“The digital transformation must create value”
Anika Krellmann, project manager at Kommunale Gemeinschaftsstelle für Verwaltungsmanagement (KGSt), talks about AI's potential for local government and her hopes for public administration in the future.
Listen to the interview with Anika Krellmann (in German):
Text version of the interview with Anika Krellmann:
Policy Lab: As a municipal association, you prepare “recommendations, concepts and solutions addressing current and relevant issues of municipal management” – what does that mean specifically?
Krellmann: We want to work on topics that link all municipalities in Germany in such a way that it is not necessary for each individual one to reinvent the wheel. For this reason, we draw up specific concepts and recommendations covering a wide range of different issues. They include the basics, in other words issues of crucial importance for administrative work, such as the cost of a workplace, as well as innovative issues like the impact of Artificial Intelligence on processes and, in some cases, also visionary aspects such as living together in a networked community. We attach particular importance to local experts to ensure that all KGSt recommendations have been put to the test in practice.
Policy Lab: KGSt is supporting the Civic Innovation Platform as a cooperation partner. Why do you consider this project to be interesting?
Krellmann: I was drawn to the project from the outset due to the very cross-sectoral approach that it takes. The digital transformation can only be successful if we think of it as an ecosystem. This is also what we’re doing at KGSt. As we see it, local government is not just a question of classic administration tasks but also concerns municipalities as a business enterprise, in other words, public administration with all its municipal companies as well as the entire local community made up of associations, groups, science and civil society. It is precisely this ecosystem DNA that also characterises the Civic Innovation Platform. So, the approach covering questions such as “How can we innovate on a cross-functional basis? How can we bring together different people with entirely different ideas and expertise?” is a perspective that that we at KGSt found very convincing.
Policy Lab: What progress do you think the municipalities have made with their digital transformation? Are there any differences between the individual areas of responsibility? What things are going particularly well and where do you see room for improvement?
Krellmann: I would say that all municipalities have recognised that the digital transformation is an issue they need to take seriously. Yet, there are major differences in the extent to which it has been implemented. We published a study on this in autumn 2020 together with the Public IT Competence Centre (ÖFIT). This study found that there are four different “digitalisation types” among municipalities: the “cautious ones”, the “optimisers”, the “service-oriented ones” and the “community managers”.
Policy Lab: Can you briefly describe these digitalisation types?
Krellmann: Yes, of course. The “cautious ones” mostly tend to be smallish municipalities that have little scope beyond their core tasks for pursuing a digitalisation strategy of their own and therefore see the digital transformation more as an “optional extra”. By contrast, the “optimisers” primarily concentrate on an effective digital range of services but don’t want to get bogged down in too many different aspects. The “service-oriented” municipalities view the digital transformation as a cross-cutting task and thus integrate mobility, education, culture, science and business in their strategies and particularly concentrate on citizen-oriented administration. The “community managers” take a similar approach. These are mostly cities that want to actively digitalise the local community and support efforts aimed at achieving this, such as sharing services, cost-free wireless LAN, digital volunteering and civic tech initiatives. Frequently, they even have a chief digital officer (CDO) already, who coordinates the various digital projects and activities. This role profile is becoming more and more widespread. In fact, at KGSt we have established a network of some 40 municipal CDOs from all across Germany. Generally speaking, what I think is most important is the need to overcome silo mentality in public administration. The digital agenda must be approached on a cross-disciplinary basis.
Policy Lab: What role does the promotion of AI play for local government in particular? How are decision-makers responding to AI applications and are they already being used in public administration?
Krellmann: The promotion of AI is a major issue as a “boost” is frequently needed at the beginning of the process in particular. This was also one of the things I liked about the Civic Innovation Platform’s idea contest: ideas have to be given space to mature before they can really unleash any value. However, this also requires resources. At the moment, municipalities are tending to use a very mild form of AI, e.g. for image, text or speech recognition. This holds a lot of potential, e.g. for creating barrier-free application processes.
This form of AI is normally not seen as being particularly critical. However, this could change in the future as processes become increasingly automated, leading to the question as to the scope that is available for decision-making. Generally speaking, I see potential for AI applications in local government, particularly in technical areas or at the direct interface with citizens as well as in assistance and analysis functions. Really great examples can be found in street or landscape management as well as in waste collection, for instance. Tools for citizen participation are also increasingly being equipped with mild forms of AI.
"The Civic Innovation Platform promotes ideas which are developed in cross-sector project teams, such as start-ups with companies or local-government bodies to drive forward technological innovation and social progress. This is also absolutely indispensable!"
Policy Lab: What stakeholders, actors and skills are required to develop AI applications for local government benefiting the common good?
Krellmann: I would like to return to the idea of the ecosystem of digital transformation: AI solutions will only be successful if there is trust and acceptance. To achieve this, it is crucial to actively involve the various stakeholders in public administration, the associations, businesses and civil society in the development process. The target audience must understand the fundamentals of how AI applications work. This calls for a high-quality data basis that is readily understandable. The more multidisciplinary projects are structured in terms of their development, the better they often are. Open source also furthers transparency and trust. As far as skills are concerned, I would say that there is no major difference over the general requirements for digital transformation: IT and media knowledge as well as ethical and social qualities, for example, should be developed outside public administration as well.
Policy Lab: What can be done to increase local government interest in AI further?
Krellmann: Convincing applications. Our motto is “the digital transformation must create value”. An application that creates genuine added value for public administration and users is convincing. So, it’s not just a question of using AI but of ensuring that it improves working and living quality wherever it is used. We have to keep that in mind. AI must not be an end in itself.
Policy Lab: You also organise the KGSt®-Kommunect digital platform, which networks more than 2,800 CDOs in local government. What are the aims of the platform and in what ways does it intersect with the Civic Innovation Platform?
Krellmann: KGSt®-Kommunect digital is a platform for ideas and processes for the digital transformation in local government and is currently only available to municipalities. We wanted to create a trusted space, where municipalities can share even vague ideas without being disturbed. Although our platform is a closed system, we know that cross-sector co-creation and collaboration offer a great deal of potential for innovation. With its cross-sector approach, the Civic Innovation Platform is therefore a wonderful starting point for this. I think that the two platforms complement each other very well and I can easily imagine that some projects on the Civic Innovation Platform could find their way into KGSt®-Kommunect and vice versa.
Policy Lab: One of the key focal points of Policy Lab Digital, Work & Society is Work & Society 2040: How do you envisage the municipal administration of the future and, looking forward, what AI applications do you think citizens could benefit from?
Krellmann: Ideally, human- and user-centricity will grow as the digital transformation continues. My hope is that the main activities performed by local government will no longer revolve around applications, e.g. for an ID card or passport or to register a dog. Such activities will be automated and standardised and possibly even handled by AI. This will give municipal employees greater scope for focusing on the creative aspects of their work. I think that the municipalities will be able to regain some creative freedom, such as in the nursing care segment, for example. Municipalities provide the space in which ageing must be shaped. They can act as an intermediary between what is technically possible and what is locally required, e.g. in terms of advisory services. Obviously, AI will also be used in the context of nursing care, for example, in the form of assistance systems which evaluate data intelligently and which we consider to be ethically acceptable. At the end of the day, however, it is always up to the individual to make a contribution. So, most of all, my hope for the municipalities of the future is that we will remain people-oriented in this digital era.
Policy Lab: Many thanks for talking to us, Ms Krellmann.