Ecological reconstruction requires widespread participation of citizens, entrenching new practices and creative problem-solving, and these can be achieved only if the citizens broadly accept the prevailing societal development. Even though the possibilities for a good life may get better in general, sustainability transformations will inevitably also result in economic losses and changes in employment, thus creating discontent and resistance, particularly if some citizens are in the danger of being left behind. This is why it is crucial to keep an eye on how the ecological transition affects the societal atmosphere.
Societal resilience determines the preconditions for a just and fair realization of ecological reconstruction. The main dimensions under observation are access to common goods by the citizens, distribution of power and societal polarisation. The data on these variables has been gleaned from the Varieties of Democracy indicators created by the V-Dem Institute. The background assumption is that ecological reconstruction can succeed only if the accompanying decision processes are deemed acceptable and evoke a feeling of participation.
The capabilities of adaptation and coping with crises in the Finnish society are generally seen to be high, since according to international comparisons, the general indicators of stability and the state of democracy are in a fairly good state. It is still prudent to monitor the development here too, since the current good situation will not automatically remain so under changing conditions. Increasing societal polarisation in recent years is a worrying sign of things to come.
Societal resilience should at the minimum stay in its current state through the process of ecological reconstruction, or preferably get better. Currently it can be said that access to common goods is good enough, power is sufficiently distributed, and societal polarisation is on a low enough level that policies aiming for sustainable production and consumption can be realised – although it would be easier with less polarisation. If the state of these variables gets worse, if societal resilience degrades, public discussion becomes more antagonistic and pushing through demanding policies gets more difficult or even impossible. This indicator does not directly show how ecological reconstruction affects societal resilience, since it is affected by a multitude of political and social developments. However, if resilience degrades as ecological reconstruction progresses, the justness and fairness of its policies has to be reappraised.
How is progress measured?
There is no ready-made indicator for societal resilience, and it does not appear for example in global surveys of political attitudes and views. Thus it has to be judged indirectly by using other indicators. However, resilience is a wide concept and cannot be measured by a single indicator and is not amenable to merely quantitative appraisals. Subjective and qualitative measures are inevitably needed. The indicators designed for the dashboard should not be too complicated nor internally inconsistent. They should, however, be reliable and preferably internationally comparable. This is why we have used the existing corpus of V-Dem, as they are engaged in a systematic and historically comprehensive research on democratic development in various countries, based on diverse data.
Research suggests that societal resilience is on a higher level when the fundamental needs of the citizens are sufficiently satisfied, inequality of wealth is not stark, trust in public government is relatively high and participation in decision-making and societal development is possible. Thus from the material provided by V-Dem we have chosen access to common goods, distribution of power, and polarization.
A just ecological transition requires participatory political processes and equal possibilities to take part in them. If a certain group in society has more power, for example due to excessive wealth, decision-making may appear to be swift and effective. Disparity in political influence can however create experiences of inequality and exclusion, thus adding to the risk of polarization, extremism and, at worst, social conflicts.
It is hard to find exact metrics of participation in decision-making or distribution of power. Under consideration for potential dimensions of the indicator were public trust in decision-making and central institutions, but for example in Finland yearly data on these is not published, making constant monitoring difficult. Most global indicators, like Human Development Index, on the other hand operate on too generic a level. The Gini coefficient describes only differences of income, which is insufficient for appraising societal development.
The indicators of V-Dem strive also primarily to describe the state of democracy, but the concept is understood broadly and multidimensionally. The notion of democracy includes very detailed indicators of social inequality and stability. The V-Dem data is based not only on official statistics but also on assessments of expert panels, making knowledge gathering on more qualitative indicators possible. V-Dem data is accessible openly and is based on a transparent academically developed methodology.
The indicators that have been chosen as components of societal resilience are all based on assessments of expert panels. Regarding access to common goods, the question was: “Are basic public services, such as order and security, primary education, clean water, and healthcare, distributed equally across social groups?” (0: Extreme; 4: Equal). In 2019, the Finnish value was 3.66. Regarding distribution of power, the question was: “When important policy changes are being considered, how wide and how independent are public deliberations?” (0: Public deliberation is never, or almost never allowed; 5: Large numbers of non-elite groups as well as ordinary people tend to discuss major policies among themselves, in the media, in associations or neighborhoods, or in the streets.) In 2019, the Finnish value was 4.36. Regarding polarization, the question was: “How would you characterize the differences of opinions on major political issues in this society?” (0: Serious polarization; 4: No polarization) In 2019, the Finnish value was 2.79.