BIOS Research Unit created the Dashboard for transition politics as a tool for monitoring and guiding ecological reconstruction in Finland.


Dashboard for transition politics

BIOS Research Unit created the dashboard for transition politics as a tool for monitoring and guiding ecological reconstruction in Finland. The dashboard brings together five indicators that give decision makers, journalists and the public a view into how Finnish transition politics is succeeding.

The saying “you get what you measure” is not entirely true. For instance, economic growth has been hard to achieve lately.

But partly the saying holds. Without evaluation and measurement, it is difficult to reach an objective. Recently, public discussions in the media, the editorials and the economic pages in the main newspapers have concentrated on the development of gross domestic product, employment and levels of public debt. These items are at the core of growth strategies.

However, during the next 15–30 years, the main task of the state is to radically diminish greenhouse gas emissions and to decrease the use of natural resources, while at the same time increasing the potential for wellbeing for its citizens. BIOS has called this massive task ecological reconstruction. Instead of a growth strategy, the task needs transition politics that steers society away from structures reliant on fossil fuels and unsustainable use of natural resources, and builds new infrastructure and new practices that facilitate good life.

Growth strategies contain two fatal problems. First, there is no empirical evidence that the growth of the economy can be decoupled from increasing carbon emissions, natural resource use and other pressures on ecosystems – especially not sufficiently fast, widely and permanently. Second, a growth strategy is too vague and abstract in its prescriptions. It does not systematically steer and coordinate economic actors and sectors towards ecological reconstruction. A growth strategy does not tell which concrete tasks have to be accomplished. Rather, it encourages any kinds of production and consumption, disregarding their specific content and effects.

Transition politics is guided by a vision of a coordinated and synchronous change in crucial sectors of society. In practice, the infrastructure and the practices of energy, housing, transport and food have to be rebuilt. The growth of GDP does not tell how well this task is progressing. Therefore transition politics needs its own indicators and tools of guidance.

The dashboard developed by BIOS is a comprehensive tool for monitoring and evaluating transition politics. It combines five essential national-level indicators: carbon balance, total material requirement, fiscal sustainability, societal resilience, and transition employment. This website focuses on the indicators, but in addition to them, the governance of ecological reconstruction needs a plan for the sectoral transitions for the next 15–30 years. In practice, such a plan would become the basis for national industrial policy towards 2050.

Carbon balance and total material requirement offer goals on the national level for emissions and natural resource use within a specific timeframe. Fiscal sustainability indicates the fiscal capacity of the state to finance public spending and investment during the reconstruction and afterwards – and does so without tying fiscal sustainability to economic growth. Societal resilience uses the traffic light metaphor to indicate if citizens feel that they are in the same boat during reconstruction; when green, participation is good, when yellow, there is reason to worry, and a red light means that societal resilience is breaking. Transition employment gathers information on how well employment in different sectors corresponds to the work that is needed for ecological reconstruction.

Two out of these five indicators, carbon balance and total material requirement, get their data directly from the official records of Statistics Finland. The other three indicators have been developed by BIOS as part of its multidisciplinary research, utilising several sources of data. Further information on the methods and data sources can be found alongside each of the indicators, and a scientific working paper on the details will be published later.

The dashboard is presented here in order to introduce a toolset needed for the ecological reconstruction, and the individual indicators are works in progress. In order to actually function as a decision-making instrument in real time, the dashboard needs further development. Before deployment, new processes of information gathering and aggregation have to be established through official channels. One of the results of the work presented here is the identification of knowledge already available and knowledge that is still lacking. The data on this website is not automatically updated (the latest update was in May 2020).

The animations were produced by Heta Jokinen and Heta Jäälinoja (Paperihattu co-op).

Helsinki Art Museum HAM invited BIOS to be a part of the Helsinki Biennial, on Vallisaari island outside Helsinki, planned for summer 2020. Due to the global pandemic, the biennial was postponed, and the dashboard, initially intended as a part of BIOS’s participation in it, was presented in HAM during 15.–27.9.2020. The installation in HAM was accompanied by a panel discussion on 15.9., held in Finnish, with participants Pirkko Siitari (main curator of Helsinki Biennial), Paavo Järvensivu (D.Sc. (Econ.), BIOS), Hanna Johansson (professor, dean of the Academy of Fine Arts in the University of Arts, Helsinki), Jenni Pitko (member of parliament, chair of the Green parliamentary group), Rosa Lampela (journalist, Tekniikka & Talous), Lauri Holappa (PhD, Demos Helsinki) and Tere Vadén (PhD, BIOS).