The Deaconess Foundation wants to hear new voices included in the discussion on the future
To build a good future, we need everyone’s ideas and voice. The Deaconess Foundation has created a way to involve people who are not often heard in the debate about the future. In the first ‘Observatory’ pilot project, the future was discussed by people with substance abuse problems, young people who are not in employment or education, the older people, people with intellectual disabilities and the severe physical disabilities. The dialogue highlighted issues such as the need for communities, the problematic nature of the middle class norm, the reality of immigration and the fragility of the erosion of the welfare state.
In early 2023, the Deaconess Foundation’s 21 branches, from Helsinki to Rovaniemi, became ‘Observatories’. The future discussions on the future held at these locations collected signals, meaning signs and messages from those who seldom get a chance to speak out in the debate on the future. In total, the pilot involved almost 200 participants, 135 of whom were clients of the Deaconess Foundation or otherwise involved in its work. For many of the participants, the situation itself created an important sense of interaction and participation.
“The dialogues revealed that for some people, thinking about the future from the perspective of their own lives or society was inherently difficult because of the heavy challenges involved. For some, the future is one day at a time,” says Maija Hyle, Director of Non-Profit Activities at the Deaconess Foundation.
“However, their perspectives on the future are also valuable voices in the debate on the future. In the future, more and more Finns must have the right and opportunity to participate in the debate on their own future.”
Participating in the debate on the future is hard for non-specialists: the language used is difficult and there are no low-threshold forums for participation.
Vulnerable groups have hardly been included in the discussion of the future before
“The Deaconess Foundation is doing pioneering work, even internationally: vulnerable groups have hardly been included in the discussion of the future before,” says Elina Kiiski-Kataja, Research Director at Ellun Kanat, who participated in the interpretation and analysis of the future dialogues.
Discussions have highlighted the need for communities, the problematic nature of the middle class norm and the erosion of the welfare state.
Many socially important observations emerged from the debates on the future at the Observatories, which were compiled into seven ‘interpretations of the future’:
1. Between the welfare state, the competitive society and the human being, there is a vacuum the size of a community. Reflections on loneliness and the importance of communities were evident throughout the signals from the different groups. The data suggest that an important question for the future is how we build communities in which everyone has the opportunity to belong.
2. The appeal, pay and quality of the social welfare and health care sector are among the most pressing issues for the future in Finland. The crisis and ongoing changes in the social welfare and health care sector are very tangible in the lives of the vulnerable participants in the dialogues, which is why this issue was identified as one of the key areas for development in Finnish society. Concerns about the quality of social services and staffing levels were prominent in the discussions.
3. The erosion of the welfare state is felt at the deepest level of life. For vulnerable people, the erosion of the welfare state is most acutely felt in their lives in the form of difficulties in accessing
care and assistance. The lack of human contact, lack of stability and being bounced from one door to another also emerged in several discussions.
4. The middle class norm determines the future development of Finnish society. The signals from the different groups strongly emphasised how strongly middle-class values, problems and goals characterise Finnish society and the spirit of the times. These can be seen in how, for example, the development of welfare services is perceived, what issues are raised in the public debate and how the good life is perceived. In particular, young people were concerned about the strong experience of failure caused by deviating from the middle-class norm. “Couldn’t life itself have intrinsic value?”, they asked.
5. Family would be the best security for your future – whether it is self-selected, traditional or something in between. In the discussions on the future, the family was seen to have many roles. The family, whether traditional or self-selected, brought joy, meaning and security, though often not without problems. But no one can do it alone and it is therefore important to understand that everyone needs loved ones, communities and friends to provide the security they need in life. It is not whether close relationships conform to the norm, but that there are people who are close to you.
6. Immigration and a heterogeneous Finland are already a reality of everyday life – are decision-makers at risk of being detached from this reality? Immigration-related issues were also reflected in the signals. The overriding theme was not racism or concern at all, but a very practical realism. Typical of the discussions was the fact that immigration was already seen as part of one’s everyday life and life in Finland. There are immigrants living in their own neighbourhoods, they are classmates or carers. Discussions focused on whether decision-makers understand ordinary everyday life and the issues involved, ordinary life, building a common everyday life with people from elsewhere.
7. Some of those involved in the dialogues firmly believe in the future – what can we learn from them? An interesting observation that emerged from the discussions on the future was that of groups who are particularly optimistic about the future. These included people with intellectual disabilities, people with autism, people with severe physical disabilities, Roma from Belarus involved in the international projects of the Deaconess Foundation worldwide and the Future Builders group in Somaliland. All these groups had a particularly positive outlook on the future and felt a strong belief in the future and also believed in their ability to influence it. However, all groups highlighted issues that made them look to the future; hope, loved ones, a decent livelihood, meaningful work and the ordinary things of everyday life. All these things are important and engender faith in the future.
The dialogues on the future were a pilot initiative, after which the Deaconess Foundation will continue to extend empowerment over the future by lowering the barriers to participation, for example by developing discussion materials, and by inviting its stakeholders to participate in initiatives to broaden empowerment concerning the future. The summaries and analyses of the discussions now collected will be used not only in the development of the Deaconess Foundation’s own activities, but also, for example, in the work of the Ministry of Finance’s Open Government programme.
Maija Hyle, Director of Non-Profit Activities email@example.com, 050 434 1123
Jenni Sarolahti, Communications Manager firstname.lastname@example.org, 050 372 0828