Professor Liisa Häikiö analyses how everyone could participate in the development of society
Text: Jaakko Kinnunen
Photograph: Jenni Toivonen
How should the world be organised in order for everyone to lead a good life? Professor of Social Policy Liisa Häikiö from the University of Tampere is studying the intertwining of social policy with people’s daily lives as well as the practices that would enable them to participate in the development of society.
In social policy, Häikiö is fascinated by the connection of theory and practice. Social policy has an effect on all people at the level of everyday life, but it is also a political issue that is continuously negotiated.
Häikiö found her own path in the academia soon after she started to study at the University of Tampere.
“I decided to study social sciences and to come to the University of Tampere because of the free right to study minor subjects. I wanted a wide-ranging education. As I browsed the study guide, social policy spoke directly to me; I remember it clearly,” Häikiö says.
belongs to all
Häikiö is a member of the research group in the Academy of Finland-funded Dwellers in Agile Cities project on whose basis she and other researchers are writing a book titled “Inclusive City”.
“The goal is to create a city that enables heterogeneous groups of people to participate in the pursuit and creation of a good life. We are particularly interested in the inclusion opportunities and practices that support people in weaker or marginal positions,” Häikiö says.
According to Häikiö, urban planning frequently suffers from the problem that authorities really want to get the residents’ input, but find it hard to get, which makes them wonder why. On the other hand, people often want to influence an issue they find important, but are unable to find the right channel to move things forward. It often depends on the people’s economic and cultural resources how they succeed.
“In Finland, we tend to emphasise expert-oriented actions. However, in order to take into account people’s needs and to increase their resources, a better model would be one that started from everyday life,” Häikiö says.
A more functional model would also facilitate experts’ ability to develop their operating practices, such as supporting employment or integrating immigrants.
In the same breath, however, Häikiö stresses that the Finnish public administration system employs highly-trained civil servants and operates in both planning and service provision at a high level internationally.
Interest in the everyday
of climate change
Climate change is among the several research topics Häikiö finds intriguing.
“I find the meaning of climate policy in people’s daily lives extremely fascinating; how people acknowledge the presence of climate policy in their lives and how it transforms everyday practices. Maybe one day I will get time to study this topic more in depth,” Häikiö says.
According to Häikiö, the debate around the environment and politics has improved in the recent years. When measured by several sustainable development indices, Finland performs rather well. Several indicators show that the country is close to the top in the world. However, there is also a flip side.
“Let’s look at, for example, greenhouse gas emissions. If all people in the world lived the same way as Finns, a disaster would already be at hand. We know how to talk about sustainable development and create new operating models, but, in practice, we consume plenty of natural resources. We can ask which one of these pictures is correct. Nevertheless, in the case of greenhouse gas emissions, it is easy to read the figures, or is it?” Häikiö ponders.
The picture is distorted if only emissions produced on one’s own soil are taken into account. Instead, we should also consider the emissions caused by consumer goods that are often generated elsewhere in the world. In many cases, it is hard to know how the figures used are calculated and what their exact meaning is.
However, Häikiö is optimistic because environmental topics are becoming increasingly prevalent in the public debate.
“I studied the sustainable development planning of the city of Tampere for my doctoral dissertation in 2005, and the difference is marked since then. There is more awareness and the discourse has changed among public authorities, but also among the wider public. For example, last summer was the first one when I read critical discussions in newspapers about whether people should fly to spend their holidays abroad. However, I am one of the people to struggle with myself every year about whether I can go on a holiday in the sun during the darkest time of the year,” says Häikiö.
are considered important
Häikiö also studies the inclusion of young people.
“One of our projects is studying the inclusion of young people who receive rehabilitation support. We also look at the issue from employers’ point of view; what kind of support for inclusion do they wish for?” Häikiö says.
Häikiö summarises the attitude of people to society and their role in its development.
“People mainly want to lead smooth, good daily lives and influence the things that matter to them. Everyone with reasonable capacities will participate if they find the issues significant to them. If an issue does not prove to be important, people do not participate,” Häikiö sums up.