On the shore of a Finnish lake and the gap between researchers and policy makers

Finland is a country of lakes. There are 187,888 of them but the exhibition (On the Shore of the Lake Tuusula Artist Community) I visited with my daughter during the holidays at the Ateneum Art Museum in Helsinki was about one of them: Lake Tuusula.

Why Lake Tuusula? Because at Lake Tuusula, which is 40km located north of Helsinki, something important has happened which I did not know until I went to the exhibition.


In the late 1800s and early 1900s a small but influential artist community developed on its shores. Five prominent Finnish artists built villas on the Eastern shore of the lake Writer Juhani Aho and his artist wife Venny Soldan-Brofeldt, the composer Jean Sibelius and his wife Aino Sibelius, painters Eero Järnefelt and Pekka Halonen, and the poet J. H. Erkko.

One of the explanation boards at the exhibition tells that this group of artists decided to move to Tuusula because they could not stand the social commitments that in Helsinki came with the fame they had acquired through their work. Lake Tuusula was a shelter, not too distant from Helsinki but not too close either. There they had the peace that they needed for the explorations required by their work.


The exhibition is organised around themes. In one room there are the paintings of the artists’ children, in another room their villas depicted in different seasons of the year, in another room family scenes, and in the main exhibit room has views of the lake.

While walking from one room to the next I imagined five prominent artists deciding with their families to build a house and move on the shores of the same lake, not too far from each other. I imagined them visiting each other during the long summer afternoons and sit in the garden to talk about life in Helsinki, new ideas, art, politics. Maybe being near to other artists inspired each of them to write poems, novels, and music. Lake Tuusula helped to strengthen their social capital, a special kind of social capital that in a way has been shared with us through their work.

Then my work came to mind.

Are researchers and policy makers as close? The predominant perception is that researchers and policy makers live not only on different shores, but that they are on lakes that are far and apart. Can therefore social capital analysis be a useful lens though which analyze how far apart/close researchers and policy makers are.

I think it is.

Researchers who want to influence policy making and policy agendas have to make an effort to build social capital and engage with policy makers. Likewise, policy makers may want to engage with researchers to substantiate policy ideas they have. In doing so, they also need to strengthen social capital and expand it to include policy researchers and experts.

st mainly of social networks.  A third dimension of social capital refers to the vertical linkages between individuals and groups with government institutions. This linking social capital is often characterised by hierarchical and unequal distribution of power. Robert Putnam has defined social capital as the ‘features of social life – networks, norms, and trust – that enable participants to act together more effectively to pursuer shared objectives’ (Putnam, R. (1996). Who killed civic America?, Prospect, March, pp. 66-72: p. 56).  His definition is primarily concerned with the horizontal linkages that links people. Putnam defines this bonding social capital as the ‘links that exists between like-minded people that contribute to reinforce homogeneity but can also build walls that exclude those who do not qualify’ (e.g. policy researchers, policy makers, etc.)(in Schuller et al. 2000).  A second dimension of social capital, bridging social capital, refers to the horizontal connections between heterogeneous groups, like for example policy researchers working on different social development sectors, within government and outside government, working for competing institutes, etc.). These horizontal associations consi

I think that the three dimensions are a useful analytical lens to better understand the distance between policy researchers and policy makers on specific issues. The horizontal and bridging linkages provide a sense of identity and common purpose within and across policy researchers and other advocacy actors. The vertical linkages are required to influence policy and at the same time give access to the research and the research proce

The three dimensions used together can help is to understand whether policy researchers and policy makers visit (if not live) on the shores of the same lake and whether and how this changes over time. The results as shown by the artist community of Lake Tuusula can be quite positive.ss to policy makers.

2 thoughts on “On the shore of a Finnish lake and the gap between researchers and policy makers”

  1. Hi arnaldo
    I continue to follow you in your blog and writings. This one is particularly helpful as I write about the achievements of a research center I am managing here in the Philippines.
    As you put it, social relationships can facilitate that link of policy and research. I could nt agree more
    Warm regards to you
    Lea Neri ( aus embassy)

    1. Hi Lea, nice to hear from you. Pls let me know more about your research. I am interested to learn more if and how social capital can be used to analyse knowledge to policy linkages.

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