Humble Government: How to Realize Ambitious Reforms Prudently

The more complex and uncertain a policy issue is, the more useful it is to approach it through humility

The review ’Humble Government’ describes how a humble approach to policy-making can help the Government in building truly long-term policy-making when dealing with wicked problems. The review, conducted by think tank Demos Helsinki and Professor Charles F. Sabel, is part of the Steering2020 project. 

Together with professor Sabel, his experimentalist governance theory has been transformed into four conditions and concrete steps for implementing these conditions in the Finnish context. The conditions are:

  1. building a societal consensus around political goals,
  2. devolving problem-solving to stakeholders with the first-hand experience of issues,
  3. designing feedback mechanisms for effective learning and
  4. committing to the continuous revision of framework goals and metrics throughout the process. When combined, these principles can build trust that enables more long-term policy-making.

For the government to formulate policies that address the most pressing questions of the 21st century, it must first address the structural and cultural problems of its policy-making processes. Solving wicked problems requires policy-making that moves away from the illusion of top-down steering into a networked model.

The aim has been to build a model on some of the strengths of the Finnish governance system. ” Examples like the government’s response to COVID-19 and one of the greatest Finnish success stories – the education system – have been successful because they follow the conditions of humble policy-making. The more complex and uncertain a policy issue is, the more useful it is to approach it through humility.” Silva Mertsola from Demos Helsinki describes.

This report presents an ideal model for how a humble approach could be applied in the Finnish context and an analysis of which the first steps towards an increasingly humble approach could be.

For further inquiries:

Consultant Silva Mertsola, Demos Helsinki,

Chairperson of the steering group, Financial Counsellor/Head of Unit Katju Holkeri, Ministry of Finance