Virginia Tech students at Akordi

Today Akordi hosted a group of students from Virginia Tech Leadership in Global Sustainability program. The visit was part of their excursion to Finland to learn about Nordic transfomations. Akordi founders Jonna Kangasoja and Lasse Peltonen shared the origin story of the not-for-profit company and the research based foundations for Mutual Gains Approach Akordi is using in its work assisting multiparty negotiations around e.g. natural resource use and supporting the implementation of ambitious Nordic policies for climate and biodiversty.  The students got first hand experience in integrating multiple viewpoints and interests through a negotiation simulation highlighting the importance of preparing, strategy, goal setting and understanding the meaning of trust building and accountability in relationships between the parties.

Written by: Juliane Boy, intern at Akordi

The Iijoki Case


1. The Iijoki river

Iijoki river basin is the sixth largest river basin in Finland, located mostly in North Ostrobothnia, just below the Arctic circle. The river was harnessed for hydropower production in the late 1950s during the heavy industrialization of Post-World War II Finland. This blocked the natural cycle of migratory fish like Atlantic salmon and migratory brown trout, causing an enduring environmental conflict in the area. The longstanding conflicthad led to a lack of trust between local interest groups and a halt in the development of the river basin.

In March 2016 the Iijoki Vision and Action Plan process was launched as a part of an EU-funded Iijoki’s otva project (2015–2018), which sought to raise the value of the river by restoring the cycle of the migratory fish in the river, improve water quality in the river basing and by increasing the attractiveness of the local area. Akordi, together with Pöyry Finland Oy and Mapita Oy, was in charge of launching a new operation model to build a shared vision for the future of the water system and to ensure the commitment of various parties involved.

Pictured: The Iijoki watershed and it’s hydropower infrastructure

2. First steps: a preliminary report and Iijoki’s otva project

After an initiative by the Finnish Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry in August of 2014 about a pilot project set in the Iijoki river basin was made, a preliminary study was compiled by the University of Oulu and the Council of Oulu Region.

The study served as a situation assessment, outlining various problems and issues that local municipalities and interest groups faced in different parts of the river. Downstream the local actors were concerned with worsening water quality . In the middle sections of the river, there was major lack of trust between interest groups mostly because of the highly contested and prolonged Kollaja reservoir plan. Further east at the headwaters the responsibilities and the arrangement of recreational fishing in the river basin was brought up. What was shared was dissatisfaction with the halted state of the area, a strong will to develop the river basin and to restore the once lost migratory fish stocks to the river.

The preliminary report concluded that the possible River Vision should concentrate on the multitude of value increasing projects in the river basin, especially the improvement of the quality of water, and on the restoring of the migratory fish stocks. The report suggested that the River Vision model should “utilize a mutual gains approach that would bring the many actors of Iijoki around the same table.”After winning the public tender as a three company consortium, Akordi Oy, Pöyry Finland Oy and Mapita Oy launched the River Vision process as a part of the Iijoki’s otva.

In 2015 Iijoki’s otva launched with three main goals:

  • creating a joint water area vision called the Iijoki Vision
  • by promoting the recovery of migratory fish stocks and securing of the Baltic sea salmon stock
  • by promoting the implementation of smaller development measures during the project that enhance the value of the river

Iijoki River Vision focused on joint water basin development, building a new operating model trying to combine the various goals of water management, fishery, water management, use of areas and the business sector. Akordi together with Pöyry coordinated the River Vision process.

3. The Iijoki Vision process

Akordi together with the consortium selected the mutual gains approach as the core of the negotiation process. The aim was to strengthen the commitment of the participants by creating a widely accepted vision of the river basin.

The River Vision process was divided into several phases:

Pictured: Iijoki River process phases

Akordi and Pöyry started by interviewing a wide range of interest groups connected to the Iijoki river. A lion’s share of these interest groups would form the The Iijoki Vision advisory board.

Pictured: the process diagram of the River Vision

The Iijoki Vision Process also consisted of a tour of local workshops, a map-based online questionnaire led by Mapita Oy, Iijoki Wiki -page, two Iijoki Forum -events in 2017 and 2018, building an Action Plan and the agreement for the continuation of cooperation. A steering group made up by the representatives of the funding parties oversaw and greenlit the decisions made by the Iijoki Advisory Board. Next we dive deeper into the work of The Iijoki Vision Advisory Board and Akordi’s contribution to it.

The Iijoki Advisory Board

Akordi was responsible for organizing and facilitating the Iijoki Vision Advisory Board meetings. The advisory board was composed of a wide range of stakeholders,  such as representatives from each local municipality, local fishing districts, the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), the Finnish Forest Administration Metsähallitus, Northern Ostrobothnia Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, hydropower company PVO-Vesivoima Oy and local recreational fishing communities. The advisory board worked as the main instrument of developing and deciding the actions and goals of the River Vision: for example the Advisory board compiled and approved the goals and key areas of the vision.

Every member agreed to actively participate in collaborative negotiation. Akordi was in charge of facilitating the board meetings as a neutral group ensuring the fair treatment of each group and making sure the agreed rules of negotiation conduct are followed. Akordi played a key role in facilitating and working together with the stakeholders to foster trust and commitment between the different interest groups through at times difficult topics and subjects.

Major decisions and directions were made and approved with the consensus principle: there were no majority decisions to erode possible gained trust. Discussions and negotiations continued until every participant was able to accept the decision as the best option for them. This did not mean that they agreed on every aspect of the outcome, but that the formed compromise would be shared with everyone. The consensus principle placed two important duties on each participant:

  1. Stakeholders need to voice their needs and worries, especially when they do not agree with the decision.
  2. Stakeholders need to work to find solutions to others’ needs.

The facilitated workshops and agreed codes of conduct also led to action plans among the stakeholder that were implemented to the Iijoki Vision Action Plan Bank.

Building knowledge: The knowledge production phase

The negotiation process used joint fact-finding (JFF)  and Citizen science in building a shared understanding of the present situation of the river basin.  In JFF the responsibility of knowledge production is given to a group of varied interest groups instead of a single decision maker. The group has to work to negotiate and agree on what kind of knowledge production methods satisfy every stakeholders needs about validity, quality, transparency and availability of the produced knowledge. JFF was implemented in the Iijoki Vision process by having a map-based questionnaire and by a local workshop tour.

The advisory board participated in drafting with Maptionnaire and the consortium a map-based questionnaire to find out the different uses, values , points of contention and interest and needs of the river basin. The Iijoki’s Values -questionnaire was launched to the public in October 2016. In four weeks over 800 people responded marking over 2 700 unique points of interest. The questionnaire gave the Water Vision advisory board  a shared pool of data to discuss and negotiate even difficult topics of the vision process.

Akordi and Pöyry also arranged five open workshops in Ii, Yli-Ii (Oulu), Pudasjärvi, Taivalkoski and Kuusamo together with VYYHTI II -watershed restoration project in late 2016. The workshops showcased Iijoki’s otva -project,  presented the questionnaire’s results and highlighted local trends and points of interest. The workshop worked as a place for local residents to voice their opinions, concerns and questions about the vision process.

Task Forces and local groups

If everything couldn’t be agreed upon during the advisory board meetings the Vision Process stakeholder together with Akordi and Pöyry set up task forces to focus on specific topics, such as quality of water, migratory wish or the attractiveness of the area. Through consensus building the stakeholders would find a feasible solution for everyone to present to and approve by the advisory board.  One of these topics was the application for the Iijoki migratory fish government key project, which would see the building of an intelligent fishway to the Raasakka power plan

Given the generous project length, the process allowed Akordi and Pöyry to set up local negotiation groups to find consensus on difficult subjects. In the case of the Iijoki government key project application the Ii area fishing districts saw that the suggested proposition would worsen and restrict fishing opportunities in the area and thus objected to the application. Akordi and Pöyry met together with representatives from Ii fishing districts, Ii municipality and Pohjolan Voima Oy power company to find feasible solutions for everyone for the spearhead project. The local negotiations led to the Raasakka old riverbed restoration project and a consensus decision to apply for the spearhead funding.

4. The Water Vision of Iijoki: results

Akordi was closely involved in drafting the River Vision 2030 document together with the  consortium and the advisory board. The final River Vision 2030 focuses on five key areas. The advisory board set tangible goals for each of them. The agreed key areas where:

  1. Attractiveness of the river basin  and livelihood opportunities
  2. Migratory fish
  3. Cooperation and communication
  4. The quality of water and the watershed wellbeing
  5. Recreational use and the quality of living

To ensure the continuation and commitment to the vision, A set of actions was agreed upon after the ending of Iijoki Vision. During the making of the Vision document a large action plan bank was assembled that would advance the agreed areas. The advisory board would continue to operate, focusing on communication and inter group relations, and the interest groups agreed to hold a yearly Iijoki Forum -seminar.

Pictured: the five key areas of the Iijoki Water Vision and the commitment process

What changed?

After the end of the Iijoki otva the municipalities of Ii, Oulu, Pudasjärvi and Taivalkoski, PVO-Vesivoima Oy, Metsähallitus, Vapo Oy / Turveruukki Oy, and ELY Centre of North Ostrobothnia made the Iijoki River Agreement (2019-2023). The agreement continues the work started in the Iijoki Vision by raising the value of the river by restoring the migratory fish stocks, improving water quality by watershed restorations, and developing tourism, recreation and livelihood opportunities. The latest Iijoki Forum was held in Ii in August of 2021, and the advisory board meets twice a year.

The Iijoki Agreement has seen the building of the downstream migration lane for smolt at Haapakoski hydropower station. The project has its beginnings in the joint application of PVO-Vesivoima Oy and Metsähallitus for the Iijoki migratory fish government key project. The application was drafted during the Iijoki’s otva and River Vision collaboration.

Afterwards the Iijoki Vision was seen positively by its participatory stakeholders. The consensus building process, its various collaboration techniques and the emphasis of trust building with enough time allocated to negotiations were praised. The collaboration started in the River Vision process has led to a multitude of projects and action plans in the river basin. Locally led watershed restoration projects Tyräjärvi-Koviojärvi area and Ruosteoja-Savioja are now concluding, a research and project partnership including VYYHTI and CircLab is in the works. Iijoki River Agreement has kicked off for example Ojasta allikkoon -forest industry watershed conservation project, a rapid restoration project in Livojoki and Loukusanjoki and a peat production areas’ wetland conservation project Neova.

Always Trust First

by Jonna Kangasoja

I was invited to speak at the NELIS (Next Leaders’ Initiative for Sustainability) Europe Summit 2019 in Helsinki last week.

The request was to share some key lessons on leading through conflict.

Any wisdom I have, I have learned from my wise teachers, both the official ones (e.g. Robert R. Stains, Steve Greenwood and Debbie Goldstein), and the unofficial ones in my everyday life with whom I have learned about myself in conflict.

For the sake of applicability the lessons are formulated as maxims:

1. Always trust first. In any relationship there is the question of whether to trust the other or not. You can set the tone of a relationship, or a process by making the first collaborative move. It is more than likely – at least in most cases – that you will be reciprocated. Trust begets more trust, mistrust begets more mistrust. That is why the first move is very significant.

2. Always be curious about the story behind an opinion or a claim. When you hear a strong opinion, claim or demand, pause and ask what is important to the other person and why. If you learn to listen well, you will get to hear about the experiences that have shaped those opinions and values. Remember that behind every story there is a person who needs to be seen and heard.

3. Always be a little kinder than necessary. There are moments when you feel that no matter what you do, the other person appears to stay unreasonable or offensive. Pause. Apply maxim #2. Keep treating them like the collaborator you would like them to be. Keep acting like the person you want to be. This makes it more likely to maintain the connection, and in case it gets broken, to mend it.

4. Always cultivate connections. Connections between people are the first casualty of conflict. It takes an effort to reconnect, and that’s why connections may remain broken for a very long time. Be the first one to signal an effort to reconnect, and do it early rather than late. In cases when you for some reason cannot be the first one, if someone invites you to reconnect, run to meet them.

The dynamics of disaster response: how to ensure policy learning in the aftermath?

Environmental disasters can become important events in our individual lives and in the collective memory of a nation. Even eras can be named after them as we may refer to a time before and after the Chernobyl accident. At some point of our lives, almost all of us can expect to be directly or indirectly affected some way by a natural disaster, major industrial or technological accident. Such events often also become landmark cases in environmental policy.

Big environmental disasters have the potency to cause significant changes in existing governmental policies and practices. Some evident examples are the Three Mile Island and the more recent Fukushima nuclear accidents, which induced major shift in several states’ energy policies. In Finland, Talvivaara clearly stands out as an event that changed how the country has viewed mining ever since. These so-called focusing events cause many people – bureaucrats, media, elected officials, and the public – to pay greater attention to the problems revealed by the incident.

Furthermore, people tend to react differently depending on the perceived cause and the characteristics of the disaster. Whereas natural disasters have been found to produce therapeutic response in which communities unite, technologically induced disasters have a corrosive effect on community life. Indeed, if the disaster is seen as an “act of God” or a freak accident, our attention turns to what we can do to help the victims. However, if the disaster is seen as a result of human failings – poor design, operator error, “corporate greed”, or “governmental neglect” – our attention turns to the voluntary acceptance of responsibility or to the more coercive process of fixing blame. Either way, the public is likely to demand safer and more sustainable policies from the decision-makers.

This creates a window of opportunity for change. Action is taken, all in hopes of “learning something from this incident” to ensure that something similar does not happen again. However, there are no guarantees that this will lead to a positive and sustainable outcome. Action may be taken in a rush, in an attempt to please the public, without sufficient learning behind it. The question then becomes, how to ensure that the decisions and the policies made after disasters are a consequence of learning and not a knee jerk reaction to the public pressure? Sometimes it can be quite difficult to see the extent to which governments learn after critical events.

Thomas A. Birkland develops a model for event-related policy change in his excellent book Lessons of Disaster (2006), offering one way to examine these processes. According to him, there are several key steps that must occur for learning based policies to be created. The first crucial step for the event is to gain attention. The size and importance of the event are socially constructed but the event must come first, and it must be large enough to gain attention. The second step is group mobilization. If mobilization does not occur, it restraints learning, because learning requires competition between advocacy coalitions, as each side tries to gather evidence and knowledge about the policy process and political tactics to advance its goals.

The third, and perhaps the most important step, is the discussion of ideas in various forums about the reasons for the event and whether the existing policy can address the problems revealed by the event. If a policy is shown to have failed, the discussion will include policies that seek to remedy the failure and prevent reoccurrence. A change can also happen without such discussion, but it is possible that “superstitious learning” is at work, as Birkland calls it. It can also lead to a positive outcome, but rather by accident than by design. However, if we can draw a link between ideas, an event, and increased attention to ideas and new policies, then we have strong evidence of instrumental policy learning and possibly some evidence of social policy learning and political learning. Even if no policy change occurs, the event can lead to accumulated experience which may promote learning in the future.

Historically the field of environmental policy is rather unique in a sense that significant events have always played a major part in shaping it. While slow change allows for gradual adaptation, abrupt change is more challenging for the social structure and the production system, which do not adapt easily. This is particularly an issue when such events do not occur frequently – memory decays and risk perception weakens. Nonetheless, policy leaps may occur. Every disaster brings losses but also gains, if we make the most of them.


Juha Kotilainen


More reading:


Birkland, T. A. (2006). Lessons of Disaster: Policy Change after Catastrophic Events. Georgetown University Press. Washington DC.

Kotilainen, J. M. (2015): Environmental Disasters as the Drivers for Policy Change – Case Study: Talvivaara Mine. Master’s thesis. University of Eastern Finland.

Kroll-Smith, J., Couch, S. & A. G. Levine (2002). Technological Hazards and Disasters. In the book Dunlap, R. E. & W. Michelson (ed.) Handbook of Environmental Sociology. Greenwood Press. Westport, CT.

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