Why must public governance change?

Smooth public governance is a key element of a well-functioning democracy. Finnish society and public governance are at the forefront of numerous international comparisons. The public governance’s digital services have been rated as the best in the EU, the administration the second-best in the world and Finland is in third place in adhering to the rule of law.

However, the accelerating climate crisis, an ageing and concentrated population, digitalisation and the resulting transformation of work, and the globalising and changing economy are challenging governance structures and measures mostly created over the last century. Increasing crises and emergencies challenge the ability of a democratic system to function and guide social development. They highlight tensions, for instance, between democratic decision-making and development curves extending beyond electoral terms, as well as between the knowledge of experts and political decision-making. Therefore, new ways of ensuring well-being in a sustainable way are needed.

The need for large-scale development of public governance practices has long been recognised. For example, OECD publications and country assessments shed light on how the increasing complexity of both the operating environment and governance is challenging the ability of the current type of public governance to function appropriately and efficiently. The need for change arises not only from resolving tensions but also from seizing new opportunities. For example, full-scale use of new technologies requires reforming public governance structures and building new capacity.

As the pressure for reform, both created by the operating environment and within governance, increases, governance must continue to safeguard constitutional rights and build the conditions for social development and well-being. To achieve them, the administration must constantly seek new ways of acting, identify the most effective tools and strengthen its capabilities. In this way, Finland also strengthens its international position. At the same time, it must be recognised that renewal of public governance also has an impact on society’s fundamental questions about the relationship between government and people, the meaning of public power and the future of the democratic rule of law as a whole.

The public governance strategy builds the framework for Finnish public governance reform so that Finnish society has the capacity to develop answers to the big questions of principle in this decade and to strengthen the future of the democratic rule of law. The six goals of the strategy define a common direction for the reform of Finnish governance. Its policies, in turn, identify concrete targets for change that will increase the administrative preconditions and capabilities of governance so that Finnish society is ready to respond to the acute challenges and changes of this decade. Both of these perspectives and levels of reform are needed for Finnish governance to be able to create sustainable prosperity even in the 2030s.

The pledge, goals and policies of the public governance strategy

Graph 1

Graph 1: The pledge, the goals and the policies of public governance strategy


Public governance constructs sustainable everyday life for the future and a functioning and safe society in all circumstances.

The strategy sets a target for 2030: Public governance builds sustainable wellbeing in the midst of upheaval.


What kind of goals will be pursued in the 2030s?

  • Open government works together
  • Trust is built actively
  • Acknowledging diversity strengthens equality
  • Action is based on evidence
  • Intergenerational responsibility ensures nature’s carrying capacity
  • Ability to imagine guides change


What does the pursuit of the goals mean in public governance in the 2020s?

  • We will organise our services in a people centric and diverse way
  • We will expand opportunities to exert influence and encourage people to participate in policy preparation and decision making.
  • We will bear responsibility for climate change mitigation and adaptation.
  • We will cooperate willingly with the rest of society.
  • We will work consistently and together.
  • We will utilise and provide information in a proactive and diverse manner.
  • We will act agilely and challenge ourselves.
  • Digitalisation as means of change
  • Sustainability in public finance guides reform
  • Finland as a global pioneer

This is how the strategy was drawn up

In accordance with the Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s government programme, a project was set up in the autumn 2019 to prepare a common strategy for public governance and services. The strategy was drawn up under the leadership of the Ministry of Finance and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities. Project Steering group: Chairman Päivi Nerg (Ministry of Finance), Vice Chairman Minna Karhunen (Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities), Arto Haveri (University of Tampere), Seppo Määttä (Prime Minister’s Office, Mikael Grannas (Sipoo Municipality), Anna Similä (Ministry of Transport and Communications), Riitta Kaivosoja (Ministry of Education and Culture), Jukka Aalto (Ministry of the Interior), Kari Hakari (Ministry of Social Affairs and Health), Outi Ryyppö (Ministry of Employment and the Economy), Leena Ylä-Mononen (Ministry of the Environment). A project office consisting of experts from the Ministry of Finance and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities was set up to support the work, and support for the preparation process was obtained from Demos Helsinki.

The basis and starting point of the public governance strategy is an analysis of the operating environment, which assessed, among other things, the effects of climate change, digitalisation, the working life revolution, and economic and demographic changes on public governance. Four different scenarios of public governance and Finnish society in 2030 were created from the analysis of the operating environment in the strategy work. These future scenarios serve as a tool to identify the need for change in the current governance and to find the ethos of common governance.

The direction and means of administrative reform were defined together with various administrative sectors, municipalities, civil society, researchers and various stakeholders as the promise, goals and policies of public governance in the 2020s. Dozens of workshops and joint events were organised during the process (list of co-development events at the end of the document). The questionnaire on (in Finnish), which received hundreds of responses, helped to identify the types of meanings assigned to public governance. The participatory process of preparing the strategy has therefore played an important role in strengthening cooperation between the state, municipalities and future welfare regions, as well as the interaction between governance and the rest of society, and in building a common understanding of the need and direction of public governance development.

Identifying the need for administrative change through future work

Public governance actions are guided by many national and international statutes and commitments, from the Constitution and EU founding documents to the Administrative Procedure Act. These form the basis for the enduring values and functions of public governance. This strategy work identified governance roles and practices that require change and reform in particular, as opposed to roles and practices that require continuity and stability in particular. As a tool, four future scenarios of public governance were created, which were formed on the basis of an analysis of the operating environment. In different scenarios, the key questions for the development of public governance have been answered in different ways.

Examples of questions:

1. How are the welfare state services produced with financial sustainability as the population ages?

2. How can the principle of equality in different parts of the country be maintained?

3. How can it be ensured that everyone stays involved in the rapidly changing society?

4. How to take care of social cohesion and targeting of public services as the population and lifestyles diversify?

The future scenarios made it possible to envisage different possibilities for resolving key issues and thus highlighting alternative directions for the development of public governance, such as people-to-government relations, the knowledge base of government decision-making, ways of engaging and the instruments which the strategy covers.

Alternative future scenarios describing the ability of public governance to change are structured on two axes: the ability of public administration to influence social change and direct social renewal, and the ability to renew government internally.

Future scenarios about the ability of public governance to change 2030

Graph 2

Graph 2

This graph shows four alternative future scenarios describing the ability of public administration to renew government internally and influence social change. Future scenarios are structured on two axes: horizontal showing relationship between keeping and changing public governance and vertical showing relationship between renewing and non-renewing public governance.

AGILE ADMINISTRATION is keeping and renewing

Successful internal government reforms make it possible to reach goals. However, conflicting views at different levels of government lead to concentrating on short-term goals, which increases the possible implications of uncontrolled external impacts.

CHERISHING TRADITIONS is keeping and non-renewing

Public governance focuses on ensuring stability and continuity. Renewal is carried out in moderation on the terms of stability, security and continuity.

GLOBAL TRAILBLAZER is renewing and changing

The Government is aware that being a pioneer in key global issues (e.g. just transition) is worthwhile and will take action to renew administrative structures and practices on that basis. Unprecedented changes pose due risks and make it more difficult to keep apace.

GOVERNMENT OF CONTINUITY is non-renewing and changing

Government succeeds in creating common agreement concerning the direction of social change. Conflicts over means and guiding principles prevent the renewal of administrative structures and practices; as a consequence, government largely relies on the old toolbox.

The future of public governance outlined in the strategy work is not based on a single vision of the future, but the scenarios were used to identify the three dimensions of change in which the tasks and meanings of governance can be placed. This is how the elements of the strategy were formed: 1) Relatively enduring promise and goals for the administrative reform, 2) Policies that identify the necessary conditions for change and 3) An implementation plan that puts the strategy into practice.

Dimensions of change in public governance and elements of strategy

Graph 3

Graph 3

This graph shows dimensions of continuity and change and the structure of the strategy

Dimension of continuity includes tasks and activities to be maintained and kept by governance. They are often rules-based, and focus on ensuring a safe and stable environment for people, communities and businesses, for instance by safeguarding fundamental rights and the rule of law. ​

Tasks and activities requiring updating and renewal of governance ​are located between the dimensions of continuity and change.
They encompass e.g. the digitalisation of services as well as developing new modes of participation and open decision-making.

New tasks and activities requiring and promoting change ​are located in the dimension of change. They encompass the creation of new policy instruments to address the climate crisis.

The strategy is based on the enduring values of the Nordic welfare model, and on national and international statutes and commitments.

Goal segment and pledge segment of the strategy​ guide governance renewal and actions in the 2020s.

Policies of the strategy​ help to identify needs for new solutions, ways of working and capabilities so that the goals of governance can be met.

New practices included in the implementation plan​ bring policies into action.

The structuring of the need for change into different dimensions enabled a strategy focused on public governance reform creating a common ethos for the development so that Finnish public governance is able to build sustainable well-being in the midst of major changes.