2021. 12. 16.

A Brief Talk with Tiina Ramstedt-Sen

Tiina Ramstedt-Sen

  • Senior Advisor, Council of Tampere Region, Finland
  • Expertise and interest: regional development, ERDF funding, RRI in innovation funding
  • Co-Change leader of the Tampere Region Lab
  • Visit on Twitter or on LinkedIn

The Finnish Council of Tampere Region (CTR) is an authority responsible for regional development. Among other issues, CTR finances innovations in the region, it funds universities, municipalities, research institutes but not private companies. The Co-Change Lab of the Council was established to make funding responsible. The leader of this process is Tiina Ramstedt-Sen, who works as a senior advisor at CTR. Her vision is to create a mental change in the field of innovation in the region.

As a funding organization, how can you influence innovations to be responsible?

Before Co-Change started, we opened a funding call related to artificial intelligence (AI) in the region. For the call we developed an RRI evaluation criteria that included four elements of RRI. This pilot was done in another, Interreg Europe funded, project called MARIE. We asked the applicants to explain the risks of ethics they could assess in the project and how they manage the risks. RRI evaluation criteria was a framework of how to self-evaluate the responsibility of a project. Appliacnts had to explain on how they take care of openness and transparency. How do they engage the relevant stakeholders to the project, and how do they take care of the safety and reliability in the AI-related activities? We asked the applicants to answer these questions in a separate form.

We repeated it with 2 other calls. Based on that, we developed the RRI evaluation criteria, which is a framework of how to self-evaluate the responsibility of a project. That was a pilot made in another project, and now in Co-Change, we are working on the future implementation of the RRI keys to the funding guidelines.

To find out the impact of the pilot calls, we conducted interviews with the applicants with the help of the researchers of the Technical Research Center of Finland (VTT). And we got also quite critical results from the interviews. We also realized during the pilots that the top-down approach, meaning that the administration providing the setup for the applicants, is not convenient. So we decided that this is not something to continue because the funding period is changing now, and we have a new program just about start. And in the new program, the commission has already included similar horizontal principles to the application form—for example, human rights, gender issues, ecological sustainability and also social sustainability. So we saw that this is not the moment to continue with our own criteria. But how could we do it in another way? We need to turn to a bottom-up approach rather than the top-down one. We need to raise awareness, educate the actors in the region to understand the meaning of responsibility in innovation projects.

In a top-down approach, we add evaluation criteria to the delivery of the money. In contrast, the bottom-up approach means that the innovation actors in Tampere Region understand responsibility issues they need to consider and benefit them. It means that the need to be responsible comes from inside, and for that reason, it will be embedded into their projects more deeply than if a given criterion of the funding organisation needs to be followed. In the latter case, they would whitewash their project applications to have more points and finally get money.

So in the Co-Change Lab, we are working on raising awareness on RRI. We need to make activities that raise awareness about the benefits of responsibility.

You have already started awareness-raising events.

Yes, we have done events together with other related projects and also separately. We have just run a 2-day hackathon where different actors, and citizens were engaged to discuss how gender equality, openness and transparency should be taken care of at the project level in the field of innovation.

And last week, the first meeting of RRI round table took place. We created a round table with actors who run RRI related projects. It's an important group because not so many people are dealing with RRI issues in the region, and we don't know each other. It was a great idea to get together to share experiences, and support each other. The new idea is that for some of the regular meetings we invite people from outside the group. This includes people dealing with societal issues (working on development plans or strategies, for instance), but are not necessarily aware of RRI. The idea is to disseminate RRI ideas and benefits outside the innovation sector and initiate a mental change in our region.

You want to make responsibility a new normal in the regional innovation ecosystem.

Having RRI as a new normal is a mission. I don't know if it will ever be perfectly completed. But if you think of how sustainability was 15 years ago, it was not as expected as today. Thinking about the way they operate, companies, innovators, startups need to add responsibility aspects to the way they do it with sustainability.

Do you think the new aspects can appear as a barrier for the applicants or a new burden?

From the interviews with the applicants, we understood that one-third of the interviewees took it as a clear burden. They thought this means extra work, which had nothing to do with their projects. Basically, the most negative feeling is that it means total waste of time to do this. But another third told us it was pretty good to have this kind of extra evaluation because they claimed to be so responsible already that this evaluation did not affect their activities. The rest was very positive and said this was a welcomed improvement. They considered that it was a good tool for self-evaluation.

So, unfortunately, some people think that this is a burden, and that's why we need the mental change I have mentioned before. That's why the criteria as such are not working. If the applicants think that this is an extra burden, and this has nothing to do with their innovation project, it will just bring on anger. So we need the mental change first, and then we can start to put the assessment to the funding guidelines.

How can you turn your Co-Change Lab activities into institutional change at the Council?

It means substantial changes in the Council. When we are talking about delivering money, we have some ideas about the needs we have in the region and we have some interests in funding certain kinds of things and activities. We open a funding call, we receive applications, we assess them, and then we give the money. I don't think this is enough. We should more systematically engage the regional actors to think about what we need in the region. And this engagement is the change that we are going to make. We need to decide what kind of things have to happen before the opening of the funding call, during the funding call and when the projects are funded. We are now in a pre-conception phase, we had several discussions about it internally. At the beginning of next year, we have to develop it because the new funding period is going to start. We will begin implementing this concept when the first call is opened.

You would like to affect the Regional Development Program, you don’t stop by changing something at your own organization.

Yes, definitely. The people who wrote the program are very aware of sustainability and the elements a good strategy should take care of. So I do not want to give the idea that the strategy wouldn't be responsible if we hadn't affected that. We brought the ideas of engagement, and we suggested that in the strategy project process, other actors should be engaged, not only the usual ones. It is worth considering engaging young people, for example. We invited new participants to the strategy workshops for that reason. We involved the private sector: companies to the strategy development, which has not been done before. Companies from the 3S (smart specialization strategy) sector also gave their input. So the smart specialization strategy is now included to document.

And of course, we took part in developing the strategy book at the text level. We put suggestions about gender issues, ethics, we helped to edit the text to make responsibility clearer. By now, the regional development program is accepted.

I wonder if any funding organisations can work without being explicitly responsible towards society nowadays.

You are right. It should be the norm at every level, at the national, international level. We realized some years ago in another project on artificial intelligence that in innovation funding, we do not have any ethical assessment. Ethical issues are not assessed at all when we do innovation funding. So we decided to start funding our AI-related projects with added criteria on ethics. And this opened the door for us to the overall understanding of responsible innovation. The innovation sector needs to evaluate the risks, ecological risks, economic risks, social risks, ethical risks of their activities, and need to understand the impact of their activities and assess them. And this is something that we want to change. We want to raise the awareness of risk analysis, because when we do something, we have an impact that we should understand, so that we can manage them.