Our society is changing more quickly than perhaps ever before under the influence of new technologies. Digitalisation and the growing penetration of applications based on AI in many areas of life are not only triggering a technological transformation but also unleashing structural, organisational and cultural changes.
In contrast to scientific and economic fields, there are only sporadic resources available for innovation processes when it comes to social technology design. Against this backdrop, the Policy Lab Digital, Work and Society at the German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has initiated the Civic Innovation Platform (CIP) project to look at how impetus for AI applications for advancing progress in society can be supported effectively – from the initial idea and developing the concept right through to implementation and transfer.
In doing so, we are relying on a new way of promoting innovation which is as open and diverse as society. Accordingly, we don’t merely provide financial support; we also focus on networking, collaboration, and mutual advice.
We define “civic innovation” as innovation processes where the driving impetus comes from within society – from people, associations, companies, organisations, and institutions – and which are aimed at improving the living conditions of the general public. On top of this, we see it as encompassing all innovations that aim to advance progress in society and systematically integrate the relevant social actors and groups. The concept is based on sharing between different disciplines, sectors, and areas openly and on an equal footing with the aim of developing solutions that can be put into practice.
Turning joint ideas into projects. Because ideas arise in a creative process.
We want to provide the optimum basic conditions for this through our idea contest. In addition to being awarded prize money of up to 20,000 euros, the best project ideas will also receive non-material support in the form of advice and workshops (more information on the idea contest). In an ensuing step, the idea contest will be supplemented by a further funding programme. To ensure that good ideas can be turned into good practical applications, project funding can also be requested for concepts that are at a more advanced stage of development (more information on project funding).
Yet, the Civic Innovation Platform is not a finite entity!
The joint “Civic Coding – Innovation Network for AI for the Common Good” initiative launched by German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth, and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety seeks to advance and encourage the development and utilisation of AI applications that provide benefits for the common good (more information on Civic Coding (in German)).
The platform on the internet
At the core of the project is the multifunctional Internet platform that is the Civic Innovation Platform (www.civic-innovation.de). It is aimed at anyone wishing to use AI technologies to advance progress in society. A matching function makes it possible to network potential project partners and thus bring together developers and start-ups, users, and those who are directly and indirectly affected (municipalities, SMEs, public administration, trade unions, socio-political organisations/associations).
At its core, the Civic Innovation Platform is a marketplace of ideas that enables you to find other people interested in working with you on your ideas. The public area provides a first peek in through the keyhole. The community area contains the full range of information and networking options.
Who are you? What aspects of AI technologies are of interest to you, your organisation, administration, or company? What prior experience do you have? What expertise and special skills can you contribute? And, conversely, what expertise and special skills are you looking for? Use the growing network to present yourself, network with others, and share with other registered users.
You can include as many project ideas as you like in your personal profile: preliminary rough ideas as well as specific proposals for which you are looking for partners to help you implement them. When you’re ready to share your idea, click the publish button. The title of your project idea and what you would like to tell the world about it in 280 characters will now be on display in the public area of the ideas market; a more detailed description can only be viewed by registered users in the community area.
Interested users can now reach out to you or you can actively search for project partners yourself. Contact other registered users from initiatives, organisations, start-ups, the research community, or the public sector and invite them to work with you on your project idea or start something entirely new.
Once you have come to an agreement in your group of two, three, or four and have formulated the idea in sufficient detail to turn it into a well-thought-out and intriguing project, you submit a project draft in the community area for inclusion in the “AI is what we make it” idea contest. Submissions for the contest are invited once a year. Click on the link to find out the next date for entering submissions.
This platform is a work in progress. For example, we are working on further functions to improve cooperation and collaboration. What do you need? Send us your ideas, suggestions or tips by writing to: civic-innovation[at]bmas.bund.de
The 4 principles of the Civic Innovation Platform
Our goal is the human-centric use of AI for the benefit of the common good. In this regard, the Civic Innovation Platform (CIP) seeks social technology design that incorporates impulse provided by (civil) society, promotes cooperation and collaboration across all areas, and takes account of and integrates their diverse resources.
To this end, the Civic Innovation Platform provides an infrastructure that enables partners from different sectors – such as the public sector, business, the scientific community as well as civil society actors – to discover aligned interests and to work jointly on developing and implementing ideas.
How can technological progress be turned into social progress? Innovation research tells us that this is not done by a lone genius working on their own, tapping their inspiration from within. Rather, it comes from the fertile exchange between different people with their own unique knowledge, experience, and skill sets.
However, for new ideas to arise in society, commitment is not sufficient on its own. Depending on the phase reached by the innovation process, you also need infrastructures, resources, visibility, and scope for experimentation. That is why the Civic Innovation Platform is aiming to create favourable underlying conditions for social innovation based on AI technologies.
One key prerequisite for developing AI providing benefits for the common good is to network actors from the public sector, society, the research community, and business. The platform is targeted at anyone interested in this and who wishes to work with others on specific projects.
Our goal is to support networking as well as collaboration between a wide variety of different disciplines, sectors, and areas on a sustained basis. The aim here is a means of opening up scope for the development of civil society and for the deployment of AI. To this end, we offer financial support, discourse and learning opportunities that address different steps along the development process, which we will systematically develop and expand with the support of our partners.
The Civic Innovation Platform recognises the knowledge, commitment, and inventiveness of actors. This applies equally to actors who have few resources but still wish to render their creativity visible and usable. An important prerequisite is both financial and ideational support. CIP also promotes good ideas in the early and development phases, as well as long-term project work, so all actors have the opportunity to contribute.
In addition, we support projects and plans together with our partners from civil society, the research community, business, and the public sector beyond a purely financial dimension. Sharing among all parties is encouraged and promoted via workshops. Learning opportunities convey beneficial knowledge that can also be used beyond the funding programme.
In many areas, we are not yet able to fully imagine and implement possible AI applications. Our platform shows good examples and documents the progress made by projects. This also includes the possibility of the “successful failure” of good ideas. After all, the realisation that a basic idea is not viable or does not yield the desired benefits may still be an important outcome.