There are moments when your sense of the boundaries of the possible
become extended. I had one such epiphany recently when I was
listening to a lecture in Edinburgh by professor Marti Tiuri, a
former Finnish MP. He had a fulsome introduction from the
chairperson of the meeting who pointed out that, in addition to his
distinguished parliamentary career, Tiuri has also been a
successful research scientist with a string of patents to his name.
Before starting his presentation Tiuri modestly, and somewhat
apologetically, said: “Of course, we only have four or five
professors in our parliament at any one time. We can’t make that
much impact.” Everyone in the audience of distinguished Scots
gulped and looked at each other – four or five professors, we
thought; just one would be a start. Tiuri was in Scotland to talk
about his work as chairperson of the Finnish parliament’s committee
for the future which was set up in 1994 to provide a focus for
thinking through the challenges that the country faced in the
At that time Finland had only just started to recover from the fall
of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In short,
the collapse of trade with eastern Europe had led to a 20 per cent
fall in GDP and an unemployment rate of 20 per cent. So the
government published an annual report on the future of Finland. The
committee was established to provide the official parliamentary
response to this and to develop programmes of research on futures.
The programme of work since has been wide-ranging. There have been
studies of how technology can help older people to continue to live
independently at home – “gerontechnology”. The committee has also
looked at future needs for energy and helped to create a national
consensus for the continued development of nuclear power. And it
has tackled some of the most controversial modern issues such as
genomics and stem-cell technology.
The committee does not work on its own. It draws on the support of
a Forum of the Experienced and the Wise comprising “outstanding
retired people” who meet the committee four or five times a year to
discuss topics such as globalisation, corporate social
responsibility and the strength and future of family relations.
This dialogue with older people is paralleled by an internet forum
of young people – the Young Makers of the Future. Tiuri argued that
the success of the investment in this approach can be judged by the
fact that international comparison has seen Finland move from being
rated the 25th most competitive nation in 1993 to the second most
competitive in 2003.
John McTernan is a political analyst.