“Technology is digital, societies are not. For too long a time, the two were regarded as belonging to separate realms,” said Thomas Hendrik Ilves, the former Estonian president, in his acceptance speech for the German Bertelsmann Foundation’s Reinhard Mohn Prize, which he received in June 2017. The motto of this year’s prize was “Smart Country – Vernetzt.Intelligent.Digital” (which translates to ‘connected.smart.digital’). With this motto, the foundation emphasized digitization as a priority.
Why is it that, despite its economic strength, Germany is often referred to as a developing nation with respect to its digitization? How can we overcome this and what potential does this hold for Germany? These are the questions the Bertelsmann Foundation tried to answer on the occasion of this year’s Reinhard Mohn Prize.
Politicians, administrators and citizens agree that one reason for this is the slow internet connection and in some places even lack of access to internet. The expansion of broadband coverage is proceeding slowly and isn’t meeting the demands of the public. In addition, there are bureaucratic, as well as emotional hurdles, both for politicians and in the minds of the public. The general scepticism towards digitization and its implications for businesses and employees might be due to a lack of understanding and insufficient digital expertise.
To address Germany’s lack of progress in the digital sphere, the Bertelsmann Foundation initiated the Smart Country project. The goal of the project was to come up with a list of demands for digitization to plant the issue firmly in the incoming government’s agenda and enhance the political conversation around digitization.
To gather insightful advice, the foundation wanted to consult various of experts on the topic. First, they conducted a stakeholder analysis and identified 40 distinguished experts from throughout the country. The experts were from organizations as diverse as the German Association of Towns and Municipalities, the Fraunhofer Institute and the Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (a German think tank at the intersection of technology and society). The Bertelsmann Foundation defined an outline for the consultation with four relevant categories: Legal and administrative framework, digital infrastructure, security of information and communications technology and digital expertise. As for the implementation of the project, Insights was to provide the platform and methodology for gathering the advice on the four topics.
Together with Insights, the foundation developed four questions – one for each predetermined category. The Bertelsmann Foundation views digitization as a valuable tool to improve people’s quality of life and potential and to promote equality of opportunity. This view was reflected in the four questions:
1. Legal and administrative framework: What changes need to be implemented in our legal and administrative processes to ensure that everyone can benefit from digitization?
2. Digital infrastructure: How do we need to design the German digital infrastructure so that everyone can participate in digitization?
3. Security of information and communications technology: What are the necessary components of secure information and communications technology in a digitized German society?
4. Digital expertise: How can citizens, companies and administrative staff gain, sustain and apply digital expertise?
The experts were invited to submit their answers. To provide ample time for them to respond to all four questions, we kept the platform open for two months. Based on the insights that were extracted from the experts’ answers, Insights and the Bertelsmann Foundation developed a list of requirements.
The central advantage of an Insights consultation is that it is much more time- and cost-efficient than most conventional surveys, workshops and meetings: All contributions are gathered on the platform and participants are free to reply at their own convenience instead of having to attend a conference or workshop to contribute their advice.
“Using the Insights platform, we were able to incorporate the knowledge of the experts into our list of requirements in a way that was both efficient and effective. The consultation yielded substantive results that were both time- and cost-efficient. Based on the positive feedback from within our organization, I could easily imagine using it for future decision processes!” (Kirsten Witte, Bertelsmann Foundation)
In the course of the answer phase more than 100 answers were submitted on the platform. The answers were analyzed, the insights were extracted and the list of requirements was put together based on the insights.
We invited the forty experts via email. In general, the Insights technology offers a variety of ways to get in touch with stakeholders and to gather their responses. The choice of communication channel depends crucially on the habits and preferences of the stakeholders and thus varies from project to project.
Over the course of the project, we sent four emails to our group of experts through the integrated email system on the Insights platform. It is important for a project admin to communicate regularly with his or her stakeholders to keep them updated on the project, send reminders, let them know that their contribution is appreciated and to help build an online community among them.
There are three critical components: First of all, it’s important to address each stakeholder personally. This personalization – paired with an appealing design – grabs the recipient’s attention and conveys the message that her contribution is important for the overall success of the project. Secondly, the context and aim of the project must be described in the email. The third critical component is a short characterization of the platform – namely its role in the project and how it works.
By including all three of these components in initial email, we made sure that our experts were able to quickly gain a broad overview of the project, and we created a sense of trust and responsibility for the project’s outcome. By clicking the green button, participants could enter the platform and submit their answers instantly.
The Insights technology provides two options for the analysis phase. For large-scale projects, the analysis is usually conducted in large part by the stakeholders themselves, through an AI-guided collaborative process on the platform. Alternatively, the decider can conduct the analysis herself or with help from the Insights team.
The Bertelsmann Foundation chose a middle way: The experts were asked to highlight the most important points in their own answers. The foundation’s staff, along with their Insights consultant, drafted the insights and linked them with the highlights. A second group of experts – made up of researchers, administrative officials and industrial representatives – evaluated and amended the insights. The foundation staff then finalized the list of requirements.
The following image illustrates one insight with the respective requirement from the consultation Security of information and communications technology as an example.
Following the Reinhard Mohn Prize ceremony, the list of demands for digitization was communicated into the political realm as part of the Smart Country project. The German media also reported on the project and its results:
"The list of requirements is a valuable piece with concrete ideas on how Germany can close the gap quickly and unapprehensively, but with a healthy dose of pragmatism." (Spiegel Online Article)
The foundation’s list of demands shows how policy makers can promote a positive process of digitization in Germany.
"We urgently need a national strategy to help shape the digital transformation, just as we have seen in Estonia, Sweden and Austria,” said Brigitte Mohn, who is on the board of the Bertelsmann Foundation.
For our other projects on digitization, please see the Case Study section of our website.