Germany is going strong on integrating Digital Technology in businesses. Could open government efforts improve the development of more and better online public services?

This year again, Germany is hosting the international exhibition CeBIT, where the newest trends and developments in ICT are showcased. One of the topics is eGovernment (Public Sector Parc) and on this occasion, we would like to provide a brief overview on Germany’s efforts in this field.

While Germany performs well on digital in general, with a ranking well above the EU average on the Digital Economy and Social Index (DESI), there is room for improvement when it comes to the provision of online public services. Here, the country ranks under the EU average.

In Germany, the commitment to digitisation comes from the very top. In her opening speech of the CeBIT, German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that “it's the task of the state to really promote digitisation”. This comes after another recent statement where the Chancellor announced that eGovernment will be a key point in the next legislative period in Germany. Moreover, Germany's recent reinforced commitment towards open government, could lead to an increase in data-driven, every-day, location-based digital public services This can have a spill-over effect on the more administrative eGovernment services as well.

Innovation for and by local communities

The availability of open data already enables the creation of innovative services for specific communities. For example, public sector data and crowd collaboration in Germany contribute to the successful web service and smartphone app “Wheelmap”, which helps people with reduced mobility get around in cities. Routes, places and transport options are labelled in terms of their ease of access for people with wheelchairs. Similarly, the "BrokenLifts" initiative helps visualise elevator failures in public transport in Berlin to help people who are dependent on wheelchairs and walking aids as well as families with baby carriages. The municipality of Hamburg publicised detailed geospatial information on all child day-care facilities. Residents can access an online map and find out about the facilities in their vicinity, plus details about the offer. The initiative "What's in my tap water?" allows people to learn about the quality of the drinking water in their municipality. The "Maerker" app helps communicate an infrastructure problem, from illegal rubbish to broken traffic lights, in the Federal State of Brandenburg. .

Public authorities across sectors show support for open government

Currently, the German Ministry of the Interior is drafting an open-data-law, the Ministry of Education and Research is funding an open source software challenge, the Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure is heavily investing in digital innovation for mobility, and the Ministry of Finance has just announced its commitment to the creation of a beneficial ownership register under the German Money Laundering Act and in line with the 4th EU Anti-Money Laundering Directive.

The latter is also contributing to greater transparency. The open budget project presents the complex data of the German federal budget and the budget of the different states more comprehensively. The data is open, in a reusable format and it can be easily visualised . Another example is "Transparent Munich", a platform dedicated to enhance the openness of Munich, by publishing documents from the city council and district committees for all citizens.

Germany's recent accession to the Open Government Partnership (December 2016) is also likely to call attention to how openness can impact the development of democratic processes and the engagement of civil society. For example the project "WE all count Europe" focuses on involving young EU citizens with low literacy rates to actively engage in the life of their cities. They train young people to participate in the life of their own communities by attending both online and offline meetings to cooperate directly with local councillors. The website allows citizens to easily follow parliamentary proceedings and engage in governmental issues. The website provides in-depth analysis of current affairs. It offers advanced search functionalities and interactive features such as online petition procedures, discussion groups and online reservations for visits to the Bundestag —the forum where policies are formulated and discussed.

Unlocking potential of digital public services in Germany – promising signs

So can this trend and positive examples unlock the potential of digital public services in Germany?

The signs are promising. Germany’s government, as part of its digital strategy, is working toward increasing digital adoption as well as greater innovation reforms to improve citizen engagement and satisfaction. Angela Merkel’s statement on a reinforced focus on eGovernment in the next legislative period also shows high-level political commitment. Moreover, Germany is the first EU country to pre-notify the European Commission of the online ID function of its national identity card and electronic residence permit. This ensures that people and businesses can use their own national electronic identification schemes (eIDs) to access public services in other EU countries where eIDs are available. Finally, Germany is about to change its constitution in order to combine all public administration portals into a kind of (national) Single Digital Gateway ("Portalverbund").

We look forward to follow the eGovernment developments in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. This article is the first of a series of thematic blogs where provide information about trends and developments in Member States with regards to Open Government.