Master Class was an interdisciplinary feast – “Everyone builds their own life story”

Organised earlier this spring by Municipality Finance and the University of Helsinki, Master Class broke traditional scientific boundaries.

It offered an interdisciplinary, dialogic approach, pragmatic problem solving and the genuine opportunity to have an influence. These are the issues that are repeated, even after the course has come to an end in March, in the speeches of the winning team of the challenge-based Hyvä (yhteis)kunta Master Class, organised by Municipality Finance and the University of Helsinki.

One of the members of the winning team is a student of political history, Kaarina Tuokko, who wanted to attend the course to test her skills through concrete themes.

“I applied to the course to prove to myself that I am actually able to make use of the things I have learned in practice, and not rely purely on theory,” Tuokko says.

The teams of about four students who participated in the course developed their own concrete solutions to the real challenges Finnish municipalities and cities are facing. The solutions addressed community spirit, interaction, the importance of physical activity, inclusion, functional services for the elderly, the utilisation of data and the diversity of digital material.

“The challenges of the course were diverse and genuinely identifiable problems in our society, which made the whole programme particularly fascinating. The most rewarding moments were those where we found solutions and felt that we were achieving something tangible. There should be more of this kind of teaching,” Tuokko continues.

The other members of the team, Ilona Mikkonen, Susanne Valta and Mia Åström, agree.

Mikkonen is a doctor specialising in psychiatry and explains that this work allowed her to see what inequality in society can do to people. She immediately felt that the themes of the course were important and interesting.

“We made a truly interesting group with people from different disciplines. We immediately found some synergies and good dynamics. The topics are far-reaching social issues, and there is no unambiguous answer to them. I personally think that everyone builds their own life story and takes on the role of an active participant, instead of it being given to them ready-made by external forces,” Mikkonen explains.

Social problem solving comes first

A student of general and adult education, Susanne Valta says she is particularly interested in the challenges of sustainable development and the rational use of resources in a welfare state, which is why the notification of the course beginning immediately piqued her interest.

“The whole programme sounded fascinating because of these things, and it really was. I think I will be working on similar challenges later on in my career,” Valta says.

A master’s student of social and public policy, Mia Åström found that the strong interdisciplinary approach of the course brought not only information from the perspective of other disciplines to solving the problem, but also a confidence in her own skills.

“The Master Class differed from other courses due to its special, defined process. Each time we met, we had to ponder a different phase of the task and make progress with it by writing about it. I also made friends with the amazing women in my team. Without this course, I wouldn’t have come across them or their disciplines during my studies,” says Åström.

The winning piece of work

The multidisciplinary winning team ‘Hyvinvoinnin asialla’ (‘Promoting Well-being’) developed a model that makes it possible to measure the effectiveness of an investment to people’s well-being. The team focused particularly on the social exclusion of young people and its prevention. Their solution is based on the tree of meaningful agency, which draws on various theories about the welfare impacts of investments. The Jury was impressed with the team’s excellent collaboration across various disciplines.

What is a Master Class?

This spring, the University of Helsinki and Municipality Finance organised collaboratively a challenge-based Master Class programme with the theme of sustainable well-being in the municipalities and cities of the future. The programme was specifically geared towards master-level students and young researchers or professionals interested in the sustainability of the future welfare state, urban development issues and social effectiveness. The course consisted of three months of facilitated teamwork, during which multidisciplinary teams, supported by mentors, developed their own concrete solutions to one of three challenges, while utilising the design thinking methodology and co-creation tools.
Source: University of Helsinki

Text and photos: Pihla Hakala