Decision-Makers Need to Be Influenced Sooner Rather than Later
Societal influence in Finland has traditionally been sought through the possibilities offered by representative democracy. As citizens, we have outsourced the exercise of influence to organisations and unions. From the point of view of universities, labour market organizations and student unions are central external influencers. The high degree of organising indicates that this arrangement is good for most of us. We let our chosen representatives do their job of exercising influence and focus on our own basic tasks.
But the world is changing. Social media and information networks bind people ever more closely together. Every individual has the possibility to express his or her opinion. Exerting individual influence has come to be equal with representativeness. At the same time, the force of a single message is reduced and it is more and more difficult to listen to those messages that are essential.
It is difficult to measure the success of exercising influence. We hope that exercising influence would help take matters in the right direction. We may not believe in quick and perfect solutions to complicated issues that represent diverse interests, but we still want to believe in exerting influence.
Has the exercise of influence been successful when decisions are made according to our own wishes? Or is it enough that completely the opposite of what we wanted does not happen? Like one influencer on the labour market field has said: even though our goal was not met, things would be even worse without our influence.
What is essential in this activity is, however, that some kind of positive influence has been made. That our own activities lead in the right direction at least in some way. Ultimately it is the end result that counts. Even though it is difficult to assess the results, it is worth doing. Assessment helps make the activity more efficient.
As I am writing this, it is mid-March and influencing decision-making is again clearly on display. Universities are in great pains to carry out the saving decisions the government made last year and the spirits are low. Many people are venting their disappointment. We are living in years of crisis, which will have longlasting effects on research, teaching and the activities of universities more widely. Still, we need to move our focus to the future.
The government of the country will be making new budget definitions in their spending limits discussion in April and the time to make decisions will soon be upon them when this magazine is published. We have heard worrying messages about the outlook of the Finnish economy and about the drop in the credit rating. But now the government, too, needs to understand that investing in research and teaching is the key to future well-being.
The events of last year surprised everyone, but wrong decisions should not be allowed to happen a second time. Influencing needs to be front-heavy and it needs to happen before decisions are made.
Dialogue with decision-makers is our only chance to get our own views heard. University people need to understand this and to be active. The government has not had great understanding in their decisions about funding for universities and research institutes but maybe the decision-makers have not received a clear enough message in time. An external evaluator, assessing the exercise of influence of the Finnish Union of University Professors, said about our arguments several times that "This needs justification!". Things that are obvious to us may not be obvious to the decision- makers of our society.
Our message needs to be clear. It needs to come coherently from many directions. And first and foremost - the message needs to reach the decision-makers. We do not have any time to lose.
March 15, 2016