12. Hunting for EUNICORNS in one of the Few Countries on Earth they Might Actually Thrive:

Engaging the Creative Tensions Between Bold Aspirations, Wicked Problems and the Zombie Assumptions that Feed on Diversity, Dialogue, Democracy and especially EUNICORNs

Convenors: Jawaria Khan, University of Helsinki; Ndomo Quivine, Department of Social Sciences; David Hoffman, Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä; Taina Saarinen, Finnish Institute for Educational Research, University of Jyväskylä

Contact: jawaria.khan (at) helsinki.fi

Session 12.1: Thursday 2.12.2021 at 13.00-15.00
Session 12.2: Thursday 2.12.2021 at 17.00-18.30
Session 12.
3: Friday 3.12.2021 at 12.30-14.30

The institutions central to Finland’s Democracy do not need to “promote” the plethora of policy jargon superficially ‘profiling’ and pretending to promise social justice – for all – that actually seems to excel in reproducing hierarchies explained more convincingly by homophily and gatekeeping than merit and potential. This Workshop is for those skeptical that 21st century democracies require ‘Talent Boosts’, ‘International Forums’, attempts to ‘become Finns for 90 Days’ or any type of slick gimmick or ‘messaging’ long on promising platitudes and PR but short on delivery, however well intentioned.

We are equally skeptical of rafts of intellectually uncritical and analytically ungrounded reporting exercises funded by public money, and especially the digitalization of processes and issues that cannot convincingly be “digitalized” – especially patterned social justice outcomes.

What we argue is sorely needed – rather than uncritical thinking, unquestioned assumptions and unexamined blind spots is leadership geared to increasingly contested, divisive, dynamic social complexity that defines the post-truth era the world has entered, including Finland.

Many might believe the most toxic elements of hate directed at immigrants, structural racism and inward-looking forms of new nationalism happen ‘far away’, overseas or involve issues that threaten ‘other democracies’ around the globe: not here, in the happiest country on the planet.

Our team of Finnish-based scholars and artists from countries across five continents – including Finland – see things differently.

We believe there are “EUNICORNS”: Creative, innovative, cutting-edge leadership teams and decision-making bodies focused on all populations now living in Finland’s democracy. We have even hypothesized their existence. But we have also hypothesized these teams and decision-making bodies are exceedingly rare, in contrast to leadership teams and decision-making bodies reproducing transnational and increasingly siloed power relations that cut across the planet’s privileged populations. That tension, between “Finland’s exceptionalism” versus the actuality Finland has the same demographically-driven challenges to democracy as most countries, came starkly into view in 2020, during the global coronavirus pandemic and social justice protests.

The long-established focus of the social sciences and humanities excels at distinguishing between the exceptional and unique characteristics of a particular nation or region versus issues and challenges that are global, transnational, and generic. Post-2020, our team theorizes the single focal point with the most leverage on transnational threats to the democratic institutions vital to any society is leadership that speaks clear and convincing truths that serve ‘all populations’, not just ‘some populations’.

The institutional focus we start with, in our interdisciplinary analyses aimed at reinforcing Finland’s democracy and re-aligning an evolving vision of social justice - for all - with Finland’s unique historical 20th century contribution is: education. Within the plethora of topics that fall under the broad umbrella of education, higher education socially, economically, politically and culturally mediates anything of importance that has occurred - or is likely to occur - within Finland’s education system. Within the broad array of topics higher education specialists in Finland historically, traditionally and conventionally focus on, our team of specialists in the social sciences and humanities have articulated a broad, highly unconventional question and theorized two litmus tests missed by the current generation of leadership across higher education’s hierarchies - top to bottom. Specifically: Leadership Composition, the Language Practices of Leadership Teams and Power.

In the 21st century, many in Finland’s democracy believe we have ‘Social Justice, for All’. Structurally-speaking, when viewed from the social sciences and humanities, it is far easier to argue we have ‘Social Justice Bingo for All’. What we mean by that, and how we propose to engage, navigate and change any of it, begins in this Workshop, with a focus on the last place on the planet many leadership teams in higher education are actually looking.

Back to the workshops

Presentation order and abstracts:

Session 12.1 Thursday 2.12.2021 at 13.00-15.00

Workshop Introduction: Operationalizing Two Key Topics, their Objectives & Key Results: The EUNICORN Program of Research, Development, Teaching & Training
Jawaria Khan and Quivine Ndomo

This brief introduction contextualizes our approach to the EUNICORN program of Research, Development, Teaching and Training which is being carried out by the Migration, Mobilities and Internationalization hybrid, networked research team (miNET), facilitated by the Finnish Institute for Educational Research at the University of Jyväskylä.

  1. Contextual Tension: 21st Century Transformative Leadership Focused on ’Social Justice for All’ versus Leadership Practices Reproducing ’Social Justice Bingo for All’.
    David M. Hoffman, Quivine Ndomo, Jawaria Khan, Heidi Säntti, Anna Ruotanen, Taina Saarinen and Maria Lima-Toivanen

This presentation focuses on the collaborative facilitated visualization by miNET members – scholars artists – born in five different countries, across five different continents. The creativity of art, combined with the most recent published critical, interdisciplinary analyses of miNET’s researchers, paints a highly unconventional, candid and humorously skeptical portrait of several high-profile approaches to social justice, especially terms in vogue with policy-makers, leadership teams and decision-making bodies within and across higher education. The results of policymakers, leadership teams – or both – are less-than-impressive when viewed with a critical, intersectional lens. This is especially the case, when viewed by those least-likely to find themselves in leadership teams and/or around tables, much less being heard, when it comes to post-crisis, after-action analyses and scenario-planning for major demographic challenges to democracy that did not disappear during either the coronavirus pandemic or the global protests focused on social justice. Facilitated visualization, as a collaboration between miNET artists and scholars frames the context of an argument-driven, critical review of literature, grounding the most interesting question leadership teams in Finland’s higher education ‘could be asking’ versus the questions uncritical and unimaginative higher education actors have been composting and reinventing in project after project over the past three decades, as underserved populations have begun emerging in Finnish democracy, once characterized by the relative absence of underserved populations. Not everyone might share the humor of our take on the serious concepts, theories, notions heuristics and ideas bandied about, mixed-up, conflated, confused and used more or less interchangeably by leadership teams and decision-making bodies in warm and fuzzy marketing and PR; slick, four-colored annual reports; glowing vision and mission statements, and eye-caching websites of all stripes – with all the bells whistles one could ever hope to see. That said, many might recognize the utility of underlining the risks any of us run, if we wind up playing “bullshit bingo”, especially within the one place where we fancy we know the differences between the fashionable terms-of-the-moment: Higher Education.

  1. Finnish Exceptionalism versus Finland’s Blind Spots: From Sense-making, Explanation-Building to Theorization and Hypotheses Aimed at Impact
    Jawaria Khan and Quivine Ndomo

Who Should Come, Stay, Leave or Avoid the World’s Happiest Country? The Unseen and Unresolved Demographically-Driven Democratic Dilemmas, Paradoxes and Tensions within 21st century Migration, Mobilities and Internationalization
Raunio, Gazdek & Korhonen

Leadership Team Composition, Language Practices and Power Across Finland’s Higher Education System: Two Post-2020 Litmus Tests Spotlighting Leverage on 21st Century Challenges to Democracy
David M. Hoffman, Maria Lima-Toivanen & Taina Saarinen

This presentation focuses on two related, but highly distinct, R&D-driven sets of publications facilitated and led by miNET team members. The presenters focus on the process we are using to realize these two sets of publications – over the medium and long-term – and why we are approaching and prioritizing these particular topics, in this manner. This includes a topic overview, substantively-speaking. In addition, we outline how our R&D is holistically articulated, reinforces and supports our teaching and engagement work. In addition to our central topics, we present miNET’s long-term development process and practices aiming for next-generation leaders in the least innovative, least inclusive and least international settings our most recent publications bring sharply into view. Any guesses?

  1. Engaging and Navigating the Tension Between 20th Century Finnish Exceptionalism versus 21st Century Contested Complexities: Post 2020
    Hoffman, Saarinen and Raunio

This presentation focuses on two original collaborations on theory, developed incrementally, over funded studies executed and published by miNET members who have collaborated over the past decade. Our newest theories, builds on what we know about the global division of scholarly labor, the most promising developments in recent leadership, in contrast to the ‘cut and paste leadership’ which spotlighted this topic in our own organization, We present how and what we theorize, might change who ‘we’ are literally, or who gets to use plural pronouns like ‘we’, our and ‘us’. This theory aims at new insights into structural dynamics that explain where emergent threats to democracy originate: slowly, subtly, right in front of our eyes, in our everyday practices if we don’t see them for what they actually are.

Session 10.2 Thursday 2.12.2021 at 17.00-18.30

  1. Modes of Inquiry, Methodologies & Methods for Actionable Scientific Analyses Aimed at the Tension Between Organizational & Professional Development: Two Key Challenges When “Science is the Easy Part”
    Saarinen & Hoffman, Khan & Lima-Toivanen

  • Moving Past the Homophily and Zombie Discussions that Threatening Democracy in Post-Truth Societies in Crisis

  • Moving Past Siloed ’Preaching to the Choir’

In miNET’s most recent publications and collaborations, including the ETMU Days in Turku – Pre-2020, we began grappling with crafting and sustaining a more long-term approach to critical, collaboration and dialog with sincere actors across Finland’s Ministries and key government agencies. Contributing to cutting-edge global science aimed at gaps in knowledge is highly challenging, for scientists. That said, that same knowledge, often gained with Finnish research funding, can unwittingly and all to easily become de-coupled or de-linked from the policy-making or budget cycles, or worse, become far removed, even inaccessible from actionable insights which could – on a good day – inform leadership or higher education’s professional practitioners, across our higher education institutions. Those actors’ agendas are defined in terms of packed schedules and relentless practicalities and what they often need most – and scientists fail to provide – are clear, research-based, actionable insights. In conversations “between” events, agendas, classes, conferences and projects, this project focuses on owning our blind spots, the ones in ‘research silos’, along with continuously refining process geared toward modes of inquiry more likely to engage stakeholders by meeting them half-way and appreciating that the engagement gap can be far more challenging than the scientific gap, especially when it’s a self-inflicted wound and we’re holding the weapon.

  1. From Esoteric Academic Navel-Gazing to ’Moving the Needle’ on Topics that Matter: Facilitated Visualization for Traction on Translational Scholarship Aimed at Transformational Leadership Sääntti, Ruotanen, Ndomo, Khan & Hoffman

This presentation focuses on our next iteration of adapting facilitated visualization aimed at translational scholarship. Building on our original theorizations, our challenge is moving toward a more intuitive, visually grounded understanding of complexity, using four-field theoretical typologies as a starting point. Because of the power we have found in our work, over three recent projects, our fourth aims at adapting and refining our process to focus on data collection, analysis, and stakeholder feedback, within critical, particpative modes of inquiry. We feel facilitated visualization has untapped potential, moving forward, particularly regarding sensitive, taboo topics many policymakers and leadership teams have been reluctant to candidly, or critically engage, or even discuss. Furthermore, we are hopeful facilitated visualization will be useful in overcoming self-censorship of precarious scholars, especially those from underserved populations, who need a critical, but respectful way of broaching the topics historically, traditionally and conventionally avoided in higher education settings that are not innovative, inclusive, nor international: particularly leadership teams, decision-making bodies and the supervisors of dissertations and theses in these settings. Lastly, using the humor we’ve tapped into has proved useful in simplifying and communicating ‘messages busy people might not want to hear, but need to hear.’ Our international feedback especially on this last challenge, along with the steady drip of unexpected insights and creative moments of serendipity give us high hopes for pressing forward with facilitated visualization within EUNICORN.

Session 10.3 Friday 3.12.2021 at 12.30-14.30

Panel Discussion: Invited Members of the EUNICORN Advisory Network
Co-Chairs: Khan & Ndomo

While many might claim Finnish Higher Education is “diverse”, two global crises in 2020 revealed that claims of equality, equity, accessibility and social inclusion might be fading historical assumptions. The coronavirus pandemic and worldwide social justice protests revealed rapidly changing societal expectations, demographics, and increasing recognition of transnational global inequalities. Post 2020, amidst global demands for re-thinking social justice and skepticism from underserved populations, many organizations are re-assessing if their organizational charts and career-paths to leadership are adequate and relevant to 21st century demographics.

This panel engages the question: Is Finland’s higher education system is on the sidelines of global debates on social justice and diversity? Or are we acting on the glowing language in our vision and mission statements, higher education strategies, equality plans, annual reports and institutional webpages?

miNET’s most recent work problematizes 16 terms – at minimum – for example accessibility, diversity, equality, equity, internationalization and social inclusion which pervade higher education discourse – just this past Spring semester, 2021. This Panel centers our critical focus on research and development aimed at a provocative litmus test:

Do higher education discourses superficially and uncritically “promoting” ideas like accessibility, diversity, equality, equity and inclusion – absent real action – obscure precisely the opposite: the reproduction of transnational, neocolonial inequalities and structural racism?

Litmus test, figuratively, means “any single factor that establishes the true character of something or causes it to be assigned to one category or another”.

EUNICORN contrasts leadership teams and decision-making bodies that are:

  • Diverse and inclusive with respect to complex domestic migration and mobilities; international and innovative with respect to scholarship, leadership and multilingual practices,


  • Leadership teams and decision-making bodies that are none of these things.

Our R&D poses the question if the composition of leadership teams and decision-making bodies in higher education; along with the language practices of these team and bodies, explains these two extremes, aiming at actionable traction on persistent scientific and engagement gaps that have been avoided at the top of higher education’s hierarchies in recent decades. Our intersectional lens reveals discourses across higher education superficially conveying ‘concern for’ or ‘promotion of’ ‘diversity and dialog’, while avoiding both emergent structural racialization and neo-colonialism within Finland’s Education Landscape where it is glaringly obvious.

Our Workshop sessions, holistically, substantively, theoretically and empirically sharply distinguish Finland’s educational discourse “promoting” social justice from other countries, systems and higher education institutions candidly, critically and honestly engaged in achieving social justice. This distinction, albeit highly challenging aspiration, becomes most clear, comparatively, when contrasting leadership composition across of the social sciences, humanities and – ironically – our world-famous education programs, with our most serious competitors, both overseas and within the Nordic countries, all of whom seem to be – or are – opening up gaps based on the tension between 20th century norms in “Educational Leadership” and 21st century Leadership geared to contested complexity.

Whether or not Finland’s Education System is driving the exclusion of emergent, underserved populations, across Finnish society, is the most significant, unengaged question for the leadership teams and decision-making bodies our Workshop brings into focus. It is our hope our invited panelists might shed light on answers to this question.

Workshop Wrap-Up, Next Steps and Collaborative Strategy: The Value of an Unconventional, Hybrid, Curiosity Driven, Networked Program of Research, Development, Teaching & Training – for all
Khan, Ndomo, Hoffman & Saarinen

Following our Panel, we will facilitate an open-ended discussion on collaboration avenues and distribute a feedback form on the Workshop for us and the Organizing Committee.