Safeguarding welfare during health crises

The WELGO research project develops sustainable solutions for ensuring welfare in future health crises based on lessons from the governance of COVID-19.

Widespread and rapidly escalating health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic pose exceptional challenges to societies. Health crises have negative impacts on the whole society, but people already in a disadvantaged or vulnerable position are likely to suffer more. WELGO researches how Finland can learn to effectively safeguard the wellbeing of all citizens while maintaining societal functions amidst crisis conditions.

Securing welfare in times of crisis requires that the health threat, the impacts of its control measures, and other social and health problems are addressed simultaneously. Viewing pandemics as ‘syndemics’ enables WELGO to understand this accumulation of social and health issues. WELGO furthermore introduces the concept of ‘syndemic governance’ to denote welfare-maximising, socially and politically sustainable governance practices under crisis conditions.

Managing future crises as syndemics will require adaptability instead of rigid preparedness strategies. Our contribution to this includes finding flexible ideas, developing governance skills and structures as well as strengthening the resilience of the Finnish healthcare system. WELGO also aims to enhance popular trust in crisis decision-making and to inform legislation reforms.

To develop socially and politically sustainable health crisis governance, WELGO assembles scholars of public health, social and public policy, social work, law, medicine, political science, and management and organisation studies.

The objective of our work is to

  1. enhance sensitivity to the syndemic nature of health crises,
  2. promote the ability to safeguard the welfare of the whole population equitatively, and,
  3. build capacities and tools for cohesive, legitimate, and agile public governance for facing future health crises.

Our research areas

Ideas: Finding flexible and viable ideas for decision-making

The uncertain conditions of crises require flexible and viable ideas that steer decision-making. Ideas are often presented as descriptions of problems and solutions in the public political discourse. For instance, the idea of herd immunity, or population immunity, was employed in the governance of COVID-19 in Finland. Experts introduced this idea as a solution to the pandemic, which led to basing courses of action on it. WELGO comprehensively assesses the ideas in Finnish decision-making during COVID-19 aiming to understand their nature, sources and usage, and ultimately to discover flexible, sustainable ideas for the governance of future crises.

Legitimacy: Upholding trust, justice and legitimacy

The trust of citizens in the judicial and governance system is central to managing any health crisis. The legitimacy of the judicial system rests on citizens’ recognition of its authority. We research these themes during COVID-19 in Finland from three perspectives: How have social and health care professionals perceived political decision-making and the actions taken by civil servants? How have they experienced ethical and legitimacy issues in their work? How has the pandemic impacted the rights and access to justice of vulnerable groups? Based on our findings, we develop practices, services and communications able to uphold and enhance citizens’ trust and access to justice in future health crises.

Tools: Building legal and operational tools

Balancing effective health crisis management and citizens’ fundamental rights has proved difficult in the governance of widespread crises such as COVID-19. Our research focuses on legislation and policy measures to find that balance: We map out the best practices and governance tools, evaluate how they have succeeded and compare the approaches adopted in Finland to those of other countries. We furthermore research the judicial and operative tools to strengthen the resilience of the Finnish healthcare system. Our findings will help develop equitable mechanisms of syndemic governance and inform the development of legislation and decision-making.

Practices: Enabling collaboration in emergent governance settings

A plethora of societal actors contribute to managing the COVID-19 crisis in Finland. Instead of focusing on the actions of single governing bodies, we consider it more illuminating to study governance and shared situational understandings that emerge from the interaction between actors. WELGO’s goal is to build on the administrators’ capacities to foresee, adapt and learn from crises. Collaboration is central to this effort; different governmental agencies as well as national, regional and local authorities would benefit from a culture of cooperation in future crisis management. We use our findings to develop best practices and aim to mainstream those across the administrative levels.

Looking for more information? Interested in cooperation?