Experimental Governance

The following is an article about basic income, but it goes into the background of what has made the experimentation with basic income in Finland possible. It’s called “experimental governance”.


Wanting to explore the opportunities offered by behavioral science, the government commissioned a consortium to carry out the Design for Government project, under the leadership of Demos Helsinki.

The Prime Minister’s Office is now setting up an experimentation office to oversee the experiments and scaling. In addition to the basic income experiment, Finland’s ministries are testing other innovative initiatives — such as over a hundred planned or on-going mobility experiments across the country. Eventually, the Ministry of Traffic and Communications aims to “turn Finland into one giant Mobility Laboratory”. Additionally, of more direct relevance to the basic income project, Demos Helsinki is also investigating ways to transform to the funding mechanisms for the experiments themselves. Finally, Finland is sponsoring a project to create advanced communication platforms for experiments so that information, know-how and practices are more easily and more quickly shared.


“The need for experimental governance has been recognized in many nations,” he says. “One reason for this is the simple fact that the world is changing faster than ever: for example digitalization, immigration, aging populations and such phenomena bring up situations which we have never encountered before. In these situations it’s almost impossible to plan, and it’s better to experiment.”

The UK’s Nudge initiative has shown that experimental governance can unlock real potential and that there is every reason to take them to a larger scale, he says. “Many [Finnish] ministries are exploring the possibilities of doing large scale experiments and the Prime Minister’s Office is building structures for supporting the experimental culture. On this scale, the basic income experiment is one single experiment among many. Yet it is an intriguing one, of course.”

So, why hasn’t politics always been done this way? I think that’s because politics usually is about creating winners and losers, not about improving the situation for everybody. It’s a power struggle, not a race towards a better state of governance.

What would need to change to make experimental governance the norm?