Secondment is a good way to acquire new skills, strengthen knowledge in your own field of study, establish networks and share experiences with others. This winter I ‘ve had the opportunity to follow several policy areas within urban development in Finland.
In 2013, the Nordic associations of local authorities entered into an agreement on ”Nordic Exchange of Staff”, which makes it possible for employees of the Nordic municipal organizations to guest at each other. I was the first visitor to second at the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities (Kuntaliitto), visiting from KS , the Norwegian Association of Local and Regional Authorities.
My stay has been inspiring, informative, challenging and not least, exciting! I’ve been given opportunities to build networks with other professionals, as well as acquire knowledge and expertise on how another Nordic country addresses challenges related to the circular economy and the development of smart cities and districts at a strategic level. I’ve had fruitful meetings with the cities of Helsinki, Espoo and Tampere, as well as key environmental authorities and experts within the Kuntaliitto organization.
Norway and Finland have a lot to learn from this kind of exchange of experiences. Finland is now facing a structural reform with the introduction of a self-governing regional level, while a Norwegian municipal and regional reform is in progress. The municipalities in the Nordic region and their development are similar, but much is also different. My impression is that Finland is leading the way in the development of the circular economy, and has also accelerated the introduction of smart cities due to their high level of expertise from the ICT and telecommunications industry.
Throughout my stay, I have established contact with experts and professionals whom I would not otherwise have met and have also had the opportunity to study research reports. I have, among other things, gained insight to the Finnish education system, how meta-organizations work and how the behavioral economy affects public policy.
During the All digital week that was hosted for the first time in Finland this year, it became clearer for me how new technology and the digital transformation will affect public service in the future. Public providers need to take in the ongoing digital disruption, where new technology increasingly is replacing the existing. Digitization changes the patterns of society, but also the language.
It was this that Joseph Schumpeter already 70 years ago defined as creative destruction – radical innovations tearing down existing structures.
It has been interesting to learn how the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra works with megatrends, future scenarios and how the cities of Espoo, Tampere and Helsinki are planning for the future, in close cooperation with the R&D environment, business, students, citizens and developers.
This winter and spring I have also followed the political debate on the future health and regional reform, where 18 new regions will be responsible for hospitals, by the start of year 2020. About 215,000 employees from 310 municipalities will be transferred to the new regions, but there are several bumps in the road ahead until the Finnish parliament in summer will process the government’s proposition.
In my day-to-day workplace at our KS European office in Brussels, we also have a secondment arrangement where employees in Norwegian municipalities and KS can take part in the office’s daily work while at the same time acquiring EU competence within their own fields of expertise and networks — a scheme that several of the Nordic organizations have now also introduced. Experience from this has taught me that new knowledge through secondment goes both ways; Competence increases both by the visitor and among those who are visited. This coincides with the wise words of George Bernard Shaw, Nobel Prize winner in literature and co-founder of the London School of Economics:
“If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
Thank you for a nice and fruitful stay in Finland, and for the hosts for the warm welcome and excellent planning!
Stig Bang-Andersen is living in Brussels covering EU law, policy and EEA matters on behalf of KS members (local and regional authorities in Norway). He has previously worked on public policy/administration, procurement, project management, culture and environmental management consulting. During the winter of 2018 he seconded at the Finnish Association Local and Regional Authorities, where he in particular followed urban planning and development within the circular economy and smart cities.
(Written in Norwegian)