Now is the time to build a GovTech ecosystem in Germany

Nils Hoffmann

29 January 2020

This piece was written by Nils Hoffmann who recently joined PUBLIC as Head of GovStart Germany. Before, he was the founding Director of the GovLab Arnsberg, the first public sector innovation Lab in a German authority. Want to get in touch? Mail at nils@public.io.

As Germans, we tend to have a strange relationship with ourselves when it comes to our capability to innovate. Last week, Germany took the top spot on Bloomberg’s Innovation Index for 2020. Asked about this at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Chancellor Angela Merkel admitted that she was “surprised” by this. While she was talking about the German economy generally, it is very clear that the government itself needs to innovate – something which is often forgotten in the debate about tech and innovation in Germany. 

Sound weird to you? Well, if you have worked in the German government you will understand. German civil servants often feel envious of their European neighbours. For example, the Danish Government (together with PUBLIC) is currently running an ambitious challenge program for GovTech Startups. Germany on the other hand is still lagging behind in the DESI-Index of the European Union (24th when it comes to digital government services) and struggles to set-up innovative digital services or use technology to make life for its citizens better. I wrote about these issues a while ago for Apolitical when I was a civil servant myself, managing a government run innovation lab. 

“It is very clear that government itself needs to innovate – something which is often forgotten in the debate about tech and innovation in Germany”.

Beyond government however, tech startups and investments have reached an all-time high in Germany. Thriving tech-hubs like Berlin, Munich or the Ruhr have attracted talented founders from all over the world. Many corporations – particularly those in Germany’s famous “Mittelstand” –  are working on exciting solutions and products. Those familiar with the German tech-scene will not be surprised to hear that Elon Musk is building Tesla’s European Gigafactory near Berlin, while simultaneously establishing a development centre in the city’s downtown area.

It’s because of this contrast that I joined PUBLIC on its mission to help startups and technologies engage with and scale across the public sector: We are desperate for government innovation, yet our private sector is highly innovative and german startups push boundaries across all industries. If we manage to unite these two worlds – which I think is one of the most exciting tasks of our decade -we can give a real boost to innovation in the public sector. I believe that now is the right time to act on this and to help build a true GovTech ecosystem in Germany. There are so many favourable conditions to get this ecosystem up and running: Generation Y is now on the move, yearning for meaning in their working lives; what could be more meaningful than improving politics, administration and society? Exciting technologies, from artificial intelligence to low code, provide the basis for new types of public services and ways in which governments can perform their responsibilities.

Startups and tech companies are excellent contributors to this innovative ecosystem; Lean companies, packed with talent, cutting edge technology and driven by incentives of delivering quality products and services in a short time whilst maintaining a user-centric approach. These startups can deliver what the government in Germany is searching for: game-changing services delivered at scale in a GovTech ecosystem characterized by its federal, decentralized structure. 

The time for real public sector transformation in Germany is now, and with the country set to  take the presidency of the Council of the European Union this summer, that change could be the start of a true GovTech movement in Europe.

Want to learn more about PUBLIC Germany? Visit our website here or email nils@public.io for more information.

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