For the latest in our ‘Digital Heroes’ series, a quick chat with people doing interesting digital work in and around government, I thought it was about time to introduce you to a man who you’re probably already aware of, but haven’t had the chance to hear from directly. Esko is widely known for his innovation drive at Monmouthshire County Council, as part their much lauded transformation over the last couple of years. In recent times he’s left that fine, beautiful County (I grew up there) and setup as The Satori Lab with a number of associates, to carry on the work with other large organisations. That aside, I first met Esko after chatting to him at a few events, and subsequent long form conversations have confirmed my suspicions that he’s a very interesting man indeed. He also shares that other admirable quality – in his company I feel like an illiterate child; poorly read he is not. On that note, we should probably hear from the man himself.

It’s game time.

1. What’s your name and where are you from?
Esko Reinikainen – My civilian and military passports says I’m from Finland, I was born in France, have a German mother, and learned to speak English in Belgium… You tell me.

2. What do you do for a living?
I run a small start up that helps organisations with culture transformation and to take advantage of new models for doing things better faster cheaper. Things like design thinking, peer production, agile development, innovation processes, open source, etc. Basically we blow up peoples’ hearts and minds so they can see and adopt better alternatives into their businesses and practice. That, and we’re also going to fix government…

3. Favourite band and/ or artist?
Pink Floyd – they helped me to think wider when I was first being taught how to think properly at school…

4. Android or iPhone?
Android and got my eye on Jolla’s Sailfish

5. PC or Mac?
Linux (various Debian flavoured distros), also rocking a few ChromeOS devices. I do have an iMac sitting in the corner that only gets used for video editing and the odd skype call. Raspberry Pi for little hacking projects. Haven’t used any Microsoft stuff (apart for an xbox) for almost 5 years now, and my life is much better for it.

6. Creature of habit or maverick thinker?
Maverick thinker who habitually returns to the forest for a bit of reflection…

7. Your house is on fire, what do you save?
Puukko, axe, bow saw, box of matches. With those I can survive and rebuild my life in the forest…

8. Biscuits – dunk or leave unsullied?

9. Best project you’ve worked on at The Satori Lab and why?
We’re so new we don’t have a major catalogue of projects to draw from yet, but our existence emerges from a project I did while working with Monmouthshire Council called the Intrapreneurship School. The architecture of that programme was essentially a two year long conversation with my dear friend and colleague Phil Blight. Two public servants with a background in culture start to unpick the social and structural dynamics at work in public sector organisations. We realise that this is what is stopping good people from delivering excellent public value. So we designed a personal transformation journey that also reconnects public servants with their values, new opportunities afforded by technological innovation, and better models for designing and delivering public services. Almost 100 people went through the programme and for some it was such a life changing experience we acquired a phrase to describe the transformation: ‘They don’t live there (the past) anymore…’ Two of them, Jo and Danielle, even left their jobs to come co-found the Satori Lab.

10. Where do you hope The Satori Lab will be in 10 years in terms of wider digital democracy?
Hopefully in 10 years we will have resolved all of the current issues that prevent governments from taking advantage of new technology to facilitate democratic participation. Issues like broken procurement, native digital capability, use of open standards, escape from vendor lock in, misguided ‘security theater’ obstacles, and adoption of open source solutions should all have been fixed by then. We hope to be playing in a space where the majority of government data is open, machine readable, and exposed via elegant API’s. Much as the interfaces between citizens and the services they use are being redefined today by projects like the GDS digital exemplars, I think we will see a redefinition of the interfaces between the citizens and the policy machinery that determines how their lives are governed. It’s the space that Delib is building tools for today, but imagine if you marry up citizen voices with all of the data held by governments and big data analytics, deep learning machine intelligence, sentiment analysis sensor networks, and add to that the ability to poll every voter on issues of national significance. It may sound a bit techno utopian but when you consider recent voter turnouts it is clear that citizens aren’t exactly excited by the choices offered on the left and the right of the political spectrum, so the engaged or disengaged axis becomes the focus for intervention, and advances in digital technology will play a massive role here. I’m heading to the Collective Intelligence conference at MIT next month and there will be presentations by people working on the notions of post representative democracy. That is a space we hope to play a role in shaping over the next 10 years.

11. Best gov site you’ve seen and why? Other than GOV.UK [info in English] The open ministry in Finland is a place where citizens can crowd source legislation and send it to parliament for a vote. It is markedly different from the various petition sites that have been popping up in that citizens can actually draft the law to be considered, and not just propose the topic or position they want addressed. It democratises the legislation development process that was previously out of reach of normal citizens. They also built the whole thing for 30000 euros, so replicating this is not a question of cost, but of political will to allow citizens into the legislative process. Maybe Delib could build one for the UK?

So there you have it, 11 questions answered by a very interesting chap indeed. The Satori Lab is based in Cardiff, so if you find yourself in town or for that matter you want to bring some innovation to your large organisation, give Esko a shout. You can go all email about it here or tweet him something nice here.

Go forth and innovate!