I was an intern at Akordi, a small not for profit company in Finland starting from February to May in 2022. At the beginning, it was almost overwhelming how Akordi is involved in such a wide variety of different types and levels of processes; multi-party negotiations, national-level policy development, intra-organizational interventions, writing handbooks on how to achieve better outcomes in each type of setting through better process. The thematic areas Akordi works with range from wind power to cormorants, migratory fish, zoning, indigenous people’s rights, ecological compensation, etc., also ranging from local scale to international. However, my overwhelm was quickly accompanied by an inspiration and a thirst to learn more about the methodological background, and this knowledge was so generously provided by the members of the tightly knit motivated team.
As probably all interns, I also had to reflect on how the internship relates to my study program, Politics, Philosophy and Economics, at the Karlshochschule International University. I found that for me, an important connection between studies and internship lies in the problematics of the commons, more specifically environmental commons (such as waters, biodiversity, life-sustaining topsoil and climate, etc.). In my studies at the university, I especially enjoyed learning about the research of Elinor Ostrom on citizen governed commons, with astonishingly creative solutions. These theories and a lot of Akordi’s work, seem to circle around the same central question; How can environmental commons be governed in an efficient, sustainable, and fair manner? This feels like a highly topical question as we are living in times, in which the decisions upon our environmental commons will determine crucial aspects of the future to come. And since it is well known that simplistic solutions cannot solve wicked problems like these, these new ways of seeking shared knowledge, and the new ways to go about planning and making decisions, and creating shared commitment seem essential and give hope.
During my internship, I was lucky to find a bachelor thesis topic in one of the projects I was assigned to. In this project Akordi partnered with the City of Helsinki to support the Urban Environment Division in clarifying a challenging situation and finding a way forward. Assisting an experienced expert allowed me first to observe the practice and then dive significantly deeper into the theoretical basis of Akordi’s practice, particularly theories of Collaborative Governance and Consensus-building processes. I was positively surprised by the theoretical and methodological richness embedded in the methodology by Akordi. Although consensus building and mutual gains approach to negotiation are still relatively unknown in Finland, the origins of this field of practice are in the 1970’s, in the social movement advancing Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) in the U.S.
My research contribution to this field will be the case study of the organizational intervention inside the Urban Environment division of the City of Helsinki. The need for the intervention arose from the tension and conflicting goals of the recent Urban Strategy for the years 2021-25 issued by the City Council of Helsinki. The strategy outlines ambitious goals; on the one hand, for creating more housing (8000 new apartments/year) and urban development through strategic planning and zoning, and, on the other hand, ambitious goals related to climate change (carbon neutrality by 2030), and nature conservation, and preserving and enhancing biodiversity and urban green in the city. Among the many reasons this case was of interest to me, are the increasingly ambitious environmental policies, e.g.; the Paris Climate Agreement, the EU Green Deal, and many national targets – all of which depend on efficient implementation to succeed. My research interest is how the consensus building approach can help to deal with the complexities of implementation.
I value my internship at Akordi. Indeed, it felt like a rich and insightful experience. Furthermore, I think it is vital for a nation like Finland, which is wealthy in natural resources, to have expertise on the methods and theory of collaborative governance. I am grateful to have worked as a team member in a professional organization applying these theory-informed methods. It is also exciting to see the growing body of research examining these practices in the context of Finland. I look forward to seeing future applications, research, and possible innovations of the field and perhaps be part of it.
Writer Juliane Boy