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Societal design to become Finland’s new export product?

The Nordic countries are pioneers in digitalisation and service design. Now is the time to improve their aggregated impact and put people at the centre of development. Societal design means designing service entities from the perspective of people’s everyday life. This could bring about a new export product for Finland.

The unique characteristics of the Nordic countries include, for example, their information technology infrastructure and highly educated population. Digitalisation has come a long way here, and many services and datasets are available in portals. Customer service is provided through digital channels. However, the progress has been technology-oriented, with the focus on automation and self-service. The point of view must now be expanded to the societal context.

Global megatrends, such as the ageing of the population, climate change and the decline in biodiversity, require wide-ranging measures crossing the boundaries of different operators. The challenges are complex, and no single organisation can meet them on their own; instead, we need collaborative management across organisational boundaries. We call it societal design.

The means of societal design help in meeting the global challenges. With them, cities can achieve ambitious carbon neutrality goals, increase regional vitality and wellbeing as well as give citizens and non-governmental organisations better opportunities to influence the development of services. Sofigate’s goal is to make the methods tested with Finnish cities into the common operating procedure in the EU and to position the Nordic countries as pioneers in societal design.

People’s everyday life at the centre of development

Our everyday life is complex and made up of several factors, with people themselves playing a central role. Our needs for individual solutions are growing constantly, and the demand for a new way of thinking is increasing. Society is made and services are built together.

However, people’s everyday lives have not yet been put at the core of service design. The current management structures are focused on service production and the design methods are focused on services. New, innovative management and design models are urgently needed for the design of society’s services.

In order for the change in perspective to take place, the obstacles must first be identified and then dismantled. Solutions must be found to continuously develop people’s experience of both the relevance of services and the benefits they offer in a positive direction.

Large cities, BT Forum and Sofigate develop societal design methods

Among the large cities, Espoo, Turku, Jyväskylä and Oulu have been pioneers in human-centred and collaborative development. First, it has been necessary to create methods that are in line with the new way of thinking and perspective. The rewards for this work will be reaped in the future.

The approach to this development work has varied from city to city. While Espoo has focused on the development of methods for designing service entities, Turku’s perspective has been collaborative management. Jyväskylä has focused on development management and Oulu on customer service development.

What all these projects have in common is that the Business Technology Forum has taken care of the resulting, unified selection of societal design methods. These methods can also be used in development work in the future. The basis for this is the Business Technology Forum’s open-source development management framework, the Business Technology Standard (

The methodology will be fully completed by the end of 2022 and will be freely available to all cities, wellbeing services counties and municipalities. It can already be explored at the BT Forum showroom in Otaniemi, Espoo, where the methods are being presented. We hope that the exhibition will inspire municipal and regional decision-makers and all those interested in developing people’s everyday life to participate in and apply the work done.

Centre of Excellence in Societal Design to train European cities in the implementation of the methods

 Sofigate wants to develop its own work in societal design. To this end, we are forming a Centre of Excellence in Societal Design comprising experts from different fields and starting orientation training on the new methods for cities. The centre will initially operate in Espoo, Tampere and Oulu, but will soon expand its operations to Stockholm and Copenhagen.

Our goal is to make the methods tested with Finnish cities into the common operating procedure in the EU and to position the Nordic countries as pioneers in societal design. The inaugural steps have already been taken – the first course is scheduled to be organised for six Finnish cities that are part of the EU’s Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities programme already in early February 2023.

The author Markku Hugg is the head of municipalities, cities and social & health care sector business at Sofigate. He describes himself as a green technocrat.