Civil servants facing new challenges

There's been a lot of talk about ecosystems, Sometimes I worry that it is easier for administration to step outside of the ring. To be an outsider means you don't have to take a stand.

When you don't take a stand, you can stay inactive. When you don't have anything at stake, it doesn't matter how the game will end.

There is only one huge downside to all this. In Nordic countries the whole concept of welfare is built on taxation and the redistribution of Gov¨t refunds in order to keep everybody onboard.

Gatekeepers or naysayers

As the world gets automated and more and more people gather their living from bits and pieces, also the administration needs to play the same game. Civil servants play a significant role in designing  new solutions to rising challenges.

It is worthwhile to look at the services as investments, rather than costs. Only that way can we make sustainable decisions. As Mazzucato points out in her excellent book, Entrepreneurial State, it is often the government that gets to take care of certain issues that the market powers just don't see as potential gains. Public sector money is more patient, as they say in impact investing.

Taking care of societal problems in advance, before they even arise, is in the end much more effective than trying to fix things that are already broken. In gloom and doom financial times it is tempting to cut costs that are not an absolute must. How shortsighted that is!

Agile changemakers hit the wall

The Finnish society is steady and admired around the world. In this rule of law country we Finns are able to trust public sector. Each sector and office knows its duty and actually performs in quite lean processes. New phenomena, technological disruptions or a sudden flood of refugees have complicated things nastily. Solving problems call for collaboration of many a more offices than before and often the core issue seems to fall on a no man's land. The ability to make decisions is in jeopardy.

Passion to make things possible seems to explain best solutions in public sector. But often that will to change is put out with the fatal phrase "Impossible!"

New work is learning - exploring and experimenting! 

Civil servants can no longer see their work as a routine, be a part of machine. We need to become enablers! That calls for vision, ability to see the big picture and the common goal. If we fail in that, the only thing there really is to say is "No, that is impossible."

That happens also when we feel fear. Or if we feel that we really don't have a licence to act differently or explore in order to find the solution. Will the boss step in front of us when  something hits the fan?

Experiments are such a central tool because we no longer can tell in advance what will work. The boss who sees the goal out there - and wants to achieve it - will send out teams to experiment.

Civil servants are on the way to become explorers. Together we dare.


Proudly presenting: Experimental Finland

Long time, no see is an expression quite suitable here, I'd say. It seems that in order to blog in multiple languages one needs multiple audiences, too. Past year I've received constant pleas to blog in English, so let me (re)present myself :)

I came to Prime Minister's Office (PMO) in May 2016, invited to build a digital platform for co-creating and (crowd-) funding small scale experiments.

After 19 years of multiple mini careers under one employer, the Finnish Tax Administration (FTA), it was quite refreshing. Everything I had learned was now needed.

The most valuable asset being strong networks floating with wisdom and knowledge. Otherwise our small - no matter, how energetic a - team would have been facing practically a

Mission impossible 

Originally I was supposed to do the trick in 7 months. A promise had been made to deliver the platform by the end of 2016. So I started with reading the background research describing the challenges stopping innovations and experimental developing. Endless meetings were the pool of wisdom and equipped us with enough tools to design the hazy blueprint we wanted to breath into life. In October we held a two-day hackathon where three teams competed and were all rewarded for their ideation. Of the competition works an anonymous jury finally chose one team to build the platform with us.

Place to Experiment beta was ready to welcome its first experiments Mid January 2017. Then we had a few months of live development, getting ready to really go public with the platform.

Kokeilun paikka was launched in May 3rd 2017 by our Minister Ms. Anu Vehviläinen. The very next day, as part of Tulevaisuuden valtiopäivät, (English at the bottom of the page) Mr. Sipilä's Government convened for a plenary session in front of a live audience. There one of the practical tools for democracy presented to the Gov't by Ms. Vehviläinen was Place to Experiment. It was an honor to be launched in such a once-in-a-lifetime celebration for the centennial Republic of Finland.

Finland acknowledged internationally 

What has brought Finland international fame, is the systematic approach, as mentioned by the report of OECD: Systems Approaches to Public Sector Challenges. Over and over again, the following three elements are highlighted:

  • Mentioning experiments in the Government program
  • Team situated in the PMO 
  • Digital platform to support the work

In practice, the Gov't key project of implementing experimental culture is lead by a small team working at the Prime Minister's Office. A lot of our work is making networks and outcomes visible, sharing information and making the change where old ways are piling up.

Psst, not for the first time!

Back in 2010 I got a task to assist in the work of GAO as they we're preparing an assignment for Obama Administration. Mr. Obama asked GAO to look into best practices in tax administration around the globe, and the Finnish Tax Card Online grabbed their attention. During numerous conference calls it became obvious that gathering taxation data from employers, lenders etc. and preparing the tax proposal for the customer was the big innovation. Tax Card Online was a tool to adjust taxes withheld to the final assessment. In addition, eServices provided a more efficient way to gather customer data thus enabling cost savings for the FTA.

More details in the following reports:
GAO Report to Congressional Requesters
US Senate, Hearing before the Committee on Finance

What next? I have been asked to present the Place to Experiment in Urban Futures Conference February in Vienna. The Austrians learned about our platform while in Oslo..

Can't wait to see what else AD 2018 will bring about. Let's share the journey, shall we?


New leadership!

 KL: Simon Sinek NBForum 2015
Simon Sinek was in Finland (F: Link in Finnish) and was asked for some advice for our government. The situation is bad, but together you can pull through: just involve all the people.

My friend is educating herself more, in order to make her two degrees more compatible to the market. There are some remarkable theories, she shrieked, but they're all in vain, if the grassroot employer doesn't have them as a tool. 

This is how it all dawned on me.

As we were reaping the harvest this weekend, I offered to prepare some zucchini soup. For some reason ;) my mother in law was very articulate to guide me through the motions. Okay, she is a small woman, and the zucchinis were quite big.. Anyway, just split them in half and then half the other way. Okay? 

A few moments later I stand with my academic degree, pondering what Sinek had just said in my earphones, and there is this vast very curved up zucchini. Can I just cut the giant into three pieces so that I can use the knife more handily..? 

Flash of understanding!

THIS is why processes make organization dumber! That is why they drop the customer in between where it just ain't nobody's business to help her out.. 

The guidelines were specific. One who desires to do it the other way just has to have a bigger picture about what it is she or he is doing. Without the bigger picture (without courage to try something else?) the advice at hand is the only way to move on, till the doomsday. Guidelines without a licence to apply belong to assembly line only. And yes, by all means, do transfer that work to the robots!

A good leader inspires and gives hope, Sinek also said, and lets people solve their common problem together.

Later (F) someone asked where to get a leader like that.

It is not about the core knowledge of one particular leader, it is shared leadership. It is time to act, for these problems cannot be solved by one man.  Or one woman.


Get rid of the locks!

Civil society has arisen with the new government. Great ideas gather people together, but it seems to me that the Establishment is unable to find a way to involve the greatest asset it can dream to have working for it, along side: the people.

A lot has been done in ministries for the Change to happen. Co-creation and openness are in. Ministry networks evolve as civil servants reach out for each other.

But is the Establishment already too big to change? The ball is in the air, approaching with speed. Can we catch it??

In Finland there is will to join "the 5% movement" that our Prime Minister Sipilä declared as he published the new Gov't program. Civil servants, those who get along fine with their salary, started to look out for each other to join the campaign. So did the People. Their spokeswoman, Ms. Henni Ahvenlampi bombarded the Establishment in search for a way to involve.

No answer.

What happens to agility when Establishment really cements its ways to work, writes down responsibilities and procedures and cuts processes into pieces accordingly? It seems to me that anything outside of the Planned just falls in between. No catch.

If we really want the People to join in, we - the Government, the Establishment - need to open up the locks.

We have a growing problem of mould with houses that were once renovated against winds and moist.

There is no air inside. We suffocate.

Note: All links in Finnish


From openness to sustainability

My daughter is studying psychology and explains all our actions with different theories. Something like that got started last week on the Open Knowledge Festival.

On Wednesday Ministry of Finance arranged an open "hackathon" (F) for developing a country plan in order to join Open Government Partnership along with 70 other countries.

Open government, Open knowledge, Open data.. 

Opening data has been on agenda for a year now. Short-sightedly, I have settled for aiming to opening up government spending.

Last week I came across with broader views that obviously had been there for me to find. With a colleague from Isle of Man we discussed how to find and visualize the influence behind faceless enterprises. How to spot the power links in the world economy and what exactly is the thing that needs to be opened if we aim to find the real places of influence?

Customer journeys in one's own mother tongue

Data visualization came up in Visualizing Knowledge (F) seminar on Monday. Rob Waller linked literacy built on structured documents with the concept of customer journey.

On Thursday I got a sort of a wake up call on the real significance of mother tongue. I got acquainted with contract visualization already on Monday, in English. But it wasn't until M!ND researcher Stefania Passera gave the same speech in Finnish, my own mother tongue, that really got my own thinking going.

As the pieces gained their familiarity in Finnish I became able to apply the newly learned methods in the phenomena in my own work.

So this is what it means to really understand what the official actually wants of me!

Open data is not knowledge, interpretation creates understanding

In the end we got taught by a living legend. Hans Rosling so knows how to visualize "boring" data, how to interpret it and how to communicate the phenomena lurking behind millions of rows of raw data. If Bush can get it, so can you, he concluded :)

Opening data, knowledge and government means more.
Openness is the way to sustainability.


From beggars to better customer service

It's a winning ticket in lottery to be born in Finland (and stay in Finland). No need to scrape bank accounts in order to be able to pay one's taxes nor try to find a way to pay them. You don't even have that much to declare any more.

We've been able to arrange declaring as automatic as possible for the citizen. This is possible firstly with tax card (F) with which employers and other payers withhold tax on behalf of the citizen and pay him the net amount. In the end of each year, payers file annual notification (F) on the amounts paid to and for the citizen. This information is then printed in the citizen's tax return.

My cousin filed her tax return in Great Britain at about the same time, in the beginning of May. She needed to report all the six jobs, draw them from her personal filing system and report separately to HMRC. No data available from previous years. What the service did offer, was a few intelligent questions to rule out things not relevant in this customer segment. 

In Finland tax payer morale is exemplary. Last year we received a question from a customer on poker income. "I didn't know I needed to file it, can I still make it right this year?" asked a young guy admirably.

The latest example is Helsingin Sanomat Editor-in-Chief Riikka Venäläinen asking for help in reporting (Apua arjen pahiksille, F). We need better guidance in order to make it right! she rightfully demands.

From beggars to better customer service

In Italy tax authorities still attempt to effect attitudes: if you don't pay your taxes, you're a parasite: Parassita della Società, in YouTube. In Georgia, previously a Soviet state, tax administration needed to find the tax payers and their addresses in order to fill in their customer registry. The US, on the other hand, passed a law, FATCA, that demands that worldwide financial institutions file the information on behalf of US citizens - in case they didn't.

In comparison, our tax authorities are allowed to concentrate on designing better services to ensure maximum filing (where still needed). It is our aim to automate and streamline data gathering further so that it become less and less burdensome.

In our R&D efforts we try to find the most efficient and innovative ways to take care of what little reporting obligations there still remains.

This year I for one didn't even bother to open my tax return on paper. Everything I needed was in the web: receipts in my web bank or Amazon, self-aggregated reports in Google Docs etc.

Taxation in web bank?

In taxation the outcome is more or less an invoice. It is either debit or credit: you'll be granted a refund for excessive amount of taxes withheld according to your tax card or you are due an amount equaling underpayment. And the summary presents all the details of which the outcome consists of.

In this thinking tax return is my statement on the preliminary invoice. My demands for deductions adjust the calculation of the amount due.

If I were to decide, I'd send the tax invoice straight to my web bank - no more paper invoices, thank you very much! All the details needed in evaluation or corrections already await there. The most used attachments are certificates of the interests, summaries of stock exchange sales or dividends.

Would it be possible to adjust the amounts in taxation while in web bank? At least one could enter Tax Return Online while there, right?

Close the gaps on customer journey!

Riikka Venäläinen described what happens, when customer journey is not well planned. An excellent journey offers all the things needed but only the ones needed. Who else would know better what is needed than tax authorities?

Helsingin Sanomat is already answering the call to development by opening a blog (Virka-aika, in Finnish) Firstly, they want to gather citizen's experiences on poor customer experiences in public authorities. Secondly, they search for solutions collaboratively.

Tax administration says thank you and takes part in the project.


Happy 94th Independence Day, Finland!

This Independence Day also Google wanted to congratulate us.

Today Google.fi is blue and white. Nice!

My home country..
Thousands of Lakes - Pure Nature - Nightless Nights - Snow White Snow