Did you ever look for your glasses just to realize that you were already wearing them? Or try to find a pencil just to discover that you could just as well have used a pen that was lying right in front of you? Such blunders do not only happen in our everyday lives, they can also happen in pension reforms and in research on pensions. The reason is that a stakeholder dialogue does not always take place.
A stakeholder dialogue is an exchange of information between different parties with a vested interest in an issue. In the case of pensions, these parties are, among others, pension providers, trade unions, policymakers, older citizens, and researchers. Each of these stakeholders has their own perspective on pensions, their own expectations of what pensions should be like, and their own questions that need answers or solutions.
When these stakeholders communicate, they learn to better understand each other’s perspectives and, ideally, start to look for solutions that respect the situations of everybody involved. Moreover, such communication reveals whether one stakeholder already has the answer to a question that plagues another stakeholder. This latter aspect is particularly important for the dialogue between researchers and practitioners.
When stakeholders communicate, they learn to better understand each other’s perspectives.
It is the researchers’ mission to find answers to questions, such as how suitable Finnish pension regulations are for ensuring financial well-being in old age, or whether pension regulations would need to be reformed. Without knowing the current concerns of, for example, pension providers and older citizens, researchers may solve marginal problems while leaving burning questions unanswered. Likewise, without knowing the current state of research, trade unions and pension providers may have sleepless nights because of questions that have already been answered elsewhere. A stakeholder dialogue on pensions can prevent such situations.
The Finnish Center for Pensions is excellent at closing the possible gap between research and practical relevance. It carries out research that answers current social questions on pensions, and it effectively communicates its research findings to the different parties that have a vested interest in this issue. While universities have traditionally focused on research, they have recently increased their efforts to reach out to society and stakeholders, with the aim of increasing the impact of their research. If these efforts come to fruition, we will be able to make more informed decisions on pensions, which can lead to more adequate and sustainable pensions.
Universities have increased their efforts to reach out to society and stakeholders.
To facilitate stakeholder dialogues on pensions, the University of Helsinki and the Finnish Center for Pensions cooperated to organize a PhD students’ workshop and a conference this May. The workshop entitled “Life-course influences on retirement: Researchers’ and stakeholders’ perspectives” trained PhD students in research skills and in stakeholder engagement techniques, and the conference entitled “Changing labour markets, life-course and pensions” brought researchers and other stakeholders together in a discussion setting.
Both events were met with great interest, and they showed that the willingness to engage in stakeholder dialogues is there. Hopefully the events also helped to establish a new tradition of conducting such dialogues and will inspire similar events in the future. This way, we may more easily recognize that we are already wearing our glasses and that we can use the pen that is lying right in front of us.