Persistent business problems could be solved overnight? 

Sometimes all you need to solve deep problems is passion, new perspectives and lots of coffee

When Katariina Kemppainen returned to academia in 2015, she had new ideas for developing education at Aalto: 

“We wanted to offer a business development experience that is as authentic as possible’, explains Kemppainen, who works as a Professor of Practice in the School of Business. “We chose to collaborate specifically with the public sector to open new perspectives to our students.” 

Together with colleagues and partners, Kemppainen quickly brainstormed and designed the Public Sector Hackathon course. Interdisciplinary teams of students from different Aalto schools solve real-life challenges. Those challenges are defined by public sector organisations who participate in the hackathon. 

“Our research can benefit also the public sector.” Kemppainen explains. “And even if a student is not aiming to work at the public sector, it‘s valuable to understand the sector as potential client.’ 

The six-week course culminates in a two-day hackathon event, during which teams sit from morning to evening around the same table defining the problem, developing solution proposals and receiving coaching from their client organisations, faculty and experts. The working method resembles the Lean Kaizen method, which Kemppainen had promoted during her business career. 

‘I’ve seen the benefits of intensive and guided problem solving. When you focus on a task without interruptions, even a long persisting problem can be tackled quickly.” 

For the students, the course is a great opportunity to polish their presentation and teamwork skills. When group work is carried out only with students from different educational backgrounds, finding a common language and vocabulary also takes time, similarly as in real-life. According to Kemppainen, the course experience can evolve from the immediate enthusiasm to stormy phases finally achieving a real group spirit where the different strengths complement each other. The final results can range from new concepts to nearly complete digital applications. Over the years, the students have engaged in challenges such as how to get more Finnish citizens using the Finnish Tax Administration’s digital services, and how the operations of HUS’s medical imaging unit could be made more effective. 

‘In the future, I would like students to get better access to relevant data’, Kemppainen says. 

‘For example, there is masses of data produced in healthcare, and I believe that solutions for large health problems can be found through the analysis of this big data’, adds Senior University Lecturer Johanna Bragge, one of the course leaders.


  • #PSHACK was held for the first time in Spring 2016. In addition to the Aalto faculty, Director Mika Rossi from Accenture was actively involved in designing the course. 
  • Students from all six Aalto schools may participate. In 2016-17 master’s students from the National Defence University also completed the course. 
  • During the first three years, public sector participants have included HUS, the Finnish Tax Administration, the Population Register Centre, Finnish Customs, the Finnish Patent and Registration Office, the Finnish Defence Forces, the National Police Board, the Finnish Border Guard, the Ministry of the Interior, the Government Shared Services Centre for Finance and HR (Palkeet), the Apotti Project, the City of Helsinki’s Disability Services and Eteva. 
  • The 2017 course faculty consisted of Senior University Lecturer Johanna Bragge, Professor of Practice Katariina Kemppainen, Postdoctoral Researcher Jani Merikivi, Professor of Practice Esko Penttinen, Assistant Professor Eeva Vilkkumaa and University Lecturer Christa Uusi-Rauva.