The event format re:publica Campus is a prototype. Over a period of four weeks, the organisers of the Internet conference will be testing digital, hybrid, and analogue formats focusing on four main topic areas. The aim is to create a forum for experimentation where future projects can come to life. So the setting couldn’t have been more appropriate when on 24 September 2020, Björn Böhning, State Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS), met with the head of the Prototype Fund, Adriana Groh, and Anika Krellmann, project manager at Kommunale Gemeinschaftsstelle für Verwaltungsmanagement (KGSt), to exchange ideas on a new project being pursued by the Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society within the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, namely the Civic Innovation Platform. The panel was facilitated by Geraldine de Bastion, founder of the consulting company Konnektiv.
Anika Krellmann and Adriana Groh have been involved in the project from the outset: the Policy Lab started developing the conceptual underpinnings of the project on the basis of results gained from workshops held at re:publica 2019. The idea for the project was triggered by a fundamental insight that had arisen particularly when the AI strategy was being formulated, Böhning explains.
"When it comes to technology “the focus is primarily on businesses, start-ups, and science, not civic projects.”
The Policy Lab is seeking to close this gap through the Civic Innovation Platform, which as a support platform is deliberately addressing actors seeking to leverage AI for the benefits it can offer civic society. “This does not rule out, however, the possibility of monetising concepts that are being funded by the project,” adds Böhning.
What’s needed is a new mindset
This open-ended funding is quite new and unusual for a federal ministry, which is why it was not easy to implement, Böhning admits. The hopes are thus correspondingly large that this signal sent out by the federal government will encourage a change in funding structures at a state and municipal level. Anika Krellmann, who is responsible for topics related to “digital local government” at KGSt and helped to establish the KGSt®-Kommunect digital platform for digitalisation officers in local government, is supporting these plans. She says that municipal governments also need to nurture a culture of learning and to expand data management in the urban setting and in administration, adding that although there is still a long way to go, initial good ideas have already arisen.
“To be innovative, you must also accept the possibility that things may sometimes go wrong,” Adriana Groh agrees. Via the Prototype Fund, she is specifically targeting civic society and supporting programmers in their ideas for open source software. After all, she says, innovation does not come about in a small number of clusters but is something that concerns everyone. Accordingly, it is a question of empowering people across the board – this is the only way of arriving at unexpected solutions, she believes.
The success of the Civic Innovation Platform materially hinges on mutual networking. Only an active community that is as diverse as possible is able to come up with solutions for the benefit of the common good which are closely aligned to society’s needs. The Policy Lab is thus already thinking about new ideas that go beyond the Civic Innovation Platform project as well. In the long term, the Civic Innovation Platform is to constitute a key element of a living AI ecosystem for the benefit of the common good in Germany and the rest of Europe; currently it is being set up and overseen by the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in conjunction with the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women, and Youth and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, and Nuclear Safety: “The goal is to achieve greater empowerment,” says Böhning.
About the Civic Innovation Platform project
The specific purpose of the Civic Innovation Platform project is to harness the potential of AI for social purposes. Thus, for example, data from local governments, associations, or clubs can help to “heighten the mobility of people with disabilities or to ensure that people in need of nursing care can be looked after in their own homes for a longer period of time,” Böhning explains.
In a preliminary step, as many citizens, developers, and representatives of start-ups, institutions, or associations as possible are to be encouraged to register with the platform at www.civic-innovation.de and to use it to network with suitable partners. Cross-sector project teams can submit their ideas for the “Making AI work together” ideas competition until 15 November 2020. As many as 15 of the best project ideas will be awarded with funding of up to 20,000 euros. The project partners can use this prize money to develop their concepts further and subsequently apply for project funding. A total of 17.8 million euros has been earmarked for this purpose over the next few years. A further two ideas competitions are planned for 2021 and 2022.