Aalto Thesis student project team captured the audience of 40 participants in online final presentation

The student team of four completed an Aalto Thesis project for Finnish Digital Agency (FDA). The team presented their interdisciplinary findings through a Microsoft Teams meeting on Friday, 15 May. More than 40 participants from FDA joined the online presentation to hear the solutions the student team had found. The students received positive feedback from all participants, which included the directors of FDA.
People sitting by tables and listening to a presentation.
Ming Unn Andersen hosting a workshop at Finnish Digital Agency / photo: Hala Menassa

Six months of intensive collaboration

‘I’m speechless,’ says Mari Kervinen, Senior Specialist at FDA. ‘We at FDA are super happy about this!’ After an online final presentation, Fiona Kaihari (International Design Business Management), Christopher Kannaday (Management and International Business), Ming Unn Andersen (Collaborative and Industrial Design), and Nandakumar Karinganampillil Sasidharan (Information Service Management), can feel relieved. It has been a long way since planning the project and having status meetings throughout the 6-month journey. In Aalto Thesis projects, the final presentation gives the stage to the students to present intertwined findings of their finalised Master’s theses as well as interdisciplinary conclusions for the partner organisation. 

The student team’s research focused on how to make FDA the best digital public sector agency in the world. Back in November, FDA was especially eager to start the project with four master students to receive multiple perspectives on their challenge. The broad challenge was tackled by looking into design systems, speculative design methods, employment procurement strategies, and brand images of public sector entities. The students’ research questions were:

  • What is the role of a brand image in designing complex service systems in the public sector? (Fiona Kaihari)
  • How does a company’s sourcing procedure impact the digital innovation output of the firm? (Christopher Kannaday)
  • What are the critical processes involved in the development of a design system in a public sector entity? (Nandakumar Karinganampillil Sasidharan)
  • How can socio-political implications of the digital public sector be explored using speculative design and live-action roleplay? (Ming Unn Andersen)

Multidisciplinary teamwork across different continents

The project demanded knowledge and research from several disciplines to find cross-cutting solutions for the partner. The challenge was designed to address students from all across Aalto, without field-specific limitations. The selected student team originated from the School of Design, Arts and Architecture and the School of Business, and the feedback from the students was purely positive. ‘It has been smooth to work within the multidisciplinary team,’ Ming states. ‘I loved the interdisciplinary basis of Aalto Thesis!’ Chris continues.

The collaboration of the student team was at the core of this successful Aalto Thesis project. Master’s theses are often done in solitude, while Aalto Thesis provides an alternative way of working. ‘I have gained multilateral understanding through teamwork,’ Chris reflects. The students working together as a team was overall one of the team’s most significant learning experiences of the project. ‘It was interesting to learn about quantitative methods and to find synergies,’ says Fiona.

Screenshot of online workshop tool Miro with post-its and web camera images of four students.
Screenshot of the student team's online interdisciplinary workshop. / photo: the student team

The team’s collaboration practices were put to the test due to the COVID-19 outbreak. The unfortunate situation was yet good practice for remote (team)work, which is becoming more common in both work-life and studies. One of the team members, Chris, had to move back to his home country mid-March, and the team continued working remotely via Zoom. Despite the time zone differences between the USA and Finland, all of the upcoming meetings were luckily manageable online. ‘Online work has been going well,’ noted Ming. Also, an interdisciplinary workshop within the team was arranged online with great results.

Research-based insights to solve real-life challenges

The project arose from a need to deeply understand a complex real-life challenge; from a need to learn. Challenge-based learning experiences do not encourage ready-made solutions or simple outcomes. Nevertheless, solving these challenges can serve unexpected results. 

‘The Aalto Thesis programme has been designed to encourage students to challenge themselves during their Master’s thesis process. Working together with a team of peers and following a predefined schedule builds incentives for students to finish off their thesis on time,’ notes Programme Director Laura Sivula. ‘Students can provide partner organisations with research-based knowledge and new insights for development. This adds extra incentives for the students when they know that their thesis outcomes will potentially be implemented in the partner organisation,’ she continues.

The students found four thematic elements which combined their theses’ results into interdisciplinary conclusions.

  • First, the internal experience looks into the organisation itself, where employee diversity and design systems adopted by the whole organisation will increase productivity and creativity.
  • Second, the external experience focuses on the user experience. ‘The users are increasingly evaluating the digital products based on the holistic user experience, rather than solely by their functional benefits,’ the students conclude.
  • Third, the societal impact addresses risks of digitalization and government responsibility when transforming public services into digital form.
  • Lastly, for managing the digital innovation, the student team recommends FDA to ‘combine UX feedback loops with in-house temporary employment to maximise iterative and innovative product and service offerings.’

After the final presentation, the students handed out an interdisciplinary executive summary of all the findings and conclusions to the partner. ‘The project has become something unique. The findings are very interesting!’ says Mari during the discussion. ‘We appreciate the student team’s innovative inputs,’ praises Joonas Aitonurmi, Specialist at FDA. 

The students valued working with a work-life partner and gave kudos to Finnish Digital Agency. ‘Collaboration with FDA has been very positive!’ Ming smiles. Working with a public sector organisation raised thoughts, too. ‘As a business student, the focus in studies is heavily on the private sector. This was the first time when interacting with the (Finnish) public sector, and I want to give massive respect towards the FDA,’ states Christopher. Nandakumar had a similar experience. ‘I’m not that experienced with government entities either, but the FDA has been very smooth – I’m very glad about this!’

Aalto Thesis Programme Coordinator Silva Saulio and Programme Director Laura Sivula congratulate the student team for their excellent project and thank Finnish Digital Agency for fantastic collaboration!

Read Finnish Digital Agency's article about the project from Suomidigi!

Aalto Thesis team is here to help.

Laura Sivula

Laura Sivula

Read more about the programme!
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