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Although the definition of social innovation in Finland continues to evolve, one definition that has been used in the context of social innovation in Finland is Zapf’s (1989) interpretation: “Social innovation can be defined as new ways of reaching specific goals and they include new organization forms, new regulations as well as new life styles that solve problems better than traditional practices do and that are worth imitating and/or institutionalizing. Innovations have to change the direction of social development”.

Social innovation in Finland has seen particular prominence in the health and welfare field. In 2007, an open national innovation environment called Innovillage began and it is currently maintained by the National Institute for Welfare and Health, the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities and the Finnish Society for Social and Health. Innovillage started as a response to the challenges around the ageing population, the threatened availability of skillful professionals, and a recession within the public sector; New models and solutions were needed to meet these challenges. 

Social innovation is time and context specific. That means it can mean different things in different context. What might not seem innovative in one country, may be ground breaking in another. The political and cultural background is important to understand. There are also a wide variety of organisations involved in this field, each have different perspectives.  So, the purpose of this page is to demonstrate a variety of views on what social innovation means to different kinds of organisations in Finland.

The voices from Finland:

In 2011, Fiona Pronay from the Young Foundation prepared a concise snapshot of what social innovation looked like in Finland at that time. She notes that the most significant achievement and strength of Finland’s society is its free general education, small income disparities, little poverty and the wide participation of women in working life. She also highlights a few institutions that drive social innovation: 

  • Finland’s Innovation Fund Sitra - Conducting research and development, this fund is independent and public and overseen by Finland’s Parliament, its responsibilities are now stipulated in law. The current focus of the fund is on municipal, energy, landmarks, public leadership, management programmes and a growth programme for the mechanical industry. In the past the focus was on food and nutrition, environment and health care.
  • Finland's new Aalto University - Launched in 2010, Aalto is the result of the merger of the Technical University, the Business School and the School of Arts and Design. It is an innovation university and a research department. It shall become a centre of expertise and training for civil servants, social entrepreneurs and non-profit organisation managers.

Read more from this contribution, including some key challenges faced and a look at technological development and the health and care sector.

In late 2014, Juha Koivisto from the National Institute for Health and Welfare provided insights on the Innovillage project; It has been an integral part of the basic activity of the founder organizations, and the Innovillage tools have been in active use in the field. The main tools are:

  • Project Database to design and report on development projects
  • Development Environment to carry out development activities in real time
  • Innoworkshops to co-develop face-to-face
  • Events to offer a meeting point for the developers and a place where ideas, practices and models can be discussed, marketed and scaled-up
  • Innotutor training for developers to practice the innovation culture and learn how to use the Innovillage tools

In December of 2014, there were almost 800 development projects in the Project Database, about 1600 models and their local applications altogether in the Development Environment, and over 130 different networks in the Networks tool. Some hundreds different Innoworkshops and events had been organized already during the project. 

Click here to learn more about the Innovillage project.