Comparative Table of Parliamentary TA Institutions
FINLAND - THE COMMITTEE FOR THE FUTURE
The Committee for the Future was established in 1993 from the very
beginning as a committee in the Finnish Parliament. The creation at
almost the same time of the Finland Futures Research Centre in Turku
University and the Committee for the Future had the same motivation: to
develop a national foresight system against the background of the
recession that was afflicting Finland in the early 1990s. In the
intervening period, thinking in relation to the future has become
broadly and deeply rooted in Finnish society. The Finnish foresight
system is of a versatility that is rare anywhere in the world.
Giving a standing committee within the Finnish parliamentary
system a new, future-oriented role of this kind was not at all easy,
for many reasons. What has been remarkable in light of this is that the
initiative came from the legislators themselves.
Science, technology and creation of new concepts and ideas as
well as revitalisation of institutions has been important, but so is
the ability to recognise what will be permanent in the future and what
ought to be.
ORGANISATION AND RESPONSIBILITIESIn 2000 Parliament decided
to make the Committee a permanent Committee with the same high status
as the other standing permanent committees.
The committee has meetings twice a week. 17 members of
Parliament from all political parties sit around the same table in the
committee room and their only task is think, discuss and decide on new
things - on Futures as researchers of Future Studies would say. In the
Finnish parliamentary system committee meetings are closed, so MPs are
more free to discuss and look for common or different opinions. Anyway
they share different kinds of problems and options of Futures in spite
of being representatives from right to left and all between.
Its current tasks are (1) to prepare material to be submitted
to the Finnish Parliament, such as government reports on the future,
(2) to make submissions on future-related long-term issues to other
standing committees, (3) to debate issues relating to future
development factors and development models, (4) to undertake analyses
pertaining to future-related research and IT methodology, and (5) to
function as a parliamentary body for assessing technological
development and its consequences for society.
All members of the Committee are MPs, and like most of the
other standing committees it has 17 members. So, it neither
concentrates on preparing legislation nor reviewing the government´s
annual budget proposal, but in other respects it resembles the other
committees. What makes it different is the nature of its functions and
its new fields of tasks. Its mission is to conduct an active and
initiative-generating dialogue with the government on major future
problems and the means of solving them. Since the problems of the
future and above all its opportunities, cannot be studied through
traditional parliamentary procedures and work methods alone, the
committee has been given the specific task of following and using the
results of research. Indeed, the committee can be said to be making
policy on the future, because its goal is not research but rather
Because the Committee itself decides its modest annual
research, printing and translation budget, research projects must be
chosen, manned, timed and directed well. The Committee has an annual
budget for the research projects and permanent scientific expert who
coordinates projects. All administrative costs are covered by
Parliament´s general budget.
FINDING TOPICS Committee for the Future has the power set its
own agenda. All topics are "own" except the so called "Future report"
of the Government which is submitted from the Prime Minister´s Office
to the Parliament once during every 4 years election period. The powers
of the Committee are adequate and very permissive. It would not be
advisable to lose the character of a parliamentary think tank, which is
both of a high standard and even unique in the world, by routinely
accepting legal matters as the subjects of statements.
WORK PROCEDURES AND METHODS
It is important that the tasks with which the
Committee has been entrusted have from the very beginning included methods of
futures research. This will continue to be the foundation of high-quality
futures work. In particular, at the beginning of each parliamentary term the
new Committee must be given training to familiarize it with good work methods.
Deliberation of so-called own matters in a
plenary session, as a topical debate on the basis of reports, is problematic,
but so far the only way. A right to draft a report concerning own matters,
along the lines of the model that applies to the Audit Committee, would
strengthen deliberation as a normal plenary session matter. Another method that
has been proposed is one in which the Committee would present joint long-term
parliamentary initiatives, but this would blur the significance of both the
Committee and the initiative institution.
The Prime Minister as the corresponding
minister is the most appropriate choice. In accordance with the idea on which
the Committee is founded, the broad scope of its tasks and a high level of
Government-Parliament dialogue, the cabinet member with foremost responsibility
must ultimately be the Prime Minister. Moreover the Prime Minister also chairs
the Research and Innovation Council which facilitates again a broad dialogue.
Once during its term of office, the Government
issues a report on long-term future prospects and the Government’s targets. In
accordance with the political system, it is the Prime Minister who chooses the
theme. In order to promote regional debate, regional Future Forums are
organised jointly by the Prime Minister’s Office and Parliament on the subject
matters of the report.
It would now appear to be the time for broad
handling that covers a wide spectrum of sectors, for horizontal processing
rather than special themes the Committee should once in a parliamentary term
conduct a general exploration of the state of Finland and the related scenarios and/or futures map.
The Committee’s intention during this
parliamentary term is to create a pool of professor-level experts
both from the Finland Futures Research Centre (which is an auxiliary unit of
the Turku University) and other universities too. This university network is
destined to provide assistance in conducting studies, and also to strengthen
ties to the world of science
An increasing number of Regional Meetings have
been arranged both with the Committee on its own and together with the
corresponding ministry, i.e. the Prime Minister’s Office. It participated successfully
for four weeks in an open popular discourse on an education theme on the
Internet. Systematic hearings to elicit the views of citizens would be
important, but require a lot of resources. The Committee will support and
participate if the Parliament makes a policy decision to hear the views of
citizens on, for example, important major legislative projects. Modern media is
used as much as possible. This development is intended to be continued. It will
be possible to arrange new kinds of citizen involvement.
The Committee for the Future is not one of the
most desired committees after a general election, but it has proved itself to
be a good vantage point from which to follow changes in the world. A
considerable proportion of ministers have been members of the Committee. In the
period 2003–2007 the Committee’s chair, Representative Katainen, was elected as
the leader of the biggest opposition party, the National Coalition, and became
Minister of Finance after the election. The Committee’s report "A Caring,
Encouraging and Creative Finland", which appraised the information society, was
incorporated, almost complete with name, into the Programme for Government.
After the spring 2011 general election, Mr Katainen took the prime ministership.
There are many other ex-Future-MPs in the new Government, even two other party
leaders: Minister of Finance and chair of Social Democratic Party, Mrs Urpilainen,
being one of the most important ones and Minister of Interior, chair of Christian
Party, Mrs Päivi Räsänen.
In autumn 2011 the
Committee for the Future held a number of hearings with tens of experts
representing various sub-sectors of society. Based on these hearings, the
Committee chose, at this stage, four areas of study for itself during the
parliamentary term 2011–2014:
- sustainable growth
- an inspired society
- acquiring new knowledge, and
- can the welfare society endure?
The themes are chosen from the
Committee’s interests, but also to create a readiness to respond to the
Government’s report on the future (The Finnish sustainable development growth
model in a changing world).
In addition, the
Committee has been making preparations to revamp its work methods, i.e. has
looked closely at how projects are implemented and how the effectiveness of
activities is ensured. This theme was addressed from several different
perspectives in autumn 2011: from the perspectives of direct democracy, social
media and crowdsourcing, with a view to strengthening the formulation of the Parliament’s
futures-oriented policies as well as also from the perspective of rationalising
the Committee’s own work.
These objectives are
being promoted by means of three themes that cut across several dimensions:
- Black Swans (with an open writing
competition intended to elicit suggestions about surprises that will
significantly change the future)
- Crowdsourcing (the Committee for the
Future will increase its visibility in social media and develop participatory
forms of action)
- Radical technologies (what will be
the next technology waves?)
The Committee for the Future deliberates parliamentary documents
referred to it and, when requested to do so, makes submissions to other
committees on futures-related matters, which are included in their
spheres of responsibility and have a bearing on development factors and
development models of the future. The Committee conducts research
associated with futures studies, including their methodology. The
Committee also functions as a parliamentary body that conducts
assessments of technological development and the effects on society of
By this way The Committee is then bridging the Government, the
Parliament and Finnish Civil Society. The Committee should once in a
parliamentary term conduct a general exploration of the state of
Finland and the related scenarios and/or futures map. Efforts are made
to create joint steering groups with other committees and arrange joint
evaluation seminars and also to devise streamlined methods for
producing statements and comments. In accordance with the idea on which
the Committee is founded, the broad scope of its tasks and a high level
of Government-Parliament dialogue, the cabinet member with foremost
responsibility is the Prime Minister, who also chairs the Research and
Regional meetings alone and together with the corresponding
ministry, i.e. the Prime Minister´s Office, have been increased. During
the current parliamentary term, especially the cooperation with the
business world, municipal committees for the future as well as youth
councils that have been stepped up will be continued. This theme (Open
Committee) was addressed from several different perspectives in autumn
2011: from the perspectives of direct democracy, social media and
crowdsourcing, with a view to strengthening the formulation of the
Parliament´s futures-oriented policies as well as also from the
perspective of rationalising the Committee´s own work.
COMMUNICATION AND PUBLICATIONSSee before. All reports are
published in Internet and most of them also as books, especially those
which are handled in the plenary session. Social media will be used in
a totally new way during this period.
IMPACTThe most important impact is "having and using
visionary power". The committee for the Future is in the corn of
political power. From the beginning the need for long-term examination
of the future also at the core of democracy, i.e. in the parliamentary
institution, has been recognised in the Finnish Parliament as being so
important that there was a willingness to create a totally new
institution specifically within the national legislature. Precisely for
this reason, the Parliament has received a lot of international
plaudits for its own innovation.
When it has worked well, the Committee´s operational model has
been almost an ideal way of creatively and critically combining
scientific and technological information with a search for innovative
new political solutions. The Committee has enjoyed fairly good success,
because sufficiently different politicians with broad minds and an
interest in the new have sought membership of it. What is very
important is that the Committee contains, on the one hand, very
experienced, inquisitive and bold politicians and, on the other, also
ambitious "rising stars" with a thirst for knowledge. It is likewise
important that they represent the Finns in all their diversity of
education, from farmer to professor.
The second foundation stone for lasting success that can be pointed to
is that the aim in the Committee´s reports is to be thorough and
scientifically critical rather than trying to please the public or
voters with showily produced and light pamphlet-style publications.
Lighter versions of reports have been needed for information purposes,
but the serious and thorough way that science deals with phenomena has
not been overlooked.
THE WAY AHEADThe Committee for the Future is a think tank
inside the Parliament.
As is the case everywhere in democracies, the division of labour within
the political system means that the Government is a proactive political
actor. What this means is that, taking the demands of the future into
consideration, it makes proposals to the parliament, which in turn has
the task of approving laws and the budget. The Government governs. The
parliament can be active and a source of initiatives specifically in
long-term futures policy and for this it needs an empowered and capable
body that concentrates, with the aid of the methods of futures
research, on these often difficult and complex matters.
Committee for the Future
Eduskunta, Parliament of Finland
Counsellor, Doctor of Administrative Sciences Paula Tiihonen
Fon +358 9 432 2091
Fax +358 9 432 2140
(c) EPTA, provided by ITA; version 03/2013