Creative adaptation to wicked socio-environmental disruptions

This could be true: As climate change advances, Finland is witnessing ever more frequent storms, one of which hits the country during a February cold spell. Tens of thousands of households are left without electricity and burden not just electric utilities but emergency and health care services as well. At the same time a Helsinki—Tallinn passenger ferry collides with a Russian oil tanker, triggering widespread rescue and oil spill operations. Oily seawater penetrates the cooling system of the Sosnovyi Bor nuclear power plant and forces a rapid shutdown, which however fails and causes a nuclear accident. Chronic wars in the Middle East lead to yet another wave of refugees at the border crossing points between Finland and Russia. Health officials expect an exceptionally serious influenza epidemic to peak in Finland within the next few weeks. Something should be done, but what, how, and by whom?


It is highly unlikely that all of these problems would take place at the same time. Yet we have to prepare for different combinations of them. Although the Finnish society is quite well prepared for a number of sudden crises, such as electricity disruptions, oil spills, and floods, its capacity to tolerate so-called wicked socio-environmental disruptions is weaker. Wicked socio-environmental disruptions emerge as a result of interconnected and extremely complex techno-economic, environmental, and societal developments. Underlying these developments are often global forces beyond national control. What is even worse is that decisions must be taken in an accelerating vicious circle: we have to find urgent solutions to problems we neither understand nor agree on – and whatever solutions we come up with may cause even more problems.

WISE aims to improve decision making over wicked socio-environmental disruptions and to increase Finland’s resilience and adaptation to such disruptions. The project develops and tests an integrated national level policy mechanism, the Policy Operations Room (POR). It creates rapid and evidence based adaptation approaches to unexpected socio-environmental disruptions, such as simultaneous climate refugees, energy crises, and political instabilities. POR emulates a war room, in which decision makers strive to operate as they would in a real crisis and in which researchers can learn from the decisions made. POR can be developed from a test bed into a permanent policy mechanism. As it develops, it can offer rapid, comprehensive, and evidence based support for complex decision making challenges, which a small and open nation state such as Finland will inevitably face.

WISE is part of the Academy of Finland’s Strategic Research Council program Adaptation and resilience for sustainable growth. It contributes to the program’s objective to increase resilience through the use and new combinations of societal, community and individual resources. Resilience refers to a capacity to absorb socio-environmental disruptions, while adaptation refers to the recovery of socio-environmental systems after disruption. WISE produces independent, peer-reviewed and broadly accepted multidisciplinary knowledge to improve societal resilience and adaptation.

The subprojects within the WISE consortium are led by Janne I. Hukkinen (University of Helsinki, consortium leader), Turo-Kimmo Lehtonen (University of Tampere, deputy consortium leader), Sakari Kuikka (University of Helsinki), Peter Lund (Aalto University), Markku Wilenius (University of Turku), and Paavo Järvensivu (BIOS Research Unit, stakeholder interaction).