One of the efforts of the Finnish government to adopt best practices from the private sector was to create Inland Design, an innovation and design team within the Finnish Immigration Service (Migri). At the same time one could say we are a small team of three people inside the digital services unit of the organisation. What is the difference? Why do we have a brand? How does the brand serve our visibility? These questions I want to answer in this article.
First of all, what do we mean when we say “we have a brand”? It means that we have a name, logo, slogan, a visual identity and we communicate externally in an independent way. For example, some of our colleagues in Migri have their personal Twitter accounts in which they communicate about their work. In Inland Design we have our group account in addition to our personal work accounts. In our personal accounts, we might also communicate about personal things. Everyone in the team has access to Inland’s group account.
In 2017, a group of consultants from the design agency Fjord established the concept for this innovation and design lab, commissioned and guided by the digital services unit at Migri. Recently, I interviewed Barbara Rebolledo, one of the designers in this team. She told that they wanted the new team to have a brand because it could help to:
- Legitimise the team in terms of design and innovation,
- Make the team stand out and detach from the rest of the organisation and
- Attract good designers to public sector.
When the inhouse designers for the team started (my colleague Suse Miessner and me), we had the brand already. We continued with the brand and used the brand to give the group visibility.
We have our own way of communicating externally, which is different from other groups and the brand is only one part of this. We write and document a lot of our work. Nearly weekly we write blog articles on what we do, and we do it in English. For us it is easier to write in English, as most of us are not native Finnish speakers, and we communicate in this way, with an international audience. We put a lot of effort in this external communication and it has strengthened our visibility within the Finnish government and the design community.
The brand causing internal discussions
Internally we were also criticised for having this brand. One of the managers told us that by having a brand and not presenting our team firstly as people from Migri, we are not supporting the organisation. Our presentations are not seen as Migri’s presentations. We show ourselves as an external group, which is not the real situation. She asked us, why should Inland be the only Migri team that has their own brand?
In these two years, we realised the fact of having our own brand, generates some confusion. Many times we had to repeat, both internally and externally, that we are part of Migri. Once, our colleagues asked us how much we charge for our work, as if we were consultants, working externally for Migri.
The good sides of our own brand
On the positive side having the brand gives us a strong internal presence. It allows us to be recognised, even when we are only a group of 2 or 3 people. I agree with Barbara that it serves to legitimise the group internally and that it has helped us to detach from the rest of the organisation. But this last issue, is complex:
How much do we want to be detached and how much integrated? This is a fine line. As a new team we want to be embraced by the organisation, which means that people would come to our office and invite us to work with them. But we also want to highlight that we are a new, bold and innovative team with new working practices and ideas. I believe that the brand supports both seemingly contradictory streams.
Probably, thanks to this visibility we were invited to give talks about our work in many international conferences in different countries. We went and had good learning experiences in the exchange with other designers and civil servants. It is difficult to say, how much the visibility came because of the brand, our work or the general interest in these laboratories in the public sector. But of course, the three dimensions reinforce each other.
In two projects, we found Inland’s brand to be an asset, especially as a means to communicate with groups who do not currently have a positive impression of Migri. For example, we have used Inland’s brand while recruiting participants to user tests. We thought that it detached us from Migri and with that, our research could be seen as more independent from people’s application processing. However, we always point out that we are part of Migri and clarify that participating in our research does not influence their application.
In addition, for “Starting up Smoothly”, a collaboration project with two other public organisations (Tax Administration and Patent and Registration Office) we chose to communicate using Inland’s brand. This way we did not need to choose any of the three organisations’ brands, but took a fourth independent brand, which stands for principles supporting the project goals. Having a brand that does not belong to any of the organisations, saved us time and supported cross-organisation teamwork.
To sum up
In this article I do not discuss how this special brand has served us, but the benefits of having a brand and how it can support communication efforts for a small and dynamic team inside the Finnish government.
We understand the concerns of having our own brand, but the benefits are greater than the disadvantages. The brand supported our internal (in the organisation) and external (for others that do not work in our organisation) visibility. It allowed us to be slightly detached from the perception of Migri within certain groups.
Furthermore, it created a certain degree of team spirit. Because we communicate as a team we had to agree on common practices to do so. We also focus in communication efforts each 6 months and review our work. It also facilitated cross-organisational collaboration by providing a solution for a project.
We recommend other new teams in the government to develop their brand. We did not have the chance to be part of the first steps in the development of the brand, but I think if the construction of the brand is a collaborative effort of the designers working in the team, it can also serve as a step towards clarifying future goals and strategy.
Editors: Suse Miessner and Pia Laulainen