Blog II – Strategy for Expatriate Finns

Image reminders of Finland (Group 3A, 2021).

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’. 


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.

The Unheard Voices Among Expatriate Finns

This blog reflects on our progress since the last post. Currently, we are at the end of the research phase of the project, and have gained an understanding of the problem context and worked to discover relevant themes, identify insights within those themes, and define our focal point to the problem.

Our research methods mainly consisted of desktop research (examining previous literature, browsing information on relevant websites, and benchmarking existing expatriate service organizations), semi-structured interviews, and an online survey. It was exciting to learn about our topic by hearing about the experiences of real people. Furthermore, it was nice to see how eager people were to share their experiences with us: most of our 7 interviews lasted for over an hour, and our online survey received more than 800 responses! Having data from the interviews, the survey, and desktop research, we mapped the key takeaways into themes into an affinity diagram and identified insights within each theme. The key insights are displayed in Figure 1:


Figure 1. Research insights 1-7 (left to right)

We believe that the first four insights in particular provide grounds for narrowing down our focal point within the problem scope. The first two insights identify that Finnish expatriates prefer to participate in informal, community-based networks instead of political channels or formal organizations. One of the reasons for this is the expats feel that Finnish politics doesn’t affect them during their time abroad. Nevertheless, current services targeted toward expatriates — in particular, those provided by the government — are often aimed to promote participation through formal and political means. This phenomenon can be recognized in current interventions, such as the launch of mail-in voting and the assembly of the Finnish Expatriate Parliament. While such interventions are, undoubtedly, successful in promoting participation among some groups of expatriate Finns, our research sought to identify the groups whom these existing services fail to reach, or in other words, the groups which are underrepresented within the domain of services intended to enhance participation from abroad.

The third insight identifies younger generations as an underrepresented group in the domain of expatriate services and argues that a generational difference among preferred methods of participation exists. Both our research and previous literature on the topic suggest that younger generations prefer to be involved in looser networks and participate on a grassroots level within a community instead of engaging in institutionalized politics (Huttunen & Christinsen, 2020; Dalton, 2016). While the exact reasons behind this phenomenon remain a matter of further research, our research has identified that the current government-backed interventions to promote participation fail to appeal to young people.

“I don’t know anything about Finnish politics, I don’t even know what parties they have, I’m clueless about these things”
– Student, 23

“Most of the offers sound extremely boring (like the Parliament) and more targeted for older Finnish people who live abroad. There’s nothing interesting for younger people like me” – Survey answer

“I don’t feel the need to connect with people from eg. Finnish societies, especially as usually the people in these are older than me” – Survey answer

Moreover, our fourth insight elaborates that while community-based expatriate networks are increasingly emerging, these networks remain scattered around the web, and information about them fails to reach expatriates efficiently. This seems to be because there is a lack of easy-to-access resources that would provide condensed information about these unofficial communities. The insight pinpoints information flow as a specific contributor to the problem.

“I had studied here in the UK for 5 years and had not heard of the finnish student association” – Student, 24

Based on these insights, we decided to narrow our problem down to the participation of young expatriates. We created a systems map (Figure 2) that shows relevant stakeholders within the problem domain and highlights the most relevant stakeholders as well as apparent problem areas. This systems map is intended to specify relevant stakeholders and problem areas, which will help us pinpoint opportunity areas in the solution-definition phase. Furthermore, we created a journey map (Figure 3) of the expatriate journey to help us draw the connection between our insights, relevant stakeholders and specific life events which expats undergo. The journey map helped us connect our identified insights and relevant stakeholders to concrete points in time in the overall journey of an expatriate Finn.

Figure 2: Systems Map of Young Expatriate Participation

Figure 3. The Journey of an Expat.

With our insights and analysis, we were able to narrow down the scope of the problem at hand. In conclusion, our research uncovered that current expatriate services do not address the needs of younger generations, who tend to prefer non-institutionalized participation, and further pinpointed that sluggish information flow hinders access to such service networks. Thus, the questions which remain open are: 1) How could the government promote this type of community-based participation that young people prefer, 2) How could the information about such networks be delivered efficiently, and 3) Which life events in the expat journey provide opportunity areas for novel interventions to enhance this type of participation? With these intriguing questions in mind, we proceed into the solution-definition phase of the project.


Huttunen J, Christensen HS. (2020) Engaging the Millennials: The Citizens’ Initiative in Finland. YOUNG;28(2):175-198. doi:10.1177/1103308819853055

Dalton, R. J. (2016). The good citizen: How a younger generation is reshaping American politics. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.

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).

Week five and research feedbacks: understanding expats

Grouping interviewees’ opinions work-in-progress.

The Ministry of Interior aims to create a new strategy to increase the participation, cooperation and communication of expatriate Finns with Finland. Early April, we have been working on the brief for over a month and our team of four is now well acquainted with the issues surrounding expatriate Finns. In the last few weeks, we have been conducting a questionnaire, seven interviews and cultural probes. These methods enabled us to compare and classify these findings in order to refine our understanding of the system that surrounds the expatriate Finns.

System map to understand the system around expatriate Finns.

‘Imagined community’ beyond borders

First, we created a Systems map to better understand the structure, networks and links between different elements of this project. We started by identifying key elements from our initial brief, such as “Expatriate Finns”, “National identity” and “Government”, and then added new elements as we proceeded with our research. Quite soon certain parts of the map became more prominent like the number of cultural objects that were mentioned. The map allowed us to identify the links between elements. The highlighted links show relations the expats have with their national identity, their passport (citizenship), voting (participation). Also, we could see that the strongest elements of national identity include language, cultural objects and family relations. The map shows that besides geographical borders (Finland and the country abroad), we are dealing with an imaginative border of community that is not dependent on geography.

Affinity diagram to identify the main themes.

Journey of an expatriate.

Various feelings about identity

Together with the two other teams working on the same brief, we conducted a questionnaire that received 844 respondents. To build on the data we gathered seven semi-structured interviews with Finnish expatriates. Those were professionals of their field, age ranging between 28-40. Three of them were living abroad and four had returned to Finland. To make sense of their opinions, we organized and clustered our observations in different categories, which you can see in our Affinity Diagram, a tool for data analysis. By cross-checking these categories with the questionnaire, we have observed that feelings about the national identity vary. Some expatriates “feel more and more disconnected from the culture every year”, some feel “no change”, others see themselves as “more international than Finn”, others say that moving abroad gave them “a wider perspective” (quotes from the questionnaire) and the majority still assume that moving abroad has strengthened their sense of ‘Finnishness’.

We asked expats to send us some pictures whenever they get reminded of Finland.

Focusing our research on returned expatriates

Returned expatriates share a certain level of disconnectedness after their return. The question of national identity is both complex and straightforward at the same time. While some people reported that moving away has strengthened their Finnish identity, others felt the experience had shifted their identity and made them partial to the world rather than Finland. How can the government make their decisions friendlier towards these ‘citizens of the world’? The Government wants to motivate Finns to come back, however, many expatriates who have returned do not feel fully integrated, even after several years. If returned expatriates felt accepted and integrated after returning to Finland, they might be more willing to return. Caring and listening to the voices of returned expatriates could attract more people to come home. Could we broaden the definition of Finnish expatriate to the extent of the ones who have returned or are about to return?

What is the next destination?

844 respondents to the questionnaire in less than a week. Almost 5 hours of recorded interviews. This means that there is definitely a need to share the experience of being an expatriate. The impact of the experience is not fully understood – or appreciated. How to benefit from the experiences of expats and their International mindset? How to see this as an asset? Facilitating the integration of returning expatriates can be part of the strategy for the Government. In the coming weeks, we’ll start to develop our concept with the aim to focus on returned expats and expats who are willing to return soon.

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

Deep dividing: researching and analyzing the data and trying to define the aspects we should focus on for emotional support

During the past three weeks, after getting to know our teammates and familiarizing ourselves with the brief, we started gathering desktop research and conducted a series of interviews both as a group and with our supergroup.

After receiving more than 800 responses from our supergroup survey, we started to run some interviews with expatriates from around the world in order to get more fruitful and multicultural insights and qualitative data. The interviews were conducted with Finnish expats, non-Finish expats, service providers (both Finnish and international) and Finish administrators. Apart from this, we also collected some data by running asynchronous interviews through email and Facebook for those with busier schedules.

After gathering our data, classifying it became tricky, which is where the affinity diagram played a role. We managed to cluster six categories of data in an organic way since we just grouped it and then came up with the categories. In the affinity diagram, we attached the most importance to three categories: participation in language and culture, emotional wellbeing and support, and return to Finland. Data in these three categories was frequently mentioned by our interviewees and helped us narrow down our interests and focus our brief.

Another important element in our analysis was the system map, which helped us have a clearer understanding of what kinds of stakeholders are involved and an overall perspective to see what is happening among them. First, we tried to list out every single related element we could think about, ranging from the structure of stakeholders to some intangible factors. Apart from that, we tried to figure out all the relationships between each element, which is why the initial system map looks chaotic. To narrow it down, we got rid of many unnecessary elements and routes and used shades, different colours, different sizes, and different positions to make the refined system map. To keep it clear and focused, we also created a black and white version focusing on emotion to show where our interest lies as a group.

Screen recording: How we  get rid of unnecessary things and reorganize the system map (Images: Savannah Vize)

System map iteration, from the left to right: Initial system map, refined system map, emotion-focusing system map (Image: Shuaijun Zhang)

In the fifth week, we had the mid-term presentation. It was helpful to get feedback from our clients: some of our insights were acknowledged but some were not. It meant that not only do we need to rephrase our findings, add and remove something, but also try to find a way to persuade the value of those insights we attached great importance to but did not get attention from our stakeholders. One thing that we found useful for collaborative presentation making was that Miro is an efficient platform for teams to make a refined sketch of the presentation since there is no limitation of the canvas size on those traditional PPT tools.

Presentation slide pages: illustration about our research process, findings about communication problems, affinity diagram and analysis, the curve of emotional states for both moving away and coming back (Images: Savannah Vize)

“How might Finland maintain ‘invisible string’ relationships to Finns living abroad, in order to support their emotional and practical needs, and keep a line of communication open should they need it?”

“What services could be provided to better support the diverse needs of returning expatriates, especially regarding employment, qualifications and reverse culture shock?”

These are our refined research questions after 5 weeks of Design for Government, slightly repositioning the original government brief to better suit our interests. As we move into the design phase of the course, we are going to work on how to better define the problem and users more specifically.

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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