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Coordination Mechanisms in Finnish Innovation Policy

T. Hämäläine and G. Schienstock

As the Finnish transformation process into knowledge economy can be seen as a collective undertaking, it is important to understand the dominant coordination mechanisms in the innovation system. Here we suggest the establishment of a shared systemic vision and discursive coordination as the two key elements of coordinating the various actors in the process.

Economic restructuring does not take place automatically as a reaction to an economic crisis; instead, it is always influenced by a systemic vision (Chang and Rowthorn 1995) or the Leitbild of restructuring. A systemic vision can be characterised as a set of general ideas of how to create economic growth, develop economic structures efficiently, and to restructure production processes. It also has a normative dimension, as it becomes the basis of practical restructuring processes. A major advantage of a systemic vision is that it makes communication among social actors possible, even if they have different interests and preferences. During the 1990s, the ‘knowledge society’ became the new systemic vision in Finland which guided the various actors in the restructuring process.

The second aspect of successful coordination and transformation management is social discourse among the various interdependent actors of the system. In discursive coordination, economic activities are coordinated through continuous and rich communication and mutual adjustment.15 Systemic discourse can be viewed as a platform to jointly create and exchange information among economic actors. Discursive coordination is not primarily intended to create consensus among the participants but it aims to initiate learning processes.

With respect to discursive coordination, the key role of the Science and Technology Policy Council of Finland as the highest S&T policy body in the country has to be mentioned. It is chaired by the Prime Minister, and has a membership consisting of several ministers, S&T policy representatives, business people, representatives of major research centres, and the employers’ and employees’ organisations. The main guidelines of the Finnish S&T policy are developed in this body. The composition of this high-level coordination structure guarantees that scientific progress and technological development are viewed from the perspectives of different economic actors. The long-standing existence of this institution can also be seen as crucial in integrating and overcoming fruitless struggling and ‘territorial thinking’ among ministries. Every three years, the Council draws up an influential science and technology review, which outlines general visions and strategies of Finnish S&T policy. The Council has played a key role in the creation of a new economic development path by launching the new systemic vision of a knowledge society.

The mechanism of discursive coordination obviously works quite well in the design of technology and innovation policy through the Science and Technology Policy Council of Finland. There seem to be some problems, however, as far as the coherent and concurrent interpretation and implementation of the vision are concerned. The vision-oriented policy gives ministries space for different interpretations. While this may increase the acceptance of the vision, it also makes high demands on the coordination of independent programmes and activities among ministries. In Finland, the horizontal interaction, cooperation and mutual adjustment of interdependent public sector organisations and departments is not always effective (Bouckaert, Ormond and Peters 2000; VTV 2001). Due to systemic transformation and the increasing interdependence of different policy fields, ministries need to pay more attention to mutual adjustment and coordination of their policy programmes at the implementation level.

This excerpt was originally published in Transformation of the Finnish Innovation System: A Newtork Approach, on Sitra in 2001