Blog | 14 Nov, 2022

From paper and pulp to a digital front runner – Finland

Hanne Shapiro


Internationally, Finland is often referred to as a model country when it comes to digital transformation. In the EU Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), which has measured progress in digitalization across the EU Member States since 2014, Finland has continuously been among the top performing countries, and at the very top in 2022. The Index tracks progress across four dimensions: Human capital; Connectivity; Integration of digital technologies; and Digital public services. As depicted below, human capital investments are a central feature in the Finnish success formula.

Source:  The Digital Economy and Society Index 2022

Well after World War II Finland continued to be a resource-based economy dominated by pulp and paper, and the education level continued to be low well into the 1950s. Nokia is by many associated with the Finnish transformation to a high-tech industrial society. But fewer know that Nokia was founded in 1865 as a pulp mill, and it was only with the deregulation of telecom markets that Nokia grew to become one of the dominant vendors of mobile phones until around 2007. While Nokia managed to reinvent itself from producing rubber boots to positioning itself in the global electronics and telecommunication industries, the irony is that Nokia’s downfall was caused by its inability to spot the disruption of their business model emerging from outside their core sectors of telecommunication and electronics, with the reverberating effects of software’s eating the world  (SaaS) and new players such as Apple and Google and in Southeast Asia companies like Huawei and Samsung – and this was aggravated by failed organizational innovation.

One of the key lessons from the Nokia demise is how important futures methods thinking and systemic experimentation is to policy design as a means of exploring critical uncertainties, but also as a means of sense making and collective learning to better shape the future ahead. However, the Finnish lessons also show that strategizing through futures methods so widely applied in Finland will only be a lever if divergent thinking and explorations of uncomfortable trends are explicitly encouraged. It depends not only on facilitators highly skilled in futures processes, but ultimately on who is invited to the table and has a voice. Secondly, the outcomes of futures processes are not a blueprint and linear roadmap defining implementation. Implementation processes must systematically allow for challenging dominant policy narratives through systematic experimentation and involvement in that respect futures literacy is a key competence in a human centered digital future of work.


For more about the Finnish digital futures of work, please see Working paper 7: Finland: AI policy innovation and the future of work and learning by Hanne Shapiro.


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