WELGO — Safeguarding welfare in times of pandemics

Demos Helsinki has partnered with a consortium of researchers to identify the ideas, structures and collaborations needed to manage future health crises in a project called WELGO. The WELGO project is funded by the PANDEMICS programme of the Finnish Strategic Research Council. Within WELGO, Demos Helsinki conducts scientific research together with the Universities of Helsinki, Tampere, Eastern Finland and Vaasa, as well as the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare. Demos Helsinki is also responsible for WELGO’s stakeholder interaction, where co-creation with a variety of Finnish authorities and civil society actors has a central role. 


The WELGO consortium tackles the challenge of how to safeguard welfare under exceptional conditions created by rapidly escalating health crises such as pandemics. Even the most welfare-enhancing policies and services will fail to deliver welfare and wellbeing if they are disrupted or discarded in crisis conditions. The project will gather the lessons from the governance of the COVID-19 pandemic in Finland and abroad and turn them into learning pathways toward socially and politically sustainable crisis governance. Research has shown that learning from a recent past crisis is an effective way to initiate governance development work, but sustaining the learning is also key for maintaining governance capacities. Thus, we seek to not only initiate but also diffuse and institutionalise learning in the Finnish society through versatile interaction measures. These measures facilitate systemic change by fostering cooperation between authorities and training future civil servants in the social and health sectors. 


Towards collaborative governance of syndemics

WELGO introduces the concept of syndemic governance to denote welfare-maximising and socially and politically sustainable governance practices under crisis conditions. Health crisis governance is inherently emergent and ridden with uncertainty. Safeguarding welfare in these conditions requires that the escalating health threat, the impacts of its control measures, and other social and health problems are addressed simultaneously in policymaking. Health crises have negative impacts on society as a whole, but those who are already in a disadvantaged or vulnerable position will likely suffer more. An additional challenge arises in a health crisis, as the burden is disproportionately heavy on health care professionals who are essential for its management. (Read our explainer: What are syndemics, and why do they matter for health governance?)


Under any circumstances, socially and politically sustainable governance calls for active maintenance of popular trust, legitimacy and justice, agile governance skills, adaptive governance structures, appropriate legislation and resilient health systems. Promoting the syndemic governance of health crises advances Finland’s commitment to sustainable welfare: it enables the safeguarding of equal prospects for wellbeing and sustainable employment practices in the social and health service system in future crises. 


To develop socially and politically sustainable health crisis governance, WELGO will assemble scholars of public health, social and public policy, social work, law, medicine, political sciences, and management and organisation studies. The objective of our interactions is to enhance sensitivity to the syndemic nature of health crises, create reflexive awareness of crisis governance, and build skills and capacities for agile and adaptive public governance in the future. 


The project is expected to wrap up in December 2024.


For more information, please contact: 

Kari Jalonen
Research Area Lead, Demos Helsinki


Pinja Lehtonen
Interaction Lead, Demos Helsinki



This project summary is based on the application proposal submitted in May 2021 and written by Ville-Pekka Sorsa, Research Director at the University of Helsinki and WELGO’s Principal Investigator. It has been edited for style and updated to reflect developments in the project. 


Feature Image: Karolina Grabowska