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How can we build a council of state that facilitates innovation?

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Challenges and problems faced by our society cross all boundaries – attitudinal, professional and especially administrative. Matters under ministerial preparation today are becoming increasingly complex and interwoven.  At the same time it has long been recognized, at least in Finland, that ministries remain too detached and isolated from one another, without sufficient coordination and cooperation. Yet we have the chances as well as the skills and competencies and indeed the obligation to work more cost effectively. Time pressure, dwindling resources and the sheer scale of the problems we are facing are risks for doing things in a way we are used to. On the other hand these challenges strongly reinforce the fact that we have to change course and do it as quickly as possible.


The critical questions are: have we (here: ministries) set aside enough time for innovation and the development of new directions and approaches? Are we truly willing to invest enough time and expertise in creating the conditions and the kind of management culture where people are inspired to exchange ideas and to work together?


What is the Change Makers Network?

Change Makers Network, established in March 2013, is an unofficial but serious player in building up innovation capacity in Finnish ministries. It is a loosely organized and self-directing team of experts from different ministries, with different backgrounds, education and expertise. It is common to all of the ministries and open to all of the civil servants working in the ministries. The network-model differs dramatically from the tradition where a working group or committee is set and participants are nominated to fulfill a particular, often elsewhere set target.  Change Makers Network is a new kind of a bottom up –community or “movement”. It strongly challenges traditional, hierarchical management practices as well as old fashioned HRM-practices. Management practices as well as administrative services should all be seen as enabling the renewal, instead of setting obstacles for change.



Why was the network set up?

Our civil service culture of bureaucratic administration goes back a long way. This type of juridical bureaucracy has been very much favoured in state administration: it has been considered the best way of organising state administration. However, bureaucratic thinking is not optimal for purposes of making the best use of people’s skills and capacities. We Change Makers believe that we could still achieve much more by facilitating and encouraging the integration of skills and competencies in the spirit of ‘Team Finland’. This way, ministries could achieve much more effective outputs with the taxpayer money at their disposal. One of the main benefits of the Change Makers Network is that it empowers and activates the personnel to make the change by themselves. Being a subject instead of an object motivates to challenge and act. The network encourages to new informal cross-ministerial ways of working, which also enables resource fluidity in every sense.


What are we aiming for

The Change Makers Network is strongly communicating and acting to promote the new role of Government / State as:  role of an enabler. Participants share a need and will to build up a working culture based on a “whole of government” - mind set and “crossing the silos” - ways of working. The network is also willing to test and adopt modern, explorative and digital ways of working. Participants are all volunteers, i.e. they are not nominated to represent any particular point of view or ministry in the network. Change Makers Network´s more or less unofficial mission statement is “Finland first”. It means that only after that comes the sectoral approach. By this mission statement the network strongly stresses the need and will to work across ministerial boundaries and silos in order to be able to solve the wicked problems in the society.


What do we do

In practice our mission statement is being implemented by building up, little by little,  a new kind of working culture in many different ways:  by common discussions, supporting and launching new initiatives, writing blogs, giving expert statements, starting new experiments as well as supporting and bringing innovative approaches in to preparation of all new issues and projects. Recently we have been working with the theme “Government /State as an Enabler”.


Decision-making on social reforms requires a broad and inclusive approach. It’s necessary to work more closely as a team, to have tentacles in every direction in order to identify modern-day phenomena and to find the most appropriate solutions. Indeed it is our understanding that in implementing Government strategies, ministries need to take an agile and smart approach that cuts across administrative boundaries, that makes it easier to link up with other relevant stakeholders in society, and that makes the best possible use of their wide range of skills and expertise.


By a stronger emphasis on cross-sectoral cooperation and collaboration it is also possible to significantly add flexibility to remove resources within the Government. Approaching from different perspectives also improves ability to sense and predict future changes. Dependence on one single point of view, person or just one type of skills and competencies is highly fragile in many ways.


"Culture eats strategy for breakfast"

Culture does not change by itself. Cooperation, collaboration, giving and sharing are elements that must be systematically enhanced at all levels: structural, operational and attitudinal. This does not mean that every ministry or individual civil servant should agree on every matter. Quite the contrary.  In processes of political preparation it is crucial that we are able to consider even contradictory and rival solutions. It’s important to be able to boldly try out new and different practices and approaches.


Strong support from management

Real change comes from below, but it also needs strong support from management. The biggest value of the Change Makers Network lies in its unofficial and informal character. At the same time, this is the most challenging factor while keeping the network alive. However, the future of the network seems positive. Change Makers Network is already recognized and its informal and unofficial nature is accepted.  It is little by little taken “to the tables” where decisions are being made; either as a network or through its members representing new, open- and broad-minded members. In future it is essential that while being an informal and “not nominated”, nor organised group of actives, people´s passion to change and explore is increasingly utilized in all of the ministries. Strong support from top executives is however critical also in the future.


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