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.”
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!
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
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).
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.