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

This blog post reports on work-in-progress within the DfG course! The post is written by the group 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.

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.


Heinonen, T., 2019. Design for government: Quick introduction to Finnish Society and Government.

Doyle, A. (2020). What Is a Semi-Structured Interview?. Retrieved 12 March 2021, from,straightforward%20question%20and%20answer%20format

Sisäministeriö. 2021. Expatriate Finns are Finnish citizens who live permanently outside Finland – Ministry of the Interior. [online] Available at: <> [Accessed 12 March 2021].

Coronavirus crisis driving Finnish emigrants back home. (2021). Retrieved 12 March 2021, from

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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