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Crowd-sourcing infrastructure projects in times of austerity

November 4, 2014

In Finnish there is this word “talkoot.” “Talkootyö” translates to volunteer work.

I have often questioned why we can’t get things done by having more talkoot when government cutbacks affect services and infrastructure maintenance.

Just last week the front page of Metro (the free paper distributed in the capital area) had a photo of dozens of people raking leaves in the city’s main park, Kaiviopuisto as part of a “talkoot” to get the park cleaned up for the fall. If I remember this was an initiative of the City of Helsinki, which offered drinks and small snacks to all of the volunteers as a reward.

My kid’s school needs some fixing, our “home” arena needs some serious renovation and will be out of commission until 2017 (!), so why can’t we help the process along? We can help – we don’t need to build, let’s leave that to the professionals. We can remove materials, bring in the new stuff, do all the little toby jobs that don’t require professional qualifications and the let pros get our infrastructure back into shape.

I have also questioned why more Finnish people don’t voluntarily adopt a park or a stretch of highway to keep it clean. The first services to go in times of austerity are parks and recreation maintenance…

I realize this a larger question of infringing on the rights of unionized workers, but isn’t there something Joe or Jane Public can do to help? Why don’t the municipalities communicate these things? Or am I missing something that is already out there?

A talkoot now and then would reduce the costs of getting things done and bring more of a community spirit, would it not?

I know what will happen if I ask though (in typical bureaucratic fashion in Finland): You can’t do that.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2014 11:50 am

    I hate to say it but that is the big problem in Finland. No one wants to take the initiative to be innovative and change the way things are done. Either its the unions, or politicians don’t want to or can’t make a change. Too many are set in their ways and think that someone else will take care of it or this is the way things have always been done. Finland had its moment of innovation with Nokia but that time is past and I only see the country as falling behind the rest of Europe as it stagnates and becomes ever more stuck in its ways.

  2. Sonia permalink
    November 4, 2014 5:55 pm

    Interesting, just heard in last week’s conference from a Western European point of view researching a project in Africa that Finland has this wide-spread (!) phenomenon of talkoot, still not being a “collectivist” society in term of the social dimensions by Hofstede. What makes the small nation pull together is Hofstede’s feminist dimension (as opposite to many Western countries) promoting consensus, cooperation and modesty rather than individual competition (has nothing to do with genders).

    In a way, you are right, Carmen – there are surely dozens of rules which make helping out impossible: safety, professional training, dangerous materials, tax-liability, you name it. A rigid system. Have you followed the “aikapankki” fate in Helsinki? My friend is very sick after a work accident and this activity included an exchange of help and – not least important – social exchange, yet our dear Tax Bear managed to kill many of the activities. Bottle collection and neighbor’s help (!) have been the next target of possible taxation. This is insane. There is a long set of rules under “Luonnollisen henkilön tekemän talkoo-, naapuriapu- ja vaihtotyön verotus” already now. Who would bother?

    I personally have little understanding for talkoot for infrastructure issues we paid twice and triple by horrendous taxes in comparison to many other countries, because it reminds me of the times I lived in a socialist country (and never want to live like this again!). The matter is not a lack of resources, but lack of efficient use of resources; those are two different things in my opinion.

    Nevertheless, I am missing proper charity and well-being work by dedicated groups, anyone can join; for issues you cannot simply cover by state services. There is a long tradition of e.g. Maltese or many dedicated groupings often sponsored by charity. I realized it while getting into a long hospital stay abroad. Things were working smoothly due to many volunteers and you were not requested to take a taxi “with the head under your arm” when categorized as not worth an ambulance ride. I have done “järjestö” work both in Finland and in Germany: there is more a giver and taker non-balance in Finnish organizations and those are usually run by a handful of people – and then cease to exist.

    I see cturunen’s point regarding stagnation. I see Finland (over)reacting strongly whenever compared with other countries (beware, Sweden!). The “if it’s not at Stockmann, we don’t need it” mentality must change to keep up the pace. Learning can be both sides, because there are many potential good things from Finland to share with others, too.

    • Matt-R permalink
      November 5, 2014 8:53 am

      Hi!
      Are you perhaps overlooking the fact that if someone is seriously injured doing maintenance on a building or road, they will require very expensive medical care. This would also be the case if e.g. a poorly-attached shelving unit on a school wall, put up by a well-meaning parent were to fall on a kid. The insurance people will not cover it.
      It’s also a slippery slope asking people to volunteer. Soon, what should be provided by the state enters the realm of charity work. In the UK I was shocked to be called every evening by people asking for donations for guide dogs for the blind, help buying a new minivan for handicapped kids.
      Yes, it’s sad to see litter and broken glass at bus stops, but cleaning is a full-time job. We can and have to afford it, in my opinion.
      Nice blog btw!
      Best
      -Matt

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