„CityLAB is also a hub for the modernisation of Berlin’s administration“

CityLAB Berlin, which we operate in cooperation with the Berlin Senate Chancellery, is part of the Zukunftspakt Verwaltung (Pact for the Future of Administration) which the Senate and the city’s boroughs concluded in May. This is an interview with Dr Frank Nägele, Permanent Secretary for Modernisation of Administration and Infrastructure, on CityLAB’s role in modernising city administration.

 

The Zukunftspakt Verwaltung (link) represents a massive change in the framework for public administration, which leads to an enormous need for adaptation of structures and processes. What role should CityLAB play in this context?

CityLAB also hosts a government laboratory in which we want to try out new solutions. In daily life, our administrative staff experience digitalisation outside of the office, routinely use digital tools, and handle their private correspondence practically without paper. But when they come to the office, they engage in processes that have not changed in decades. Digitalisation hardly plays a role.

Many of those in administrative jobs understand that this must change and they are ready for change. But Berlin’s administration cannot organise change processes like the start-up scene can, where there is a significant tolerance for mistakes and failure. This is different in the administration, which is designed to work error-free. That is why they are fundamentally cautious, even change averse.

With CityLAB, the Berlin administration has a protected space in which it can dare to question existing processes, contribute its own ideas and consult experts for implementation. I would like to see CityLAB become a hub where we can envision the fundamental transition to a digital administration of the future.

The CityLAB also enables exchange with start-ups and citizens. But what is important to me is that proposed ideas will not be subjected to advance discussion and assessment. In our LAB, failure will be viewed and welcomed as part of the development process. When interesting ideas are created, I can also imagine having supplementary financing available for prototype designs and practical tests. Of course, after developing concepts for specific changes in the LAB, the next step would be to test how they work within a quantifiable framework in practice.

 

What would that look like in practice? Is it possible to contact you and propose a topic for a project in the LAB?

Yes, all Senate Departments and borough administrations can register projects – it should be diverse. The overriding themes are processes and structures. In CityLAB, we aim to optimise both. We need rapid and profound change. After all, in the future we will have to use fewer human resources to support the city’s continued dynamic growth.

The initial projects are already under way. For example, the PARI (bicycle infrastructure process analysis) project deals with the processes and procedures that lead to bike path approval. The new mobility law stipulates additional bike paths for the city. PARI is examining the issue of how to design processes and procedures in a way that provides the required bike paths quickly.

The Senate Department for the Environment, Transport and Climate Protection proposed the project to us. But CityLAB is actually open to all stakeholders. I can also imagine processes that affect frequently used public services – such as motor vehicle registration – being put to the test. What can be done online and what really needs to be taken care of in person and on paper?

 

You indicated that CityLAB would be a protected space for the administration. At the same time, it also features an exhibition open to the public. How do these fit together?

CityLAB has four functions. In addition to the administrative laboratory, there is also a workshop on site in which stakeholders, such as scientific institutions and civil society initiatives, can contribute and work on the digitalisation of Berlin. The third function is to serve as a meeting point where stakeholders can network with each other.

Further, there is an exhibition that we opened on 12 June in collaboration with CityLAB. The exhibition is open Wednesday to Friday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. We are working on weekend opening times. All residents of Berlin are cordially invited to visit the exhibition and find out about digitalisation projects for Berlin.