Roope Mokka is an expert on societal change and innovation. He specialises in helping organisations weather great changes in the world around them, and his work often involves cross-sector changes that influence the daily lives of individuals.
Roope has 15 years of experience working internationally with of governments, corporations and NGOs as a strategic-level advisor on future technologies, markets, and societies, and has authored and co-authored foresight publications from Finland’s country brand (2010) to the world’s first report on mobile games (2001).
Roope is one of the two co-founders of Demos Helsinki, and remains an active advocate for meaningful entrepreneurship. Currently, Roope is extending the operations of Demos Helsinki to become an international organisation, and manages the think tank’s Stockholm office.
Q: As Founder of Demos Helsinki and a futurist yourself, I could probably and happily ask you questions for the next seven days. Maybe a better way of going about this is to have more of an open conversation and I’ll try to steer it towards various themes. Is that ok? So, let’s start by if you think there is a transition and if so, how you would define it.
One would be stupid not to think there is a transition. Defining what that transition is though, that is difficult, hence your study, I would imagine [laugh].
If I had to try, I would say that the way people come together and create value is changing. This in turn, changes how we define ourselves as human beings. Actually, I do not know which is the cause and which is the effect, but both changes are happening simultaneously. Suffice to say, people can come together – largely thanks to technology – and co-create value more directly than they used to be able to.
We used to need a lot of different institutions that would force us to behave in a certain way. There is actually a lot of talk about how this maybe alienated us from the results of our creations but I digress. Today, there is no longer such need for this type of institution. Now we use platforms - soon we will call them commons and then whatever – to create value, and institutions are changing to adapt to this new reality.
However, the question I have is whether the transition will be an evolution or a revolution. The problem with revolutions is that they are bloody and usually do not increase basic freedoms or people’s capabilities for the first twenty years or the first generation let’s say. That is why, we at Demos Helsinki, have decided to work on the kind of projects we have, to make sure the transition is more of a progressive evolution.
People often romanticise revolutions and even I personally think disruption is a fantastic thing when it happens to blocked systems and gets them moving again. However, if we talk about whether there will be new jobs or not with automation, it is difficult to call for a revolution. The proper conversation should be what happens to the jobs we know will disappear and to the people who lose these jobs and their position in society.
We can compare this current transition to the First Industrial Revolution and that took at the very least, one whole generation to recover from the suffering and poverty of that shift, even if productivity went dramatically up during that same time. That is the danger we are facing today.
The second big issue is that, while we are facing abundance and increasing productivity, we still are constrained by the limits of our material world, which is to say the planet. And if I can see a system collapse coming from anywhere, it is most likely going to come from Climate Change or the current mass extinction of biodiversity. Having said that, I personally think we will weather the storm and manage to solve that issue, even if some of my friends have moved to self-contained communities in the country [laugh].
Q: My study aims at understanding if the transition is caused by a shift in values or if it is the transition that is causing a shift in societal values. What do you think?
The first thing I will say is that values change very slowly. The second is that, we – in the West - are in a situation where for the last 30 or 40 years, our institutions have not corresponded with our values. By which I mean, that people have been working and still work in organisations that cannot fulfil their values. So, for me, the current transition is not about a change in values so much as a change in our institutions to better fit with our values.
However, if we are witnessing one big shift in values today, it is the move away from individualism. The idea that alone you are nothing; that your thoughts are taking place in a network of thoughts; that your identity is a reflection of the context you live in. There is no such thing as originality in people and behaviour change is a group notion. Everyone has a unique combination of historical experiences and neuro-psychological mechanism that interact, however that happens in a connected setting, where the traditional notion of individual looses its relevance
Q: That is an interesting perspective because a lot of people believe we are continuing down the path of individualism through such notions as the Purpose Economy, where one is striving for originality, purpose, self-impact, etc. However, you see this as a step away from individualism?
I think we may be lacking the proper vocabulary here [smile].
What I meant is that we have just gone through 100 years of individualism. We had Nietzsche and Freud, and a whole bunch of different kinds of lifestyle products and services, which pushed people to understand themselves as atomised selves. Today, the idea that the individual doesn’t really exist or at least is a meaningless starting point, is gaining ground. The atomised view of the individual is a bias in our thinking which science is gradually disproving.
So, I agree that we are continuing down the trend of individualism but at some point, this notion flips over. Because at some point, you realise that to truly achieve anything you have to do it with and through other people. Moreover, what I thought were my own ideas, actually come from the context and environment I live in.
If you look at Maslow’s hierarchy, after self-actualisation comes ”transcendence”, which is where one helps others to achieve self-actualisation, so one transcends the notion of this atomised self. That is what I am talking about: the realisation that communality is not a value but a fact. When I talked about science just before, this idea is popping up all over in neuropsychology, behavioural economics, etc. Only some schools of Economics talk about the individual. The rest of Science mainly deals with groups, contexts and networks.
However, we don’t yet have the appropriate language to translate these nuances and we have yet to generalise this new understanding of the self. Actually, we are even further from the next step of understanding which would be of an environment beyond other people, one that takes into account the rest of the living environment.
The last thing I will say on this is in regards to transhumanism because it may be a topic you are covering or discussing with others. I do not know enough about the topic but just as a thought, if the self isn’t real, why would you want to preserve it for ever?
Q: You mentioned that people work in organisations that don’t allow them to fulfil their values. Could you elaborate a bit on what you meant?
Well before, one needed a lot of capital or power to create something because you needed to aggregate means. This brought about large complex institutions to gather the required capital, machines and people. Today – thanks in large part to technology – people can organise themselves differently and so one can see a lot of ad hoc structures popping up to achieve the same goals but with much more flexibility. Transaction costs are continuously decreasing and that I would say, is one of the basic drivers behind the transition.
However, it is not only about digitalisation or platform economies. Historically, all this started when the media and popular culture starting focussing on people with working class backgrounds becoming people like David Bowie. People started thinking that they didn’t have to follow the institutional route to become “something”. The internet and social media platforms increased this behavior.
Q: At Demos Helsinki, you work on future scenarios a lot and one of the topics I am interested in is pro-active narratives and their use to society. Could you tell me more about your perspective on that?
With Aleksi my co-founder, we have started gathering a global movement on “Vision for Sustainable Well-being”. That’s a working title. We are looking at what would be a trans-national and trans-ideological societal vision.
To give an example, in the Scandinavian countries all parties subscribed to the societal vision of the welfare state. They just had different perspectives within that same vision or construct. What was wonderful is that everyone understood that the more we spread wealth, the more we educate people, the more the economy would become competitive. That positive cycle, that machine if you will, has unfortunately been broken for some time so we are looking to gather this task group to work on three topics:
- Moving from work to income
- Future forms of democracy
- Future of Growth
So, yes there is a real need for a narrative though it is super difficult to create it, but we are trying. Everyone is talking about the transition, transformation and even disruption. But no-one seems to have a forward-looking idea of where we want to go. I would like to mention that we are lucky to be collaborating with SITRA, the Finnish Innovation Fund to do so.
Q: You also work a lot on what you call Experimental Governance. Can you tell me more?
It is a topic we are continuing to look into in relation to new models of governance and democracy. In a similar way, you in your past have worked on increasing the capability of a corporation to innovate, we are doing this by setting up behavioural insights teams for governments. The UK has the Behavioural Insights Team, Denmark has Ilab… Nearly every developed government has its own structure.
The idea of course not being that these sub-organisations carry the responsibility for all innovation but that they allow the institution as a whole, to change and be more innovative. We have created a framework through which this becomes participatory. It becomes a new form of democracy.
You know from corporations that it is very difficult to have innovation which is at the same time strategic and this is also a problem for citizen participation. Furthermore, elected officials usually aren’t big fans of citizen participation in governmental projects because it makes things more complicated and they feel that they have already been democratically elected to represent the people. How our framework works is by collecting both governmental goals and citizen-led initiatives to design policy experiments which in turn generates new policy.
What previous labs did was to focus on policy deployment. For example, to increase effectiveness of healthcare you work on solutions like sending a text message to people when they are supposed to go to the doctor, that sort of thing. We are working on creating new policy.
This is what we have done for the Prime Minister’s office in Finland and which led to the Basic Income experimentation among others. Unfortunately, for that specific example, our process wasn’t fully utilized. Briefly, the citizens brought into the conversation the notion Basic Income as a way to transition into the post-work society. However, as you will undoubtedly hear from Olli, that is not the reasons put forward by the Government, but I do not exactly know why.
What we are working on now in partnership with a couple Universities is designing the ethics code of conduct for societal experiments.
We believe that this sort of participatory structure has the best chance of changing public institutions.
Q: Actually since I am in Finland in large part because of Basic Income, what is your point of view on it?
What I usually say about Universal Basic Income (UBI) is that it is above all Universal, it’s secondly income and it is hardly basic.
The most important thing is that it is unconditional (universal). It is the first issue in a generation which the government is considering which concerns everyone. Universals are usually the core of a government policy, most of them usually appear on constitutions they are so fundamental. For the last 30 years, policies have always been concerned with specific groups. This of course was because of increasing detailed statistical tools which enabled better understanding of sub groups in the populations. UBI touches everyone and this is why this initiative is so important. Government is innovating at their core.
Furthermore, the Government could also use Basic Income to incentivize practices as well. With blockchain you can now program money. So, let’s say you want to favour localism, you could program the Basic Income to increase in value if what you are buying is local. If you put it in a Government program or a City Hall initiative, then the public institution will double that amount. If you keep it on your bank account for more than 10 years, then something else happens. We organized a Basic Income hackathon and those are the type of ideas which came out.
At the Hackathon, I witnessed a different way of doing democracy. There were different groups made up of people with clearly different political ideologies but they were working together creating different versions of Basic Income instead of having a theoretical discussion about the policy. One group was working on framing issues, one group was designing different algorithms, one was trying to link Basic Income to housing costs, one was working on negative income tax models, etc.
It struck me that what we had there was another way of structuring political debate. In my view, that was more important than Basic Income was.
Basic Income could be universal in two ways. The way I mentioned but also because all ideologies are coming to it from different perspectives and that is why it is so important in renewing the way politics are conducted today.
I also mentioned it was “hardly basic” and again for two reasons: The first is that it touches the field of public benefits which in Finland represents more than a third of our public spending but it is also very complex because it also offers a new tool - as I was illustrating before through my blockchain examples – for societal design.
Q: You mention that you witnessed a new way for democracy to work during that Hackathon example you described. What are your thoughts on Direct Democracy?
Direct democracy will happen through this kind of policy prototyping, which citizens will be able to create themselves. Direct Democracy models which are only about voting are idiocy. People need to feel how potential policies would be like, if not it is not Direct Democracy. Being a Citizen should be so much more than voting: you should be able to design policies, test them, create local institutions before putting them forward for national implementation, etc.
I am also thrilled with the idea of having random people run the country. If you think about elections, it is like there is a process of renewing feudal lords, the difference is we get to choose the lords now and again, but it is basically the same structure. Random selection has been done in multiple instances, for example with citizen panels and they are much more representative of people’s true will if done properly. This could be another way of renewing democracy.