Multidisciplinary solutions to multifaceted challenges – Introducing Aalto Thesis

“This is a grand opportunity to bring out creative solutions and to participate in a truly multidisciplinary collaboration to be ahead of the curve,” depicts Specialist Joonas Aitonurmi from the Finnish Digital and Population Data Services Agency on their ongoing collaboration Project with Aalto University. Aalto is now offering a novel approach for different kinds of organisations to collaborate with students and to tackle complex challenges. Read more below!
Digi- ja väestötietoviraston Aalto Thesis -väki
Participants of the Aalto Thesis project for the FDA: the student team of four (left) and the representatives of the organisation (right) / photo: Niina Pitkänen

Students are developing a consistent user experience for the Finnish Digital and Population Data Services Agency

We’re sitting in the brand-new negotiation room “Mustikka” at the Finnish Digital and Population Data Services Agency (FDA) which is the merger of the Population Register Centre and the Local Register Offices. We’re discussing the development of a consistent digital user experience of the FDA with an international Student Team of four, and with the FDA’s representatives. Student Fiona Kaihari, from the School of Arts, Design and Architecture is planning on approaching UX research from the perspective of design management. Christopher Kannaday, a Business student from the U.S, is examining the relationship between the FDA’s human capital sourcing and their digital innovation output.

The atmosphere at Mustikka is professional and ambitious, but also cheerful and relaxed. “You seem very content,” notes Niina Pitkänen, the Programme Manager of Aalto Thesis. “Our smiles come easy because we need this information. I just wish we would’ve had access to something like this a year ago,” laughs Senior Specialist and UX Manager Mari Kervinen from the FDA. But let’s rewind the clocks a bit. Why are we at this meeting?

This is a big opportunity to bring out creative solutions and to participate in a multidisciplinary collaboration to be ahead of the curve.

Specialist Joonas Aitonurmi, Finnish Digital and Population Data Services Agency

Aalto Thesis disentangles complex organisational challenges

Around one and a half years ago at Aalto University, a new and modern collaboration opportunity was launched: Aalto Thesis. It's a project-based and multidisciplinary programme for writing a set of Master’s theses in work-life collaboration. In practice, teams of 2-4 students from different schools of Aalto are assembled to address complex real-life challenges presented by Partner organisations. For the Partner, Aalto Thesis is a unique opportunity to collaborate on a research project with a multidisciplinary group of skilled students.

“Traditionally, organisations collaborating with thesis-writing students hire an individual student to work on a specific, narrowly defined topic. In reality, challenges faced by work-life organisations are clusters of hard-to-grasp, intricate issues that can’t be solved using a singular approach. We’re also very aware of the innovative potential of working at the interfaces of multiple disciplines. That’s why we now have Aalto Thesis,” summarises Pitkänen.

The companies, associations, or public organisations partnering up with Aalto Thesis will receive up to four Master’s theses, all of which dive into the same pre-defined problem from their own perspective. Additionally, the Student Team presents the combined results, conclusions, and recommendations of all the theses in the Final Presentation and the written multidisciplinary summary.

Challenges faced by work-life organisations are clusters of hard-to-grasp, intricate issues that can’t be solved using a singular approach.

Niina Pitkänen, Aalto Thesis Programme Manager

Coordinated collaboration

Pitkänen, who’s at the wheel at Aalto Thesis, has been working on creating and coordinating new forms of cooperation between universities and working life for a decade, “During my career, I’ve met hundreds of companies and organisations in the field. According to my experience, one of the biggest hindrances for starting a collaborative Project is the organisation’s doubt over just how much time and resources the collaboration will take. Thus, we’ve designed the programme to remove all the Project-related ‘extra work’ from the Partner. We aim to make this easy for everyone by managing and coordinating the whole Project. The collaboration must be straightforward and genuinely useful.”

The Aalto Thesis team helps the Partner organisation identify and phrase the challenge, conducts the recruitment of the Student Team, and oversees the Project from start to finish. “We also organise the official meetings that are scheduled into the programme, and simply make sure that things are done as agreed, and on time,” adds Aalto Thesis Coordinator Silva Saulio.

“The Aalto Thesis programme has been very well designed for our purposes, and the whole process from creating the Challenge to our cooperation with the Student Team has been fluent and insightful – and fun! It goes without saying that it has been a pleasure to work with the Aalto Thesis Team and the brilliant Student Team. The students have convinced us with their academic skills and solid presentation and project management skills,” praises Aitonurmifrom the FDA.

We organise the meetings of the programme and make sure that things are done as agreed. We promote genuinely beneficial collaboration.

Silva Saulio, Aalto Thesis Coordinator

How to partner with the programme?

Each Aalto Thesis Project is approximately a six-month collaboration journey. It all begins with a meeting between the Partner and Aalto Thesis coordinators, where the Challenge will start to be drafted. Once a shared understanding of the Challenge and its requirements is reached, the Aalto Thesis team begins the recruiting process to find the best and the most applicable students for that particular Project. Every Project is started with a Kick-Off Meeting, organised by the Aalto Thesis team.

The programme has been well received among the Partners. Currently, in addition to the Project with the FDA, there are ongoing Aalto Thesis Projects, including Valio and the City of Espoo.

In case you’re interested in collaborating, please contact the Aalto Thesis Team or a request for programme staff to contact you here.

Aalto Thesis -opiskelijatiimi
The multidisciplinary and international Student Team: Christopher Kannaday (left), Nandakumar Karinganampillil Sasidharan, Ming Unn Andersen, and Fiona Kaihari / photo: Niina Pitkänen

From multi-methodological research to a compiled narrative

To conclude, let’s go back to Mustikka. We’re attending the first official Status Meeting of the Aalto Thesis Project, in which the Student Team is giving updates on the Project’s progress, and their next steps after two months of working together. The Project, carefully planned by the students, shows promise to the FDA: statistical analysis, interviews, workshops, benchmarking, scenario planning, prototyping, and testing. The multifaceted, multidisciplinary, and multi-methodological process will be followed by presenting a consistent UX development blueprint that spans across the students’ disciplines to the Partner.

The current, ongoing Project with the FDA will finish in May 2020. After a successful start to the collaboration, the next Aalto Thesis Project is already being planned for this autumn. But for now, we are eagerly waiting to see the results of this ongoing Project.

The multidisciplinary Student Team for the Finnish Digital and Population Data Services Agency Project consists of:

  • Ming Unn Andersen
    Collaborative and Industrial Design - School of Arts, Design and Architecture
  • Fiona Kaihari
    International Design Business Management -
    School of Arts, Design and Architecture

  • Christopher Kannaday
    Management and International Business - School of Business

  • Nandakumar Karinganampillil Sasidharan
    Information and Service Management - School of Business

Aalto Thesis team is here to help.

Laura Sivula

Laura Sivula

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