The CHAOS Challenge

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Main actors

City Government, Community / Citizen Group, NGO / Philanthropy, Research Institutes / Universities

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Project area

Whole City/Administrative Region

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Ongoing since 2018/01

The City of Oulu has developed a community-driven model for generating and testing creative solutions to city problems.

The CHAOS Method is a tool for urban development and progressive procurement. It effectively helps the city to create new solutions and services with local NGOs via citizen participation. The CHAOS Challenge, a practical example of the CHAOS Method, encourages
young citizens of Oulu to propose, create and establish creative and cultural solutions to issues they themselves perceive within their city. Co-creation is at the heart of the projects the CHAOS Challenge funds, enhancing the trust between the city and young citizens and enriching Oulu’s culture with sustainable projects.

By making collaboration with the city an appealing and empowering process, Oulu is strengthening social capabilities and inclusion among 15-29 year-old citizens and the role of non-governmental organisations in urban development.

Originally published by EUROCITIES, the network of 130 European cities: 

Sustainable Development Goals

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Reduce inequality within and among countries
Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels


This project was awarded the 'EUROCITIES Awards' in 2018 in the following category: Participation.

Oulu, Finland

Size and population development
The city of Oulu covers an area of 3,817.52square kilometres comprised of 1,410 land, 103.2 water and 187.1 urban. The population of the city recorded in August 2018 was 202,753. 97.3% of the population speak Finnish, 0.2% speak Swedish and 2.4% speak another language. 17% of the population are 0-14 years, 70.5% are 15-64 years and 12.5% are 65 years or older. The average age is 38.2 years and 51.1% of the population identify as female.

Main functions
Oulu is located on the shores of the Gulf of Bothnia in the Oulujoki Delta in the region of North Ostrbothnia in Finland. It is the most populous city in Northern Finland and the fifth most populous city in the country. Oulu is considered one of Eurpoe’s “living labs” where citizens experiment with new technology at a community-wide scale. The City of Oulu opens its datasets for public use free of charge. The aim of publishing open data is to increase the amount of open public information and its exploitation to the widest possible extent by citizens, businesses, communities, education and research.

Main industries / business
Oulu is internationally known as a city of technology. Cooperation between enterprises, research, education and public organisations has produced significant results. Today Oulu is a major centre of competence in the field of high technology, particularly IT and wellness technology. More traditional industries, such as wood refining, paper and steel industry, are also large employers. The City of Oulu is investing in the development of logistics, information technology, content production, media, well-being and bio and environmental fields.

Sources for city budget
Local government revenues come primarily from municipal taxation and investments and national government subsidies.

Administrative structure
The City Council is responsible for the administration and finances of the city, prepares matters to be decided by the City Council, ensures the implementation and legality of the decisions of the City Council. The City Government represents the municipality: to use the town's speech and to do various legal actions. The tasks of the City Board are defined in the Administrative Rules. The Mayor presents the matters to be decided by the City Council. The City Council has 13 members and each member has a personal deputy. City Council Presidents may attend meetings and have the right to speak at meetings. The agendas of the City Board meetings are available to the public in all libraries and on the Internet. City Council meetings may not be followed by the public, but City Council decisions are generally made public and the media are informed of the decisions.

Oulu has one of the highest percentages of young people among all European cities. As a city in the far north of Finland it also has fewer opportunities to offer compared to more central locations. These features add up to an unemployment rate among 15-29 year-olds as high as 20%. Conscious of the need to get young people more involved in city life, the municipality wanted to find a way to engage and motivate them through a more varied urban culture that would give them new experiences, interests and connections.

Like many cities, Oulu was also grappling with the fact that traditional democratic approaches were failing to foster the cohesion and creativity communities need to thrive. As a result, it decided to take a cooperative path to becoming a more inclusive and resilient city - and to localise good practices from around the world. The result is a process named the CHAOS Method which is designed to strengthen dialogue, search for solutions and test and evaluate prototypes.

The first stage of the CHAOS Method introduces dialogue between the city, citizens and NGOs in a number of ways. Social media and websites are used to share information and enable interaction. A city centre drop-in encourages citizens to talk about the city’s needs and take part in 10-minute workshops on urban development. The CHAOS Think Tank and CHAOS Master Class Series enable interested individuals and organisations to explore inclusivity issues and themes relevant to Oulu. From here, teams of three to five individuals or organisations keen to develop their ideas into proposals attend a CHAOS Clinic (workshop).

The Chaos Challenge is a competition for these co-created solution-focused proposals. Managed by a team of three municipal employees, the contest seeks projects promoting social inclusion through the engagement of young people and marginalised communities. Initially, proposals shortlisted by a jury of young people and city specialists are put to a public vote via the local newspaper. The teams behind the most popular ideas are invited to take part in a two-day CHAOS Workshop where they get support to turn their proposals into feasible project plans. The jury then chooses three winners.

The 2018 CHAOS Challenge posed the question, ‘How can we make Oulu a nicer place for 15-29 year olds?’ Eight proposals were put to the public vote and 3000 citizens selected their three winners:

  1. CHAOS Stage enables a vibrant mix of performances and events to be put on, for free, by young people on a special stage set up in a city centre park.
  2. The My City project gives young people the chance to organise creative writing and media activities and strengthen their capabilities.
  3. eSports CHAOS, brings young people and e-sports professionals together through coaching sessions and boot camps to help youngsters improve their gaming, social and teamworking skills.

The CHAOS project started in 2015 and receives annual funding of approximately €300,000 from the European Social Fund.

CHAOS Project Contracts, which simplify the traditional bureaucratic procurement process, award €20,000 as a service purchase to pilot the three winning solutions. The city works closely with pilot projects, advising and monitoring their progress. Recognising that conventional evaluation techniques would not elicit the project impact insights the city wanted, the CHAOS Method uses nine indicators to assess the benefits for participants and society. These include changes in the level of trust, problem solving, self-esteem, social skills and commitment to society.

The CHAOS team has responded quickly when it’s seen the need to adapt the CHAOS Challenge model. When it became clear, for example, that one contest a year left people with good ideas frustrated at having to wait, it allowed smaller ideas to be put forward at any time. Selected small projects, which receive €5,000, range from neighbourhood sports activities to a summer street art event. In the last two years, 42 CHAOS projects have been commissioned and enthusiastically embraced by citizens as an easy, effective way to design their own city.

According to the CHAOS team there are two standout reasons for the project’s success. First, it doesn’t ask for ideas. From experience the team knew people feel obliged to throw out an idea when asked but that few will be of the required quality. Instead, the CHAOS Method nurtures purposeful ideas into being by listening to people and understanding their needs. The second success factor flows from the first. When project ideas are derived from a wide range of individuals’ passions or organisations’ missions they will always be diverse and inherently attractive to like-minded people.

Social media marketing by the CHAOS team might be useful but it is the projects themselves that inspire young people to get involved.

With the CHAOS Method, Oulu has found a powerful tool for change through the introduction of a new way to contribute to city life and the rapid prototyping of ideas. Many of the pilot projects generated by the CHAOS Challenge are still running as city services. In the future, it is intended that such community driven activities will be the core of the city’s educational and cultural services.

Cities in action - Oulu's Chaos Challenge solutions, EUROCITIES, November 2018

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