succeed in design, or in any field that connects to finding out the problem and figuring out the solution, then you have to understand the context.” (Heinonen, 2019)

Any successful project requires successful teamwork. We are lucky enough to have a group of four people with diverse backgrounds (art, design, tech), and nationalities. This means we have a nice mix of expertise and experience to tackle any upcoming challenges. Moreover, diversity means different perspectives and approaches toward problems and solutions, which often brings creative and unexpected collaborative results. Working alongside on the same design brief are two other teams; thus, in total we have a team of 12 people (called the Supergroup), collaborating on solving problems together. We also have our tutor Nuria Solsona Caba helping and supporting us as the project progresses.

At the start of the second week, we held a roundtable discussion between the student groups and representatives from Intermin – Ministry of Interior, Migration Institute, TEM – Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employments, Suomi-seura. As summarized from the discussion, we aim to provide an innovative solution for connecting and involving Finnish expatriates all around the world with Finland. The solution should be all-inclusive and provide a wide variety of communication channels and services to support expatriates living abroad, that are easily accessible to people from different demographics. There is a target of increasing the connection between Finland and its expatriates by supporting political and cultural participation. During the research and concept development, Finland’s Sustainability goal of becoming a carbon-neutral country in 2030 should also be kept in mind.

During the research planning phase, we discussed and agreed on conducting desktop research, interviews, and online surveys as research methods. Desktop research mainly aims at putting ourselves into the shoes of Finnish expatriates, going through their process of finding information from websites which concern their activities, like websites of Finnish embassies, Suomi-seura, Migri, and so on. Additionally, we are looking into how other nations maintain ties with their expatriates and some related academic papers. The interviews with Finnish expatriates were conducted in a semi-structured format, which means having a casual conversation with the interviewees with or without following a set of predefined topics and related questions (Doyle, 2020). This method aims to understand their perspectives, being receptive to understand reasons, feelings, and symbolic associations. As for the survey, we are collaborating with the Supergroup. An online questionnaire (in English and Finnish) was distributed to social media networks. As a result of combining different methods, we have both qualitative and quantitative data to back up our project in the next steps.

According to the Intermin website, the definition of Finnish expatriates is: Expatriate Finns are Finnish citizens who live permanently outside Finland (Intermin, 2021). However, we also consider Finnish expatriates who have recently returned to Finland. As of the Covid pandemic, more Finns have come back than are leaving, and they might or might not continue moving between countries (YLE, 2021). The figure below shows the net immigrations of Finnish citizens from 2010 to 2020.

Figure 1. Net immigration of Finnish citizens 2010-2020.

When finding interviewees, we divided Finnish expatriates into three groups, based on their current geographical location: Expats who have recently returned to Finland, Expats who are living inside the EU, and Expats who are living outside the EU. For each group, we contacted 2-3 interviewees with varying age groups, country of residency, and family type. This way, we can ensure the diversity of research demographics and find out the underrepresented expatriates. Furthermore, we collaborated and divided the work within the Supergroup. With more people interviewing, we can combine research data, hence strengthening and broadening the research insights.

To conclude, we have a promising project that kickstarted smoothly. The next steps would be doing additional research, mapping out the big picture of the ecosystem of expatriate Finns (System maps), together with research analysis (Affinity diagram). These visual methods will allow us to better visualize complexity and identify where to focus our attention. As for the overall goal of the team, we want to create a positive impact for Finnish expatriates, meeting both their current and future needs.

References

Heinonen, T., 2019. Design for government: Quick introduction to Finnish Society and Government.
https://aalto.cloud.panopto.eu/Panopto/Pages/Viewer.aspx?id=c18471fd-7e5f-4339-8974-acd500c718d1

Doyle, A. (2020). What Is a Semi-Structured Interview?. Retrieved 12 March 2021, from https://www.thebalancecareers.com/what-is-a-semi-structured-interview-2061632#:~:text=A%20semi%2Dstructured%20interview%20is,straightforward%20question%20and%20answer%20format

Sisäministeriö. 2021. Expatriate Finns are Finnish citizens who live permanently outside Finland – Ministry of the Interior. [online] Available at: <https://intermin.fi/en/areas-of-expertise/migration/nationality/expatriate-finns> [Accessed 12 March 2021].

Coronavirus crisis driving Finnish emigrants back home. (2021). Retrieved 12 March 2021, from https://yle.fi/uutiset/osasto/news/coronavirus_crisis_driving_finnish_emigrants_back_home/11536982

The DfG course runs for 14 weeks each spring – the 2021 course has now started and runs from 01 Mar to 24 May. It’s an advanced studio course in which students work in multidisciplinary teams to address project briefs commissioned by governmental ministries in Finland. The course proceeds through the spring as a series of teaching modules in which various research and design methods are applied to addressing the project briefs. Blog posts are written by student groups, in which they share news, experiences and insights from within the course activities and their project development. More information here about the DfG 2021 project briefs. Hold the date for the public online finale online 09:00-12:00 AM (EEST) on Monday 24 May!

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