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Science and technology in Finland in the 2010s

Finland has moved from playing catch-up to being at the forefront of development in numerous fields over the past 10 years. Science and technology have played a decisive role in this development. The challenge facing Finland now is how to formulate new approaches to science, technology, and innovation policy to meet the challenges of the next 10 to 15 years.
Academy of Finland

Foresighting has emerged as an increasingly important tool for anticipating future developments, bringing together future scanning, strategic planning, and policy analysis. Foresighting initially involves analysing the current situation and the changes that have led up to it, before moving on to discussing and debating how the future will look with as many actors as possible, and finally shifting to concrete action and decision-making.

Although we are not in a position to know what the future holds in all its details, in any real sense – particularly in the case of science and scientific and technological development – foresighting can help us to clarify how science, technology, and society could interface with each other, and probably will.

Foresighting can help answer questions such as: what kind of focal areas of competence should a country or company develop to achieve the type of economic or social results it wants? Or what are the shortcomings in the current science and technology base that could become bottlenecks for future development?

80 focus areas

The Academy of Finland and Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation carried out the first extensive foresight study into the future of science and technology in Finland in 2005 and 2006. The key goals were to examine the driving forces that impact Finnish society, business, and industry, to identify the future challenges likely to face innovation and research, and to define and prioritise areas of competence capable of promoting Finland's social well-being and the competitiveness of Finnish business and industry.

The resulting FinnSight 2015 report has already laid the foundation for developing a network of new Strategic Centres of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation. These are to be established over the next few years as a joint initiative by industry, research funding organisations, universities, and research institutes.

Learning and ensuring that technology retains a human face have been identified as of critical importance for Finland's scientific and technological development over the next 10 to 15 years.

Work on the FinnSight 2015 analysis was carried out through 10 panels, drawing on the knowledge and insights of leading research and industry experts. The panels identified the driving forces in the global and Finnish business and research and innovation environment, what are expected to be the future trends in science and technology, the strengths and weaknesses of Finnish know-how today, as well as 80 focus areas for future competence.

These areas form a series of interfaces that are in a constant state of flux. Several are closely interlinked, and cooperation between them is likely to generate significant synergy benefits and provide opportunities for breakthroughs and new innovations. Interfaces and synergies generally are expected to provide a key source of new ideas for the future development and funding of the research system.

Benefiting and contributing

FinnSight 2015 identified the welfare state, and its combination of high levels of technological skills with social responsibility, as one of Finland's key strengths. Developing competencies on human terms, through human interaction and learning, results in benefits that are likely to be more satisfying and permanent for both individuals and society at large. Learning and human technologies, therefore, will be particularly important in Finland's future.

The future competitiveness and quality of Finnish health- and environment-related expertise and technologies will depend on how well human and social factors are taken into account. Cultural and multicultural competence will play an increasingly important role in design, product development, and service innovations, as Finnish business, knowledge, and know-how expand internationally.

Information and communication technology, bio-expertise and material know-how, service innovations, and social infrastructures will be important as enablers, in promoting new forms of cooperation and action.

The FinnSight 2015 report, published in 2006, was the outcome of a joint initiative between the Academy of Finland and Tekes, the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation.

Fostering competencies that facilitate scientific and technological breakthroughs will be of fundamental importance. Cooperation between specialists in materials development and biotechnology will generate new strengths in areas such as nanotechnology and create new applications in traditional industries, such as forest products, as well.

Developing useful and usable 'smart' technology that can learn as it is used will also be important for enhancing human-technology interaction. Finland's system competence strengths need to be developed further, into exportable products. Networked environments – bringing together researchers, industrial developers, and business experts – offer a natural avenue for facilitating this type of development.

Finland also needs to be able to take advantage of global innovation networks and the information they contain, and ensure that its expertise in areas such as assessing and managing the risks and opportunities related to the environment, energy, infrastructure, and health is fed into the global pool.

FinnSight 2015 panel themes

  • Learning and the Learning Society
  • Services and Service Innovations
  • Well-being and Health
  • Environment and Energy
  • Infrastructure and Security
  • Bio-expertise and Bio-society
  • Information and Communications
  • Understanding and Human Interaction
  • Materials
  • Global Economy

For more details, see: FinnSight 2015 – The Outlook for Science, Technology and Society, Academy of Finland and Tekes, Helsinki 2006.

> Paavo Löppönen
(Published in High Technology Finland )