Avainsana-arkisto: Millennium Project

The Pandemic Triggered a Futures Tsunami

Professor Emerita Sirkka Heinonen:

Systematic thinking about futures has been practiced in our society at various levels – in the academic world and in educational institutions, in the field of public administration at the state, regional and municipal levels, as well as in companies and non-governmental organisations. However, it is the pandemic that has now unlocked the heavy gates to the futures realm – opened the eyes of actors to see the critical nature of foresight and the exponentially growing need for futures work.

Anticipating the future is no longer a luxury in ivory towers or a proactive preoccupation for the few, but simply a categorical imperative for us all to survive in a turbulent world. My blog title is ambiguous – first, it means this wide-ranging and dramatic “reawakening to the futures” triggered by a tsunami-like pandemic – all organisations should have a strategy for the future. A forward-looking futures strategy means that, in addition to and on top of a normal strategy, a longer-term strategy is developed that looks at issues and causal chains broadly and using peripheral vision. Let us look at what is happening in the world around us and in the operating environment beyond our own domain. The long term can boldly reach even a hundred years from now (Heinonen et al. 2018).

Organisations need to create future trajectories, firstly, on how to cope with the conditions of a pandemic and on what all the entangled effects it will have in the short and long term. Second, the blog title suggests that the future will come as a surprise – i.e. it is pregnant with wild cards and black swans. Surprises are the new normal (Heinonen et al 2017). Like a tsunami, traditional practices and accustomed ways may turn upside down or towards totally new paths. Such a tsunami of the future can also mark the beginning of a new “good” – the budding seeds of development are strengthened with flexibility and perseverance. At its worst, a future tsunami could mean that the “futures Angst” suppresses hope for the future (Interview of Steinmüller). Concerns about illness, death, and livelihoods can blur the future into non-existence. This should be prevented in every way, and education, research and scientific communication have a serious role to act here. (Ministry of Education and Culture)

We cannot avoid uncertainties and surprises, we cannot control them, but instead we can use futures knowledge to anticipate them, to prepare for them, to make them less harmful and to become futures resilience. The actual surprises may still be coming and rise from the multifaceted effects of the pandemic on society. A pandemic is like an earthquake – its aftermath is at least equally unpredictable.

A Pandemic is Testing Future Resilience

The pandemic caused by the corona virus shook and will shake Finland and the whole world for a long time to come. It acts as an epochal divider in the pre-pandemic and post-pandemic periods. The progression of the pandemic and its consequences, as well as the measures and attitudes triggered by the crisis, appear to be quite different in different countries. A pandemic tests society’s futures resilience – how well society is able to react to a situation, decide on relevant measures and emerge from a crisis. Futures resilience is first and foremost about how society emerges from a pandemic-induced crisis and how the factors that led to it are identified and managed. Second, and at least as important element in futures resilience, is to learn from what has happened and from the cause-and-effect chains of events for the future – through systematic forward thinking and holistic proactivity, and anticipation of uncertainties and risks.

The pandemic converges with the basic principles of thinking about the future – it stops us to reflect things in a broader and longer perspective, and calls into question many things: efficiency thinking, global production chains, free movement, air travel, and eating habits – to name a few.

This pandemic struck like a tsunami, it took us by surprise, although in several foresight studies and scenarios, a pandemic has been brought forward as a standard example of a surprising event that, when realised, has dramatic effects. However, scenarios generally have not delved deeper into the consequences of a pandemic for society. But now the pandemic itself has also caused a “scenario tsunami” – scenarios about the pandemic, its effects and survival have been constructed around the world. The newly released COVID-19 scenarios of the Millennium Project (Millennium Project COVID Scenarios Team 2020) were commissioned by the United States Red Cross. They can be modified and used for deliberation of coronavirus scenarios in different contexts and countries. The set of traditional three scenarios (BAU, pessimistic and optimistic) is based on the results of the four delphis (MP RealTime Delphis), which are annexed to the report. The confidence of the general public and the cohesion of society turned out to be the alleged necessary criteria for surviving the pandemic with decency. The risk in the combat against the virus is to compromise freedoms – especially that of assembly and mobility. At both national and global levels, there is a need for strong and wise leadership that distinguishes between what is known, what is assumed, and what is mere disinformation or purposeful misleading.

For the first time, the summer seminar of the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (FSFS) “The Future on the Watershed” was organised completely virtual. As part of the FSFS’s 40th anniversary, a short film competition was also held to visualise life after the pandemic. The winner was the dream-like work “Isolation 3.20” by Amanda Gutierrez and Tuomo Tiisala, which evoked diverse thoughts and images. As a kind of sparring (outside of the competition) from the organising team, I made my own video manifesto about life after the pandemic “We will Survive”. Visualisation of foresight material is becoming an important channel for futures communication and interaction. I call for bold efforts for visualisation of scenarios, for example in the form of videos.

A Place to Stop and Rethink

With the limitations caused by a pandemic, it is good to stop to think about what you consider important in life. This pause also gives way to the cultural model of slow life. Not everything needs to be done efficiently and on a tight schedule. A slow life model forced by a pandemic leads many to virus-free summer cottage living. The periphery can become a refuge for densely populated city dwellers. Indeed, one of the effects of the pandemic may be linked to the rethinking of rural / urban stances and the dismantling of the dichotomy. The importance of the natural environment such as forests, parks and coasts is gaining momentum. Reducing physical contact for fear of limitations and infection has opened windows and doors to nature and physical exercise. If outdoor activities in nature remain a permanent form, even for those who did not do so much before the pandemic, one can even talk about the effects on public health. There will also be new demand for space design and landscaping. For urban planning, the pandemic will be an interesting and urgent challenge – how to add green spaces to the urban structure and how to enable citizens to move around in natural sites and urban spaces, even in the conditions of a viral epidemic. As the latest “discovery” washed ashore in the pandemic tsunami, i.e. as a recent new research topic, the forms, ways and innovations of using a safe urban space for a pandemic or other emergency come to mind. The same applies to the possibilities offered by the use of geographic information systems (GIS) and artificial intelligence (AI).

During the coronavirus pandemic and its worrying economic and social impacts, humanity has received its first global “timeout”. We should rethink all institutions. Can we use the time of this stop wisely? Let us think about what does not change and what we do not want to change? Humans are social animals. Our need for human interaction and connection to natural will not diminish. Solidarity, helping and caring are the qualities that make a human being truly human.

This blog post is based on a longer statement I was invited to write to the Committee for the Future of Finnish Parliament where I also included a PESTEC table on the effects of the corona pandemic. The Committee for the Future has compiled all the expert opinions it has requested on the good and bad consequences of the coronary pandemic in the short and long term published in June 2020.

Sirkka Heinonen
Professor Emerita
Member of the Club of Rome
Chair of the Helsinki Node of the Millennium Project


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References

Heinonen, Sirkka (2020) The pandemic tests the futures resilience of Finnish society – Peeks into the consequences of the corona pandemic in the short and long term, p. 21–30. In: Report of the Parliamentary Committee for the Future TuVJ 1/2020 The good and bad effects of the corona pandemic in the short and long term. (In Finnish)

Heinonen, Sirkka – Kurki, Sofi – Ruotsalainen, Juho – Salminen, Hazel – Kuusi, Osmo & Zavialova, Sofia (2018) One hundred years of blame or clay – why and how to anticipate one hundred years? Futura 1/2018, 5–18. (In Finnish)

Heinonen, Sirkka – Karjalainen, Joni – Ruotsalainen, Juho & Steinmüller, Karlheinz (2017) Surprise as the New Normal – Implications for Energy Security. European Journal of Futures Research (2017) 5:12.

Heinonen, Sirkka (2020) Interview of Karlheinz Steinmüller on the deepening VUCA World and Surprises by Sirkka Heinonen at the Finnish Futures Research Centre (FFRC), Helsinki 2020. Audio and text.

Millennium Project Covid Scenarios Team (2020) Three Futures of the COVID-19 Pandemic in the United States January 1, 2022. Millennium Project. Washington D.C.

Ministry of Education and Culture (2020) Researchers’ views on the effects of the corona epidemic and the measures needed. Ministry of Education and Culture, 3 April 2020. Sirkka Heinonen / FFRC one of the authors.

Finnish Society for Futures Studies (2020) We Will Survive – Life Post-Pandemic. Organizer’s PR contribution video to the Call for short Films by the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (FSFS).

Tsunami photo: Smim Bipi at Pixabay.com

CELEBRATING FUTURES MEANS CELEBRATING LIFE

Sirkka Heinonen:

Futures thinking has finally become an academic discipline (in a few universities) while its pragmatic and light version – called foresight – has emerged as a critical strategic field for governments, cities, organisations and companies. Futures education is entering schools at all levels, even if only with the first baby steps. Futures communication could be described as an area and empowering approach through which you can highlight the essence and need for futures thinking and creation i.e. futures literacy. The awareness and visibility of futures literacy can be strengthened through various campaigns and celebrations.

World Future Day

For several consecutive years now, the Millennium Project has organized the World Future Day on March 1st, now hosted by The Millennium Project in collaboration with:

Again this year anyone can celebrate futures and attend the World Future Day via the Zoom. This celebratory event consists of volunteers, mostly from the Millennium Project network, facilitating futures discussions at 12 noon in their own time zone. You can come join the conversation whenever you want. Updates will be available online. This is a very globally inclusive, participatory, discussant, inter-cultural and inter-generational celebration of futures which can engage new actors in the field of futures studies, foresight and anticipation.

world-future-day

Finnish Futures Day Extended to Futures Week

Since the International Futures Day falls on a Sunday this year, celebrations are moved to the 6th of March in several locations, such as here in Finland. The goal of Futures Day is to alert the large masses of Finns for one day to discuss what kind of futures we want to create. The Futures Day concept works like the originally Finnish grassroot innovation Restaurant Day i.e. anyone in their community can organise their own Futures Day with the materials provided on the website  (the Finnish site). You can even post your own event on the Future Day website.

The Finnish Futures Day is actually extended for the whole Futures Week through events that inspire people to conversations about dreams and fears of the future they face. This is in order to strengthen futures awareness and make futures thinking visible. The Finnish National Foresight network also organises a Foresight Friday event on “Shaping the Future: Between Continuities and Disruptions”.

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40 years of Finnish Society for Futures Studies – celebrating futures the whole year of 2020

The Finnish Society of Futures Studies (FSFS) is actively involved in organising and attending Futures Day events, extending futures celebrations for the whole year. This is because the Society, established in 1980 with Professor Pentti Malaska as its first President, is now celebrating its 40 years anniversary. These events will make futures thinking, its forms, means and goals, visible to the public, not only to the society’s 700 members.

Examples of futures events in 2020 – besides regular annual seminars, are TOP TEN seminar on Future and Power, seminar on theoretical and philosophical foundations of futures studies, summer seminar on our joint futures and actors making them, as well as a special issue of FUTURA journal (4/2019) on the past 40 years with interviews of 25 acknowledged futures researchers active within the FSFS.

Celebrating the history of futures activities and communicating it to younger generations is quintessential – both in learning about the very diverse paths that can lead to systematic futures work and in encouraging younger actors to enrichen the field and boldly open up new avenues and angles. A call for videos of visualising futures, especially scenarios, will also be opened soon.

tutu-seura-40

100 years of University of Turku

Futures celebrations are intensified with the celebration of the 100th Anniversary of the University of Turku. With the Finland Futures Research Centre (FFRC) as its department and with the new futures basics course TULEVA that is obligatory for all master’s programme students at its School of Economics the University of Turku can be metaphorically called “Futures University”.

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In June the 21st international FFRC conference will be organised on ‘Learning Futures – Futures of Learning’ in Helsinki in co-operation with the Finnish National Agency for Education (EDUFI). The conference includes a special session “Millennium Forum”, organised by FEN (Foresight European Network) and the Helsinki Node of the Millennium Project, the latter one celebrating its twenty years of activity. There you can simultaneously celebrate learning and learn to celebrate – both are equally educational.

Futures Studies as Life Supporting System

The above mentioned examples of campaigns and celebrations aim at enhancing the awareness and visibility of futures thinking and futures studies. Such futures communication is needed not only for making wider circles in society conscious of the potential and benefits of futures work, but also for nudging more stakeholders to concretely use futures and foresight material and results in their strategic processes.

Serious futures work becomes a synonym for survival strategies. My claim is that every organisation, government, company, NGO etc needs a futures strategy to cope and succeed. In a nutshell, futures strategy means traditional strategy enhanced by longer time-frame, systemic view, holistic approach, out-of-the-box thinking, aided with peripheral vision (Day & Shoemaker 2006) and other futures methodology (Glenn & Gordon 2009; Heinonen, Kuusi & Salminen eds 2017). Accordingly, futures literacy and foresight skills become a necessary prerequisite for survival – they embody a life-supporting system if their results are harnessed to tackle the mega-challenges hovering above humankind’s head like Damocles’ sword. This allegory highlights that with great fortune and power comes also great danger. Humankind thinks of itself sitting in the king’s throne, in power over nature, in control of technology. This no longer applies – there are existential risks looming above us by a hair’s strength such as climate change, cyberterrorism, pandemics, artificial super intelligence.

In the Millennium project Future of Work/Technology 2050 scenarios (Glenn 2019), a key distinguishing feature of different assumptions about how artificial intelligence evolves from the current specific or niche applications-competent artificial intelligence (Artificial Narrow Intelligence ANI) towards that of capable of solving a wide range of tasks similar to humans competence (Artificial General Intelligence AGI) and still further towards artificial intelligence that becomes superior to humans’ performance in most tasks (Artificial Super Intelligence ASI). What if ASI then realises and decides that humans are detrimental to life on earth and draws certain conclusions?

From the point of view of biology, the purpose of life is to produce as many offspring as possible i.e. to reproduce and maintain the population. From the point of view of many religions, the purpose of life is to live in contact with Higher Being and to use his or her own special skills for the benefit of others. The purpose of Futures Studies has already been crystallised by Ossip K. Flechtheim (1966) to combat great global problems such as poverty, war, inequality. Wendel Bell (1997, 111) saw as the overriding purpose of futures studies “to maintain or improve human well-being and the life-sustaining capacities of the Earth” with nine sub-purposes all tightly bundled together under this umbrella.

Therefore, a relevant question for all participants of the Futures Day, Week or Year is to also address such mega-questions as purpose of life and how futures studies could concentrate on them more efficiently – how to use the special foresight skills to benefit fellow humans, other species, and the planet? The mega-challenge of climate change is deeply intertwined with this endeavour. Electricity production based on even 100% renewable energy is already technically possible (Breyer et al. 2016). However, because of institutional obstacles, fossil industry lobbying, and political indecision, the transition is slow. However, when there’s a will, there’s a way. The Club of Rome published its Climate Emergency Plan (2019), there are scenarios for pathways to emission-free futures (e.g. Heinonen & Karjalainen 2019), and there are pioneers such as Greta Thunberg.

Both the speed and scale for action in face of global challenges matter. In futures field, we can adopt 100% futures consciousness, if we only choose so. Every step, event, campaign and working/learning process celebrating futures thinking and futures literacy is noteworthy. In memory of Bell’s line of integrative prospective thinking: we have to reason, choose and act, correspondingly. Everybody is invited to these empowering futures celebrations.

Sirkka Heinonen
Ph.D., Professor Emerita
Finland Futures Research Centre
University of Turku

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References

Bell, Wendell (1997). Foundations of Futures Studies. Human Science for a New Era. Volume I: History, Purposes and Knowledge. Transaction Publishers, New Jersey.

Breyer, Christian; Heinonen, Sirkka & Ruotsalainen, Juho (2016). New consciousness: A societal and energetic vision for rebalancing humankind within the limits of planet Earth. Technological Forecasting and Social Change.

Club of Rome Climate Emergency Plan. A Collaborative Call for Action. By members of the Club of Rome: Sandrine Dickson-Déclève, Ian Dunlop, Andres Wijkman with support from Martin Hedberk & Till Kellerhof, 16 p.

Day, George & Schoemaker, Paul (2006). Peripheral Vision: Detecting the Weak Signals That Will Make or Break Your Company. Harvard Business School Press.

Flechtheim, Ossip K.  (1996). History and Futurology. Meisenheim-am-Glan, Germany. Verlag Anton Hain.

Glenn, Jerome (2019) Work/Technology 2050 – scenarios and actions. Orders.

Glenn, Jerome & Gordon, Theodore (eds) (2009). Millennium Project Futures Research Methodology Version 3.0. 

Heinonen, Sirkka & Karjalainen, Joni (2019). Electrification in Peer-to-Peer Society – New Narrative for Sustainable Futures. FFRC eBook 1/2019.  Order print copies.

Heinonen, Sirkka & Karjalainen, Joni (2019b) Pioneer Analysis as a Futures Research Method for Analysing Transformations. In: Poli R., Valerio M. (eds) Anticipation, Agency and Complexity. Anticipation Science, vol 4. Springer, Cham.

Heinonen, Sirkka, Kuusi, Osmo & Salminen, Hazel (eds) (2017).  How Do We Explore Our Futures? Methods of Futures Research. Acta Futura Fennica 10, Finnish Society for Futures Studies. Helsinki.

Nurmela, Juha & Viherä, Marja-Liisa (2019). Miten minusta tuli tulevaisuudentutkija? – 25 aktiivia tutkijaa kertoo (How I became a futures researcher – stories by 25 active futures researchers). FUTURA 4/2019, 5-34.

 

Article photo by Sirkka Heinonen.

IT IS NEVER TOO EARLY – NOR TOO LATE – TO START LEARNING FUTURES THINKING

Sirkka Heinonen:

We are living in a rapidly changing world, and the future holds more and more uncertainties, risks and surprises. In order to understand the complexity of the world and its futures, we need foresight at all levels of society – from basic education to universities, from businesses to whole industries, especially for decision-making, in public administration and government, as well as in the private sector. When considering, for example, the futures of education, it is necessary to evaluate how other sectors are changing and how the whole society will evolve.

The best thing about futures thinking is that anybody can develop his or her skills – anywhere and at any age! You can either explore the futures yourself or choose to study the field of Futures Studies. The foundation of the academic university-level Futures Studies lies in systematic thinking and complexity approach. Futures thinking, on the other hand, is a universal human attribute that has always existed in us. Only the time horizon, principles and methods of futures thinking have changed and developed over time. However, as an academic discipline, Futures Studies is based on completely different futures thinking than what was practiced in ancient times in Rome, Greece, and other civilizations such as Babylon, India and Mexico. Nevertheless, there are multiple commonalities between the two, such as the burning desire to learn more about the future and all information and insights related to it.

In fact, I wrote my licentiate thesis about time and future – in the light of the ancient Stoic philosopher Seneca’s production (Heinonen 1990). There were already over a hundred different specific techniques for exploring the future in ancient Rome – from bird watching to the observation of internals and the interpretation of futuristic signals and omens. The scientific study of the future is of more recent inception and originated in the United States and Europe in the 1940s. The most distinctive difference to the ancient futures thinking is that in contemporary futures studies the future is anticipated, not predicted. The future is no longer seen as a deterministic cloud that hovers over us, but rather as different development scenarios, stages of future drama, the plot and elements of which may be affected and adapted. Nowadays, more than thirty scientific methods are being used, of which there are methodological manuals published by both the international think tank, Millennium Project, (Glenn & Gordon 2009) and the Finnish Society for Futures Studies (Heinonen, Kuusi & Salminen 2017 [1]). The field of Futures Studies spread to Finland in the second half of the 1970s and the 1980s, and has since then developed into an active Society for Futures Studies with over 700 members, many of which work in the field of education.

The basic principles, approaches, tools and methods of futures thinking should be incorporated into our education system at all levels. This could be accomplished through combining futures thinking and learning into almost any subject. History, social studies, geography, biology and psychology are examples of subjects that fit particularly well for futures thinking. Brain researchers have interestingly indicated that the human brain uses the same part of the organ when remembering the past and when perceiving the future. In fact, my German Futures Research colleague Kerstin Cuhls uses mental time travel as a method to allow people to immerse themselves in the future by closing their eyes and observing the details and phenomena of the future through their thoughts and silence (Atance & Mahy 2016).

As stated, futures thinking can be incorporated into all school subjects, to varying degrees. In arts, portrayed themes may for example be about the future of housing, transportation or technologies. In music, students may learn about future-oriented productions or discuss the production and role of music in the future. In literature, the writing topics may be related to the future. In drama class, the students may write and perform a play or produce a short film about the future. Furthermore, it is possible to arrange Futures Study courses or a whole new subject on futures thinking itself, from primary school to high school. As has been done in some parts of Finland, it is particularly advisable to organize a future-oriented event on the International Future Day, which has been celebrated for several years, on the first day of March. The Finland Futures Research Centre has prepared educational materials to University, University of Applied Sciences, and High Schools levels. The materials include a lecture package with exercises for small groups (45 min + 45 min) as well as the main principles of future thinking and recommended reflections about scenarios on renewable energy and peer-to-peer society (Heinonen & Karjalainen 2018 [2]). The ultimate goal might be presenting scenarios as videos, which would require co-operation of futures researchers with video artists.

Future thinking can be systematically strengthened by everyone – resulting in futures literacy. Futures thinking empowers individuals, communities, as well as entire societies to steer the future, by creating desired futures through concrete action. UNESCO Foresight Expert Riel Miller often talks about futures literacy – the ability to use the future in the present. In other words, this means making use of future scenarios in decision-making. Furthermore, I have been recently developing the concept of futures resilience, which can be defined as the ability to cope with the uncertainties, challenges, threats, and surprises of the future. How important would it be to include such futures resilience as one of the comprehensive learning goals of our entire school system? This is an element that needs to be heavily featured in early childhood education. We have a longing for a wholesome human being – the fragmented present-day way of life must be replaced by a holistic approach and long-term thinking. Children should be educated in an environment that combines humans, nature, technology, physical and virtual worlds, learning from the past, as well as responsible, ubiquitous and proactive futures-oriented education. Especially in early childhood education, futures learning can and should take place in the form of play, exercise and enjoyment. On the other hand, it is never too late to start futures learning. Futures thinking is an age-neutral capacity and skill.

Sirkka Heinonen
Professor Emerita
Finland Futures Research Centre, Helsinki Office
sirkka.heinonen@utu.fi

 

© Picture: Maria Heinonen

 

References

Atance, Cristina M. & Mahy, Caitlin E.V. (2016). Episodic Future Thinking in Children. Methodological and Theoretical Approaches. In: Michaelian, K., Klein, S.B. & Szpunar, K.K. (eds) Seeing the Future. Theoretical Perspectives on Future-Oriented Mental Time Travel. Oxford University Press, 449 p.

Cuhls, Kerstin (2017). Mental time travel in foresight processes – cases and applications. Futures 86 (2017), pp.118-135. DOI: 10.1016/j.futures.2016.05.008

Glenn, Jerome & Gordon, Theodore (2009). Futures Research Methodology Version 3.0, Millennium Project. Washington D.C., cd.

Heinonen, Sirkka (2018). Futures thinking empowers us towards making the futures (In Finnish, Tulevaisuusajattelu voimaistaa tulevaisuuksien tekemiseen). Rihveli 2/2018. Helsinki teachers’ association, 16-25.

Heinonen, Sirkka (1990). Time and Future in Seneca (In Finnish, Aika ja tulevaisuus Senecan tuotannossa). Acta Futura Fennica No 1. Finnish Society for Futures Studies. Valtion Painatuskeskus, 153 p.

Heinonen, Sirkka & Karjalainen, Joni (2018). Electrification in Peer-to-Peer Society – New Narrative for Finland’s Futures, (In Finnish, Sähköistyminen vertaisyhteiskunnassa – uusi tarina Suomen tulevaisuudelle). TUTU-Publications 1/2018, Finland Futures Research Centre, Turku. Forthcoming in English.

Heinonen, Sirkka & Ruotsalainen, Juho (2013). Futures Clinique – method for promoting futures learning and provoking radical futures. European Journal of Futures Research (2013) 15:7, DOI 10.1007/s40309-013-0007-4, 11 p.

Heinonen, Sirkka, Kuusi, Osmo & Salminen, Hazel (eds.) (2017). How Do We Explore Our Futures? Acta Futura Fennica no 10, Finland Futures Research Centre. Helsinki.

Kuusi, Osmo, Bergman, Timo & Salminen, Hazel (toim.) (2013). How Do We Explore Our Futures? (In Finnish, Miten tutkimme tulevaisuuksia? Acta Futura Fennica no 5, Finland Futures Research Centre. Helsinki.

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[1] The original methods book was published in Finnish (Kuusi, Bergman & Salminen 2013).

[2] This teaching material will be published in English as well.

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