Press release: Co-producing digital services with citizens and for citizens

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Imagine a toy manufacturer that lets children decide on the design of its new products. For instance, the company might seek the children’s input on the desired components of a new toy pirate ship using an online platform. Professor Mergel believes that this could be a blueprint for the digital transformation of public administrations. Citizens should have a say especially in the digitisation of external public services.

This kind of collaboration between authorities and users is called co-creation. The concept is currently being studied by the EU project cooperation “Co-VAL”. Ines Mergel’s team is one of twelve research groups from eleven European countries that are being funded with 4.1 million euros in the context of the EU funding programme “Horizon 2020”. The Co-VAL project is coordinated by the Athens Technology Center SA (Greece).

The aim is to provide policy recommendations for transformative strategies that integrate the co-creation of value in public administrations. “Co-Production of Public Value” – Co-VAL – means that the public sector works closely with the users, i.e. the citizens, to develop digital formats or entirely new digital services. Ines Mergel believes that existing e-government services in Germany are not particularly user-friendly, which could explain why users have, by and large, chosen to steer clear and rarely accept digital services provided by public administrations. One example is the digital national ID card, which is hardly being used because it fails to address citizens’ actual needs.

“The government’s online services must be tailored to reflect citizens’ use and search behaviour. Accessing information must become easier”, says Ines Mergel. To achieve this, she wants to actively involve the users.

380,000 euros from the overall Co-VAL funding amount have been set aside for her team to carry out research on the digital transformation of public administration. The first part of the project, a systematic literature review, has already been concluded. Currently, the team is in the process of conducting interviews with public and private sector experts from across Europe and the United States. Building on these interviews, Ines Mergel and her team are identifying concrete and on-going transformation processes and, as a result, potential approaches to and opportunities for co-creation.

The next step the international research team will take will be to create a theoretical framework for these transformative processes. “We plan to extract knowledge from practical contexts, synthesize and analyze it systematically and feed our insights back into administrative practice”, explains Ines Mergel. The research results will then be harmonised with the objectives of the “Tallinn Declaration on E-Government” signed by all EU and EFTA states.


  •  Project Co-VAL – “Understanding value co-creation in public services for transforming European public administration”
  •  Duration: 2017 until 2020
  •  The research initiative is part of the EU funding programme “Horizon 2020”
  •  Twelve partner institutions from eleven European countries are involved
  •  Overall funding amount: 4.1 million euros; funding for Professor Mergel’s project: 380,000 euros

New EU project Co-VAL starts – focuses on public value creation through digital transformation

ZYzLR_WP_400x400On November 1, 2017, our new EU Horizon 2020 project titled “Understanding value co-creation in public services for transforming European public administrations“.

The University of Konstanz’ working package focuses on digital transformation of public administrations and will start with a systematic literature review of the existing literature. From there, an interview guideline is derived that will be used in 2018 to consult experts in the public and private sector to identify value creation potential through co-design approaches. The interviews will lead the international research team to specific cases in which digital transformation is already underway. The grant allows the research team to relate the research findings to the goals of the “Tallinn Declaration on E-Government” signed by all European countries.

Up to date news about the project’s progress are posted on Twitter.

Here is the official objectives section from the commission’s website:

The main goal of Co-VAL is to discover, analyse, and provide policy recommendations for transformative strategies that integrate the co-creation of value in public administrations. The project aims to accomplish these objectives by conducting research on the paradigm shift from the traditional top-down model to demand and bottom-up driven models when citizens, civil servants, private, and third sector organizations voluntarily participate in the development of transformative innovations addressing changing needs and social problems.
Co-VAL will push the boundaries of both research and practice by providing: i) a comprehensive and holistic theoretical framework for understanding value co-creation in public services from a service-dominant logic and a service innovation multiagent framework, ii) measurement and monitoring for transformations in the public sector by using both existing data and new metrics (large-scale survey), iii) investigation on 4 public-service-related co-creation areas of public sector transformation: digital transformation (including open platforms, big data, and digital service delivery), service design (including service blue-printing), government living labs, and innovative structural relationships (public-private innovation networks and social innovation), and iv) generation of sustainable impacts in public administration policy and practice by delivering actionable policy recommendations that build on the research findings, by tracking and monitoring how governments’ pilot projects and actions, and by facilitating peer to peer knowledge exchange to facilitate implementation.
Co-VAL is a consortium of 13 teams from 11 EU countries formed by leading experts in public administration, co-creation and open governance, digital economy and service innovation. The consortium is organised to co-work with stakeholders representing central, regional and local administrations.

New seminar: ‘Digital Transformation in the Public Sector’ at the University of Konstanz

This semester I am teaching a new seminar that focuses on a relatively new topic: The challenges that public administrations are facing when they are aiming to digitize their analog services. Under the catchy term “digital transformation”, many are looking to not only move from analog to digital, also redesigning, automating, or abandoning outdated administrative acts and the corresponding services.

The term was adopted from the private sector, where digital transformation of products and business models started to occur with the use of the Internet as a distribution and communication channel. The tricky situation for public administrations however is that they can’t reinvent their business models, look for new customer segments, or abandon offline products/services. Unfortunately, public administrations are compared to those whose core business model was digital transformation of their own sectors, such as Apple’s iTunes platform, Skype replacing landline phones, Amazon transforming book/retail sector, Twitter as a newsfeed replacing traditional print newspapers, etc.

We have very limited literature on the topic, therefore the goal of this seminar is that students are deriving research questions from expert interviews and are adding necessary insights by conducting additional interviews. I will give a short introduction to the topic, plus train them in qualitative data collection and analysis – with the hope that they will be equipped to design an interview guideline, select interview subjects, analyze, and present the data.

I was able to cooperate with four external partners for this project: the City of Konstanz, the Initiative D21 (responsible for Germany’s annual e-Government monitor), the City of Ulm’s Verschwoerhaus (an innovation lab), and the Deutschen Städte- und Gemeindebund. They will join us in person or via Skype, present a short introduction of their main problems and findings and then we will open up the conversation for the student-led Q&A.

Finally, the students will design posters with their main findings – an alternative way of communicating research insights to an audience – and will discuss their findings in the Mayor’s office with civil servants who are interested in digitization.

The project is supported with an internal grant to increase the transfer between research, teaching, and practice. This is an initiative that was requested by the student body and in my opinion an applied topic like digitization fits extremely with this mission. I am also hoping that the students are gaining valuable methodological and communication skills, will be able to ‘translate’ their academic insights in plain language to a larger audience, and will be generally best prepared for their BA theses and the job market.

I have made good experiences including practitioners into my classes before, but never transferred the findings of the students from academia into practice – except for using a class blog to encourage the students to write for digital media outlets. It created a bit of press attention and was listed by FedTech magazine as one of the “50 must-read federal IT blogs” in the US. You can read about my experiences and download the syllabi here:

  1. Mergel, I. (2016): Big Data in Public Affairs Education, in: Journal of Public Affairs Education, 22(2), pp. 231-248.
  2. Mergel, I. (2012): The Public Manager 2.0: Preparing the Social Media Generation for the Networked Workplace, in: Journal of Public Affairs Education (JPAE), 18:3, pp. 467-492.

Here is a poster we designed that provides a few insights (in German):


Digitale Service Teams transformieren die öffentlichen Verwaltung [in German]

Die öffentliche Verwaltung hat eine lange Phase des sogenannten New Public Management hinter sich – ein Paradigma, nach dem sich der öffentliche Sektor mehr wie der private Sektor verhalten soll. Budgetanreize wurden so gesetzt, dass viele Aufgaben, die nicht als Kernkompetenz der Verwaltung angesehen wurden an Dritte ausgelagert wurden. Es fand eine Dezentralisierung der Aufgaben statt. Das Resultat dieser Reformwelle war: tiefe Silos und wenig Datenteilung über Behördengrenzen hinweg, sowie die Reduzierung der Kompetenzen und Ressourcen im IT-Bereich.

Nachdem sich die Schwächen dieses Ansatzes gezeigt haben, werden nun international digitale Service Teams, manchmal auch IT-Inkubatoren oder digitale Start-up Teams genannt, für die Servicegestaltung der öffentlichen Verwaltung auf ihrem Weg von analogen zu digitalen Prozessen eingesetzt. International sind besonders die Teams in Großbritannien, USA, Australien, Italien, Dänemark und auch seit kurzem Kanada bekannt.

GDS: Civil servants are users too posterDas erste Team wurde vor fünf Jahren in Großbritannien gegründet: Der britische Government Digital Service (GDS), ursprünglich dafür gegründet wurde, um die überalterte Gov.UK-Webseite zu überholen, hat sich im Laufe seiner Tätigkeit zu einem Transformationsprojekt entwickelt, das mit Hilfe von UX-Designern oder auch Storytellern gemeinsam mit den Verwaltungsbeamten in den Behörden interne Prozesse neu überdenkt, anstatt nur das äußere Erscheinungsbild zu modernisieren. Das Ziel ist es Onlineprodukte der öffentlichen Verwaltung anzubieten, die in ihrer Qualität und Umgang mit Produkten externer Provider im privaten Sektor mithalten können in dem sie einfach zu verwenden sind, in einfach verständlicher Sprache für jeden zugänglich sind und generell den Frustrationslevel der Verwaltungsakte reduziert.


In den USA wurden unter Präsident Obama gleich zwei Teams gegründet: (1) U.S. Digital Service: ein ‚Feuerwehr’-Team, dass sich vor allem mit der Wiederherstellung des gescheiterten Onlinemarktplatzes zum Verkauf von Krankenversicherungen beschäftigt hat und danach als Stabstelle dem Weißen Haus zugeordnet wurde.

18F logo

(2) 18F (ursprünglich zu finden an der Straßenecke der 18th und F Street in Washington, DC) ein sogenannter ‚services company and product incubator’, der sich auf die Einführung von agiler Softwareentwicklung spezialisiert und als interner IT-Dienstleister die Behörden auf neue IT-Akquisitionsformen vorbereitet. Beide Teams wurden nach dem ursprünglichen GDS-Vorbild modelliert und haben zusätzlich Ableger in großen Ministerien gegründet, wie dem Verteidigungs-, Umwelt- oder Heimatschutzministerium.

DTA Australian Government

Ein ähnliches Team ist in Australien mit der Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) gegründet worden um Online-Dienstleistungen klarer, einfacher, und schneller anbieten zu können. Auch hier ist der Fokus darauf was Bürger benötigen, wie deren Onlineverhalten ist, und wie sich die öffentliche Verwaltung diesen Herausforderungen stellen kann.

Italiens ehemaliger Premierminister Renzi hat ebenfalls einen IT-Inkubator auf den Weg gebracht und für deren Leitung einen italienischen Landsmann der derzeit einer der Vizepräsidenten von Amazon ist, eingestellt. Um das italienische Team Digitale aufzubauen pendelt Diego Piacentini zwischen Seattle und Rom und befindet sich in der Rekrutierungsphase einer Vielzahl von IT-Experten. Ein besonderes Merkmal das Team Digitale ist die starke Außenorientierung. Das im Verhältnis sehr kleine Team (25 Mitglieder) hat zwei Plattformen aufgebaut: Eine Designer– und eine Developerplattform, auf der sowohl externe Programmierer dabei helfen neue Produkte zu verbessern, aber auch gleichzeitig Designer und Ingenieure in den Behörden bereits einmal entwickelte Ideen und Tools wiederverwenden können.

Was ist all diesen Teams gemeinsam: Sie sind explizit in Form von IT-Inkubatoren in der Bürokratie aufgestellt. Oftmals sind diese Teams außerhalb der traditionellen CIO-Organisation angesiedelt, so dass sie sich inhaltlich nicht mit der Wartung und Instandhaltung der bestehenden IT-Infrastruktur beschäftigen. Sie sind mit Vollmachten und Budgets ausgestattet, die es ihnen erlaubt IT-Ingenieure aus dem privaten Sektor zu rekrutieren und dadurch Kompetenzen und Erfahrungen in den öffentlichen Sektor einzuführen, die bisher vor allem auf externe IT-Dienstleister beschränkt waren.

Diese Teams arbeiten teilweise mit innovativen HR-Methoden, sowohl im Bereich der Rekrutierung als auch in den flexiblen Anstellungsoptionen, die es für IT-Ingenieure und Softwareentwickler leichtmacht, für kürzere Zeiträume einzusteigen mit der Option wieder in ihre bisherigen Jobs zurückzukehren. Beispielsweise nutzt die US-Regierung eine flexible HR Policy, die Ingenieure aus Silicon Valley von Firmen wie Google oder Twitter für sogenannten „Tour of Duty“-Anstellungen nach Washington bringt, die zwischen zwei Monaten und zwei Jahren liegen können. Die Motivation der Ingenieure ist offensichtlich nicht das weitaus geringere Gehalt im öffentlichen Dienst, sondern eine prosoziale Motivation ihrem Land kurzfristig mit ihren Fähigkeiten aushelfen zu können und dadurch eine breite Wirkung auf die Verbesserung der Zugangsmöglichkeiten zu öffentlichen Onlinediensten für die gesamte Bevölkerung zu haben.

Die Start-up-Kultur mit breiter Mitbestimmung, flexiblen Arbeitszeiten, einer Just do it-Mentalität und kurzen Entwicklungszyklen steht allerdings klar im Konflikt mit der Top-down-Hierarchie der öffentlichen Verwaltung. Die Herausforderung in diesen IT Start-ups in der Verwaltung bleibt die Schwierigkeit neue Technologien und Arbeitsweisen in die Bürokratie zu bringen und den Bedürfnissen der öffentlichen Verwaltung anzupassen. Oftmals kommt es zu einem Aufeinanderprallen der Kulturen: Externe werden geringschätzig als „Kids in Shorts“ bezeichnet, denen es oftmals an Verständnis für die gewachsenen Strukturen, die negativen Anreize der Bürokratie und einem generellen Verständnis für die bindende Gewalt eines Verwaltungsaktes fehlt. Jedoch haben die bisherigen Erfahrungen sehr innovative digitale Transformationen hervorgebracht, dazu gehört beispielsweise die Blue Button-Initiative des Department of Veterans Affairs, mit deren Hilfe sich Kriegsveteranen in allen US-Bundesstaaten ihre Gesundheitsakten herunterladen können oder die Vereinfachung des Immigrationsprozesses von 18 Webseiten auf eine Seite. Kleinere Veränderungen wie die Vereinfachung ansonsten sperriger Verwaltungsakte, die im Amtsdeutsch beschrieben sind und oftmals Dienste von Anwälte, oder anderen Experten verlangen, können nun unkompliziert von zuhause aus durchgeführt werden und haben dadurch die Interaktion zwischen Bürgern und der Verwaltung verbessert. Alle Teams müssen sich noch etablieren und über die Zeit wird sich Zeigen, ob die Bürokratie digitale Innovationen mit Hilfe von IT-Inkubatoren oder digitalen Agenturen aufnehmen kann.

Auch in Deutschland wurde vor dem Wahlkampf der Bundestagswahl in 2017 viel darüber debattiert wurde, ob es ein Digitalisierungsministerium geben soll, z.B. in Form einer Digitalagentur, die im Bundeskanzleramt angesiedelt sein könnte. Alle Forschungsergebnisse deuten daraufhin, dass besonders in Ländern mit einer langen Digitalisierungstradition, die Systeme und Strukturen so komplex geworden sind, dass es notwendig ist, aus dem Alltag derjenigen, die diese Systeme am Laufen halten müssen, herauszutreten und mit komplett neuen Kapazitäten und Ressourcen Digitalisierung neuzudenken. Die Verwaltung ist in Deutschland ‚by design’ dezentral aufgebaut, um einen hohen Grad Rechenschaft und Haftung zu schaffen und so die Zentralisierung einer politischen Macht wie im Dritten reich zu vermeiden. Dieses Ressortprinzip führt dazu, dass Entscheidungen über IT-Maßnahmen dezentral getroffen werden. Zusammen mit dem Föderalismus entsteht dadurch Entscheidungsfreiheit auf mehreren Ebenen – in jedem einzelnen Bundesministerium, auf Landesebene, bis hin zu den Kommunen.

Um grundlegende Veränderungen und Fortschritte in der Digitalisierung der öffentlichen Verwaltung anzustoßen, kann deshalb eine prominent im Bundeskanzleramt angesiedelte Digitalagentur mit einem Innovationslaborcharakter ein Weg sein, um die oben beschriebenen Prinzipien zu erhalten, aber gleichzeitig Modellcharakter zu haben. Dadurch können innovative digitale Kompetenzen mit Designkenntnissen gebündelt werden, die so in der öffentlichen Verwaltung nicht ausgebildet sind und bisher vor allem im privaten Sektor angesiedelt sind.

Was ist dafür notwendig: Eine politische Entscheidung gekoppelt ein entsprechendes Budget, die Freiheit die besten Kräfte für den Job zu rekrutieren, hohe Flexibilität IT-Akquisitionsentscheidungen zu treffen, um so auch kleinen Start-ups mit innovative Ideen und Produkten den Zugang zur öffentlichen Verwaltung zu ermöglichen und kontinuierliches politisches Backup für das Team, so dass es Zeit und Kompetenzen hat Transformationen herbeizuführen.


Professor Dr. Ines Mergel ist Professorin für Public Administration an der Universität Konstanz wo sie zu Themen der digitalen Transformation der öffentlichen Verwaltung forscht und lehrt. Erste Ergebnisse von Professor Mergels Forschung zu Digitalen Service Teams wurde in einem Report IBM – Center for the Business of Government mit dem Titel „Digital Service Teams: Challenges and Recommendations for Government” veröffentlicht.

Job announcement: 100% Postdoc position, 36 months – EU digital transformation project

University of Konstanz-djrfovU_RPrV7CakHapn0BkPbkVxcPP--Wu3hOKbvl1lNmgKF5DwDHaffYlnfpxZKI am looking for a postdoc for a new EU H2020 project with the title”Co-VAL: Understanding Value Co-Creation in Public Services for Transforming European Public Administrations”. Prerequisites are a PhD degree in information management, computer science, or public administration/management.
Duration: 36 months
Start date: November 1, 2017 (or 1.1.2018 the latest)
Tasks include work on the working package digital transformation: A comparative public management research study, including a systematic literature review, expert interviews, policy and process tracing, and ethnographies of selected cases.
Here is the official position announcement:

Wissenschaftliches Personal  –  Kennziffer 2017/179

Die Universität Konstanz wird seit 2007 im Rahmen der Exzellenzinitiative des Bundes und der Länder mit ihrem “Zukunftskonzept zum Ausbau universitärer Spitzenforschung” gefördert.

Am Fachbereich Politik- und Verwaltungswissenschaft der Universität Konstanz, ist<b(spätester Beginn 01.01.2018) die Ganztagsstelle einer / eines</b

Akademischen Mitarbeiterin / Akademischen Mitarbeiters (EG 13 TV-L)

für die Dauer von 3 Jahren zu besetzen. Die Stelle ist grundsätzlich teilbar.

Mitarbeit in der Forschung im Rahmen des EU Horizon 2020-Projekts “Co-VAL: Understanding Value Co-Creation in Public Services for Transforming European Public Administrations” im Arbeitsgebiet des Lehrstuhls “Public Administration”, Übernahme des Working Packages “Digital transformation of public administrations” mit den folgenden Teilaufgaben: Systematischer Literaturreview, Experteninterviews, Policy und process tracing, international vergleichende Public Management-Forschung, Ethnographie der ausgewählten Fälle.

Voraussetzung ist ein wissenschaftlicher Hochschulabschluss mit einem hervorragenden Doktorat in Public Management, Computer Science, oder Informationswissenschaften, idealerweise mit einem verwaltungswissenschaftlichen Hintergrund und dem Willen und der Bereitschaft eigenverantwortlich zu arbeiten.

Die Universität bemüht sich um die Beseitigung von Nachteilen, die für Wissenschaftlerinnen im Bereich der Hochschule bestehen. Sie strebt eine Erhöhung des Anteils von Frauen in Forschung und Lehre an.

Die Universität Konstanz setzt sich besonders für die Vereinbarkeit von Familie und Erwerbsleben ein.

Menschen mit einer Schwerbehinderung werden bei entsprechender Eignung vorrangig eingestellt (Telefonnummer der Schwerbehindertenvertretung: +49 7531 / 88 – 4016).

Die Universität Konstanz unterstützt Dual Career-Paare. Informationen erhalten Sie unter: .

Ihre Bewerbung mit den üblichen Unterlagen senden Sie bitte unter Angabe der Kennziffer 2017/179 bis zum 16. Oktober 2017 an Frau Prof. Dr. Mergel, Fachbereich Politik- und Verwaltungswissenschaft, Universität Konstanz, 78457 Konstanz.

Bewerbungsende: 16.10.2017

Big Data in Public Affairs – Keynote address EGPA 2017

Screen Shot 2017-09-01 at 10.39.16 AMI prepared a keynote address with the title “Big Data in Public Affairs” for the annual conference of the European Group of Public Administration (EGPA), Milan, Italy.  The presentation is based on a paper I authored together with Kim Isett and Karl Rethemeyer, which was published in Public Administration Review and a paper I published in the Journal of Public Affairs Education.

In my presentation, I provided an overview of the types of data that I consider as part of the big data deluge, the type of analyses that can be done with big data, organizational units in the public sector that are conducting data science, and then provided three examples from my own research. This has then led me to talk about the challenges and open research questions for public administration as a field.

The presentation is available on ResearchGate.

Interview on global digital service teams in HuffingtonPost

I gave an interview to Marquis Cabrera which is now online on HuffingtonPost:

Dr. Mergel: You’ve had a most interesting academic career; the convergence of academia and industry (and tech!) in your published works is incredible! What made you decide to commission a report on global digital services?

We currently see all kinds of organizational arrangements emerge in government: innovation or policy labs, innovation offices, and digital service teams.

My goal with this report was to understand how the bureaucracy can absorb new organizational arrangements and approaches and scale them up in government. The report focuses mostly on 18F – a digital consultancy that provides services to clients at all levels of the U.S. government. I also included a brief overview of similar international initiatives, like the UK’s Government Digital Service that served as the role model for 18F’s creation.

In your report, you mentioned global government digital service consultancies and agencies; 18F, GDS, and DTO. To level set with our readers, what are these organizations? What factors (specific or high-level) in aggregate lead to the rise of these organization types? And, how have they had a profound influence on society? Continue reading Interview on global digital service teams in HuffingtonPost

Review of the expert meeting on digital government in the German Bundestag

Expert hearing in the German Parliament on June 21, 2017

“Modern State – Opportunities Through Digitization”

Written statement provided by Prof. Dr. Ines Mergel, University of Konstanz, Germany


1.  In the process of digitization, it is important that state and administration modernize their exercise of functions and fully utilize the opportunities of digitization. What, in your view, is the present state of administrative modernization and where is the potential of digitization being used in what manner? What are the success stories in Germany? What past successes can we build on?

The level of administrative modernization and digitization of the public administration in Germany is continuously declining in recent years. While legislative measures, such as the Digital Agenda, privacy policies, or investments in broadband services are being advanced, it is difficult for the German administration to improve in the e-government rankings. In a global comparison, Germany was placed at number 17 in 2011 and fell in the United Nations World e-Government Ranking four places to No. 21 in 2014. Compared to the rest of Europe, Germany occupies the 20th place in the field of digital service offerings according to the 2017 DESI ranking. In comparison, the leading e-government countries, such as Estonia and Denmark, began their digital transformation of the public administration 10 years ago.

Reasons for this are manifold. A McKinsey study to “E-Government in Germany – a Citizens’ Perspective” from 2015 shows, that the use of existing e-government services has stagnated since public administration digital services are not user friendly from a citizen’s perspective. According to the 2016 DESI study, only 19% of Germans use the online offerings of the public administration. This means that investment in e-government services fizzle out and bring no added value for citizens.

Continue reading Review of the expert meeting on digital government in the German Bundestag

1st Open Government day of the city of Konstanz on July 6, 2017

1OGThe city of Konstanz is hosting its first Open Government day and together with Christian Geiger from the Verschwoerhaus Ulm – a city innovation lab – I will be talking about how cities can tackle the challenge of implementing open government using digital technologies.

Open Government has been revived in the last 10 years and has made it up onto the political agenda as a tool to include citizens more in what their government does, help with decision making, and also increase transparency of government operations. While Open Government is not a new concept, new technologies now make it easier to move data onto open data platforms in machine-readable format and engage citizens in reusing the data to build apps and mashups. Instead of waiting for freedom of information requests, governments are voluntarily releasing data.

The gist of my short talk will be that a city that commits to open government has to fully accept the challenge to go beyond releasing datasets in machine-readable form, that are at the end of the day only usable for professionals with data science skills, but not reusable by regular citizens. While this is a good first step, governments need to think about new forms of online participation and collaboration, such as open innovation platforms. And as a next steps, after they ask citizens to engage online with the city, it is important to then also include feedback loops and be transparent about how the information and ideas citizens have contributed was ultimately used in internal decision making processes.

Digital transformation is an important step to gain citizens’ attentions in times of cord cutters, diminishing interest in policy making, disenchantment of citizens. The use of new technologies to reach citizens is an important driver for open government. However, in thinking about redesigning administrative

acts with an eye toward open government, it is important to think through how offline services can be delivered online. It’s important to conduct this step in a transformative way to allow civil servants to rethink the administrative act and redesign processes based on citizens’ needs, instead of the internal logic of government.

Media coverage:

Anzeiger Konstanz: Im Anzeiger Gespräch: Professor Dr. Ines Mergel von der Universität Konstanz: „Die Verwaltung tut sich schwer mit der Digitalisierung“, S. 13

Südkurier: Digitaler und transparenter: Die Verwaltung will sich mit Open Data zugänglicher praesentieren (online), 29.7.2017

New report on Digital Service Teams

Screen Shot 2017-05-31 at 7.09.15 AMIBM – The Center for the Business of Government has published my report titled “Digital Service Teams – Challenges and Recommendations for Government“.

The report is part of a larger research project in which I work on understand how different countries are using start-up teams inside of government to move their public administrations toward digital transformation. I am currently working on three other country cases (Estonia, Denmark, and the UK) and will add more cases as funding becomes available.

Here is the executive summary of the report:

Executive Summary

Digital service offices have emerged in governments around the world over the past six years as “tech surge teams” to respond to and repair urgent technology failures, or as an alternative structural approach to rethinking processes and implementation strategies in government digital transformation efforts.This report shares insights about three types of digital service teams:

  1. Centralized teams directly supporting national priorities, such as the U.S.Digital Service, or the United Kingdom’s Government Digital Service
  2. Enterprise teams supporting innovation in IT acquisition and internal consultancy services, such as 18F, an office within the Technology Transformation Service at the General Services Administration (GSA) that states it is a “services company and product incubator” with the goal of providing digital development and consulting services for other federal government agencies or programs
  3. Agency-level teams, such as those pioneered in the U.S.: the Digital Service at the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Defense

The insights provided in this report are based on a review of relevant literature and interviews with founding members, current directors, line managers of digital service teams, their counterparts in the offices of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at the agency level, and private-sector representatives aiming to collaborate with these new teams.The interviews focused on the structure of the teams, the use of agile and human-centered design processes, changes to human resource (HR) processes to attract information technology (IT) talent from the private sector, the incentives for IT professionals to join the U.S.federal government, and the changes made to federal IT acquisition processes.

One of the catalysts that led to the creation of these various digital service units was the inability to deliver an operational website on time in late 2013, which was symptomatic of a broader federal challenge in delivering large-scale IT projects.A post-mortem assessment found that the government’s existing IT expertise did not reflect private-sector industry practices, and that there was a gap between the needs of program managers and the technical capacity available to implement large projects effectively.A key contributing factor was that over three-quarters of the current IT budget for the federal government is earmarked to maintain existing, outdated legacy IT systems, leaving little room to exploit the potential for adopting innovative, new technology approaches and capacities.

A near-term solution to this lack of technical capacity and innovation skills was the introduction of so-called “IT start-ups” within government, also known as “digital service teams.” These small teams typically operate outside existing agency IT organizational structures and recruit IT talent directly from the private sector.They are given a mandate to rapidly implement change initiatives using commercially-developed tools and processes such as human-centered design and agile innovation management techniques—which are standard practice in the private sector, but have been infrequently adopted in the public sector.

The report identifies six challenges that digital service teams face in their efforts to implement digital transformation projects in a government context:

  • Embracing an agile development approach
  • Attracting IT talent from the private sector
  • Maintaining and scaling a start-up culture in government
  • Improving the acquisition of innovative IT
  • Funding digital service teams
  • Addressing whether innovation should be “bought or built”

From these challenges, several recommendations emerge for agencies that are in the process of setting up their own digital service teams, or are considering doing so.These include:

  • Understanding that digital transformation in government is not a “software problem,” but requires a holistic and strategic approach
  • Using “outside-the-box” thinking to infuse innovation into acquisition strategies
  • Phasing-in the use of new cost models to support digital services “start-up” teams
  • Including non-technical government employees as part of digital services teams
  • Challenging perceptions that “innovation can’t happen here,” given existing regulatory and cultural constraints
  • Enlisting facilitative leaders to champion digital transformation
  • Promoting greater collaboration among digital service teams and agency IT stakeholders

In addition, the author recommends that policy makers take steps to ensure longer-term sustainability of digital transformation through the use of digital service teams.These steps include:

  • Aligning the priority of digital transformation with other mission-driven national and agency-level priorities
  • Addressing the legacy IT problems of the federal government
  • Scaling up digital service team activities where they demonstrate value
  • Expanding agencies’ authority to use innovative personnel tools to bring IT talent into government
  • Adopting a new approach towards third-party service providers that reduces procedural acquisition burdens in favor of demonstrated capacity to deliver results

Media coverage:


Mergel, I. (2017): Digital Service Teams – Challenges and Recommendations for Government, IBM – The Center for the Business of Government, Using Technologies Series, Washington, DC.