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Markus Siltanen, Senior Ministerial Adviser:
Knowledge is the foundation of good governance

Ministry of Finance 14.10.2019 13.45 | Published in English on 13.11.2019 at 10.50
Column
Markus Siltanen.

Knowledge-based policy-making is one of the key themes of Finland’s current Government Programme. Using and utilising knowledge – safely and effectively – is a prerequisite for good governance. From administration, it also requires a new kind of operating culture and management practice.

The Ministry of Finance promotes knowledge-based policy-making in a number of different ways, for example by implementing the Information Policy Report and the Act on Public Administration Information Management as well as by carrying out concrete development projects related to information management. Here too, working together is the key to success.

From today’s parents to Plato

The internet has revolutionised our opportunities for efficient communication. It has significantly changed the world by making information easily and quickly retrievable. The way in which parents today use search engines to find answers to their children’s difficult questions is not based on practices or knowledge inherited from previous generations, but on the opportunities offered by modern technology. Things were different in the past. In prehistoric times, information was passed on through oral communication; it was not until literacy emerged that we learned how to accurately store and transfer information for new generations.

The ancient Greek philosopher Plato (427–347 BCE) defined knowledge as “justified true belief”. It is a definition that has stood the test of time. In this era of information overload and fake news, we are faced with the challenge of knowing whose arguments we can trust when building true belief. Individuals today are increasingly responsible for assessing the reliability of information received. At the same time, media literacy and people’s ability to make use of information can make or break a society.

Understanding, attitude and rocket science

Comprehensive and systematic utilisation of knowledge is not rocket science, but it does require understanding, attitude and competence. The legalistic tradition of governance has led to a situation where using information is not very easy, because the information is highly regulated. Issues related to data protection also pose challenges. Nevertheless, the problems can be solved, but it requires, for example, a balanced reconciliation of the legal protection of individuals and the objectives of public interest, such as a well-functioning public administration.

The value of administration is derived from well-functioning and effective services, cost-effectiveness and the building of a stable society. This requires using knowledge-based management, for example in setting strategic objectives, in the operational management of activities and in the monitoring of objectives and results. The task of the management is to enable processes to transform data into activities. In the end, knowledge-based management has to do with reforming and learning.

From knowledge to action and towards smart governance

The Ministry of Finance is building a new kind of service and operating method in a public administration analysis and reporting service project (the Tietokiri project) in cooperation with joint government service providers. Coordinated by the State Treasury, the project produces analysis and reporting services that utilise data on the activities, finances and administration of central government agencies. It is essential to produce comparative data and situational pictures and to identify development targets to ensure the overall interest of the government in the development, steering and management of activities. It is a matter of concrete development of knowledge-based management in the area of state corporate guidance.

The concept of knowledge is a great invention of Greek philosophers. Knowledge alone is not enough, however. We must use knowledge to produce wise governance. Wisdom is the ability to use knowledge and experience to make good decisions and build a better society. Wisdom and civilisation also include a vision of a good life and justice towards society, the environment and fellow people. This puts us right at the very heart of the civil service ethos.

Markus Siltanen
Senior Ministerial Adviser

The goal of our governance policy is to ensure that Finland has well-functioning public services, good governance and a sustainable and stable society in which to live.