Cross-pollinating in the ministerial policy ecosystem

Figure 1: People, pollinating with trust and passion for biodiversity, are a valuable leverage point for biodiversity policy. Illustration by Hylton Warburton.

This blog entry reports on work-in-progress within the DfG course. It is produced by group 1C and revolves around our work with the Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Environment’s brief on ‘Mainstreaming Biodiversity’. The group consists of Dinah Coops and Anna Kristine Halvorsen from the Creative Sustainability program, Sari Kukkasniemi from the Collaborative and Industrial Design program, and Thao (Jandi) Nguyen from the International Design Business Management program.

We began this project journey by exploring the broad systems behind Finnish biodiversity policy and actions, followed by learning about the very human interconnections within these systems. We are currently at the stage of discussing design ideas, or interventions as they are often called, with our partners based on our research from the first two phases. Our aim now is to inspire cross-pollination within the policy ecosystem to create more breadth and resiliency for biodiversity efforts and future laws. After this, our next and nearly last step will be to build a narrative for change.

This blog entry is written by Dinah Coops.

Leverage points and bounded rationality; what they are and how they are mind blowing

Welcome back to our process, the leverage point and ideation edition! We have drawn much inspiration for this next phase from the promising power of leverage points and the knowledge of bounded rationality. For those unfamiliar with the term, leverage points are places within a complex system where a shift in one thing has the possibility of making much broader changes (Meadows, 1999). Meadows, our hero, describes 12 types of leverage points, written in order of the amount of impact they typically create. As you can see in the drawing below, they start with parameters that can be tweaked, such as subsidies or taxes and then keep increasing in potential impact all the way up to the power to transcend paradigms, which wields the most potential for change. When we were looking for potential entry points to make a difference and saw one that mapped to a leverage point, we knew we were getting hot


Figure 2: Meadow’s leverage points. Simple on paper, mind blowing in action.

Bounded rationality means “that people make quite rational decisions based on the information they have. But they don’t have perfect information, especially about more distant parts of (an organization)” (Meadows, 2008). In our work with the agencies who support the ministry in biodiversity, we’ve also seen that bounded rationality quite often interacts with leverage points. For example, if a civil servant is incentivized to make decisions based on the goals of their department, and there is also a lesser known or more difficult to achieve over-arching goal in place for the entire organization, the incentivized, department goals will always take top priority. As a stark illustration, if there are strong incentives in place for wood harvesting (let’s say, in order to decrease national debt and fund citizen’s pensions), this will supersede a soft policy biodiversity goal of increasing land protection. To us student nerds, this is the kind of analysis that is mind blowing.

“Budgets are generally going down in Finland. There’s increasing pressure to raise money. We can’t protect more or ask for more because forestry brings money.” 

– Leading Specialist, Metsähallitus

And yet, as you have read in our last blog, there is also resilience and the seeds of empowerment contained within this policy ecosystem. There are people scattered throughout the system with a strong inner motivation to protect biodiversity, and who understand the consequences if we don’t. This motivates them to keep passionately putting in effort and sharing, or pollinating, others with this motivation. There is so much potential, and yet currently, bounded rationality, as well as the hierarchical and legal structures in place, are not creating fertile grounds for this type of collaboration. With this in mind…

Where and how can we best encourage cross pollination between the Ministry of the Environment and the agencies and panels that support them?

Figure 3: Our system map that holds the secrets of our entry points. Illustration by Thao (Jandi) Nguyen.

At the time of this writing, we have composed 12 entry point ideas based largely on the leverage points and bounded rationality discussed above. Next, we will narrow down to one idea to discuss with our partners in an ideation session this coming week. This idea will, in part, carry the hopes of ultimately achieving our overall vision.  And yes, our lofty vision includes Finland becoming a leader for the world in biodiversity, even though we are also grounded in tangibility.

As of now, our top ideas include a) repositioning nature panels to serve politicians as well as policy makers, b) creating a change agent nature network that operates between sectors, and c) using immersive experiences to foster relationships with nature and between people in the agencies and in the government. For example, this could include experiences such as having people working in different areas “trade places” for a period of time to learn about the stresses, joys, and drivers in other departments, or negotiating a biodiversity agreement together in a meadow. What are the guiding principles that will help us narrow down? We are evaluating our concepts through these lenses:

  1. Provides bridges between ministries and agencies or between agencies
  2. Works across policy and election cycles: is self-sustaining and not dependent on a project or single person
  3. Will help create the shift in values and political will necessary to support biodiversity
  4. Has the potential to be fun 😀

We are not under the illusion that the introduction of design ideas into the policy-making cycle is a magic bullet or something that will just smoothly fall into place. Design interventions have the potential to expose and challenge people in political institutions and in the agencies and boards that support them and can run into hurdles. As heard from a participant in a study by the Policy Lab in the UK, “The Policy Lab guys […] (are) assuming that everybody is willing to participate in a collaborative creative process, whereas actually, with inter-departmental working, that’s often not the case. People sit there and say nothing, and lock the conversation down (Bailey & Lloyd, 2016).

Sensitivity and a sense of humor will be as essential as the conceptual thinking in the introduction of any design ideas we propose. For we know, that teams who have fun and laugh together also usually have the highest performance (Lehmann-Willenbrock & Allen, 2014). And high performance is what we want in support of biodiversity. After all, our aim is no less than to attract pollinator collaborators from near and far fields…to cross fertilize and strengthen the genetic biodiversity of Finland and ensure the survival of its progeny (Libretexts, 2021).


Bailey, J., & Lloyd, P. (2016). The introduction of design to policymaking: Policy Lab and the UK government. In Proceedings of the Conference of Design Research Society (pp. 3620-3633). Brighton, UK: Design Research Society

Lehmann-Willenbrock, N., & Allen, J. A. (2014). How fun are your meetings? Investigating the relationship between humor patterns in team interactions and team performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(6), 1278–1287.

Libretexts. (2021). 40.4.1: Pollination and fertilization. Biology LibreTexts

Meadows, D. H. (1999). Leverage points: Places to intervene in a system.

Meadows, D. H. (2008). Why systems surprise us. In Thinking in systems: A primer (pp 86-110). Chelsea Green Publishing.

The DfG course runs for 14 weeks each spring – the 2024 course runs from 26 Feb to 29 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 address 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 2024 project briefs. Hold the date for the public finale on Wednesday 29 May

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