New article: Agile government: Systematic literature review and future research

Agile innovation management, Agility, Government Information Quarterly, Government transformation

Bildschirmfoto 2018-05-11 um 07.04.42Together with Yiwei Gong and John Bertot, I edited a special issue for Government Information Quarterly on agile government. For our introduction, we conducted a systematic literature review of articles published on the subject during the last decades and provided guidance for future research.


Governments need to adapt to changes in their internal and external environments and create systems that allow them to scan trends, identify developments, predict their potential impact on the organization, and quickly learn how to implement changes to their standard operating procedures. As a response, government organizations are adopting agile approaches as part of their process redesigns, project management, and software development approaches. Although agility and adaptiveness are long in use in the private sector, they have been increasingly adopted in the public sector literature and practices. In order to understand the existing theoretical and practical foundations of the field, we have conducted a systematic literature review and identified four streams of research areas:

(1) software development approaches,

(2) project management approaches,

(3) application areas, and

(4) potential outcomes.

In this article, we synthesize this literature, provide an outlook on future research questions, and introduce several articles as part of the current special issue focused on agile government.

We included four articles in the special issue that focus on different themes of agile governments:

  1. Hong and Lee’s (2018) article provides evidence of how regulation and decentralization impacts adaptive governance. The authors argue that decentralization of governance can hinder the process of adaptation in the sharing economy, especially if the considered policy embodies entrepreneurial politics.
  2. Wang, Medaglia, and Zheng’s (2018) article investigates adaptive governance in the context of digital government where new forms of collaborative governance are needed to rapidly adapt to changes in the internal and external environments.
  3. Soe and Drechsler (2018) discuss how local governments collaborate for joint service provision, be more adaptive toward new technological and organizational changes, and introduce innovative services following industry trends such as predictive analytics, autonomous vehicles, and artificial intelligence.
  4. Chatfield and Reddick (2018) show how a U.S. city government’s use of big data analytics enhances customer agility in 311 on-demand services.

Reference: Mergel, I., Gong, Y., Bertot, J. (2018): Agile government: Systematic literature review and future research, in: Government Information Quarterly, 35(2):291-298.

Big data and digitization talk script

Big data, Digital Competencies, Digital Government, digital literacy

Screen Shot 2018-03-17 at 8.14.06 PMIn March 2018 I participated in a conversation on “(K)ein Traum von der digitalen Demokratie: Big Data als Chance oder Risiko?” as part of the Grenzgänger Wissenschaft talk series together with Professor Neuschwander of the HTWG Konstanz . We have talked about a number of questions and here are the answers I prepared:

What kind of data is there?

We currently distinguish four types of data:

  1. Administratively collected data: Surveys, or transactions in which we are open-eyed. Very detailed data that are requested and deliberately filled in. Highly structured.
  2. Open data: This means that some of this data is published, for example, by the public administration on open data platforms in aggregated and machine-readable format. Sometimes already helpful evaluated or visualized (unemployment figures)
  3. Data generated by users or citizens: Outside a formal transaction, on social media channels, other Internet transactions (shopping on Amazon), but also crowdsourcing actions, weblogs, clickstreams, search data. Can be private or public.
  4. Automatically generated data from human and physical sensors: measuring probes on buildings, buses, police body cameras, collected automatically without human intervention or consent. Advantage: very comprehensive data collection (all potholes through which a bus passes, complete data sets). Tracking of geographical locations, e.g. when you open your weather app.

Taken together, these are each in themselves “huge data sets” – some of a private / non-public nature, some of them public. All in all, this is unstructured Internet-generated data that is linked to structured data sets and can also contain geo-tags.

Where do we encounter Big Data in everyday life?

  • Internet resources: Social media interactions, mobile phone apps, videos, photos that are shared, online search behavior, Google Nest in homes, etc.
  • Structured data: Online shopping, mobile phone networks (who phones with whom), email exchanges
  • Geo data: Automatic login to mobile phone poles, satellites

What do you think are the 3 biggest risks and what are the 3 biggest opportunities?


  1. Previously unimagined insights into the behaviour and preferences of citizens
  2. Quick data availability and decisions in real time (nowcasting)
  3. The potential of democratisation: Who will be heard?


  1. Distribution of Fake News
  2. Transparent Citizen: We do not know which algorithms are used or how they affect citizens.
  3. Political and economic decisions are influenced. Google Flu Trends

Where does the data actually come from? Do we make them ourselves?

Each of us is involved in the creation of Big Data every second. This happens through each of our online interactions (be it Google search, Amazon shopping, social media channel interactions, smart home, smart metering, fitness wristbands, smart phones and automatic log-in to phone poles, calls we receive, emails we send, streaming services such as Netflix or Amazon Video. Thus we leave behind so-called digital traces. Mostly passive and inactive, even without our knowledge and even if we do not actively use our devices. Do not participate to share our data. Even if you are not actively involved in a social media network, the exclusion says something.

What skills do citizens need in relation to Big Data?

There are two ways to protect yourself: First through personal actions and then also through systemic changes.

I. Rethink personal behavior:

a) Do not share everything immediately with the full power of emotions on social media! According to the latest, largest MIT study, it is clear that fake news is distributed faster and further than truths and the damage is already done. So first think about whether you want to be part of this machinery, like Pizza Gate during Hillary Clinton’s US presidential campaign.

b) Maybe read an article or the text format instead of a YouTube video or an exciting TV news show, so that you don’t let yourself be influenced by the pictures. Creating an emotional distance to the news.

c) But consider whether this can be true at all

d) Interpretation of who shares what and how and what their motives can be

e) Use offline networks such as clubs and village communities more than networking in the artificial online world.

II. Systemic changes necessary:

EU digital literacy framework to empower citizens:

  1. Information and data literacy: articulate information needs, localise and retrieve digital data, information and content. Assessing the relevance of the source and its content. For storing, managing and organizing digital data, information and content.
  2. Communication and collaboration: interaction, communication and collaboration through digital technologies, taking into account cultural and generational diversity. Participation in society through public and private digital services and participatory citizenship. To manage his digital identity and reputation.
  3. Creation of digital content: Create and edit digital content Improve and integrate information and content into existing knowledge and understanding of the application of copyrights and licenses. Knowing how to give clear instructions to a computer system.
  4. Security: To protect devices, content, personal data and privacy in digital environments. Protect physical and mental health and be aware of digital technologies for social well-being and social inclusion. To be aware of the environmental impact of digital technologies and their use.
  5. Problem solving: Identify needs and problems and solve conceptual problems and problem situations in digital environments. Use of digital tools to innovate processes and products. To keep up with the digital evolution.

From the state’s point of view, too, the digitisation and use of big data in public administrations is important. What are examples of this?

Use of Big Data in public administration

  • The first Big Data study in public administration was a combination of scientific data with Big Data from social media data (Twitter): The U.S. Geological Service was the first public administration to not only use scientific data on the magnitude of earthquakes, but also combine it with social media data to find out the impact of earthquakes on the affected citizens. By using these so-called humane sensors, it is possible to determine more quickly which decisions have to be made in the event of a natural disaster.
  • To protect against terrorists: analyze large amounts of data, check for anomalies, investigate forensic evidence and help avoid terrorist attacks. This can be done with sensors on physical buildings and then synchronize the data in real time with other databases, analyze telephone traffic, bank connections, online shopping, etc..
  • Use of VAT payments on online platforms are already actively analysed by tax offices in all OECD countries. All participants in economic transactions are provided with risk indicators, so that the tax office knows which transactions are risky (because they fall out of line) or which transactions are normal for a certain buyer/seller. Theoretically these analyses happen overnight and in the afternoon the tax investigator is already standing on the mat and tries to collect the allegedly evaded money.
  • Use Big Data to predict the financial health of individual companies, cities or regions. In combination with various data sets, the public administration can diagnose whether a company can survive in the market and is on the verge of bankruptcy. This is important information for the public administration, as it affects jobs. This leads to increased social expenditure, such as unemployment benefit, or even the brain drain from a region, because the unemployed have to move to where jobs are available. It is therefore in the public administration’s own interest to use all available data sets to determine what is in store for them in the future.
  • Government and jurisdiction should, however, be involved in the regulation of large social media companies, search engines and sales platforms:
  • o hold companies accountable for allowing so-called fake news to be distributed. For example, Twitter and Facebook have only now, under pressure from hearings, looked for how Russia has placed purchased advertising in the news feeds. This means that both companies clearly benefited from this propaganda, but did nothing about it. Researchers find this propaganda very simple – so I wonder why the social media companies pretend that they have to search for it for a long time and
  • “Weaponizing the Web”: YouTube as a place of radicalisation for young people and supporters of terrorist groups
  • Establish ethical principles for the use of online media that social media companies must also adhere to. NetzDG (Network Enforcement Law) = Law to prevent hate speech and hate speech on the Internet. Decisions should not be made in Silicon Valley, however, but in our linguistic area, in which we understand the nuances of language (irony, sarcasm) and also the context and thus do not block wrongly criticised content.

What do you think would happen if you completely ban the collection of data?

Data collection, e.g. of Facebook data, is already prohibited in the EU, but it has become clear that the EU is not taking action and is really checking whether the data collection (the associated sale) is not actually taking place. One reason for this is that the servers are located in the USA.

From my point of view, the users are particularly in demand:

  • Everyone should think about what they share on social media (parents who present their children publicly to get a few uhs and ahs)
  • Do you only want to use social media personally, for example, or professionally? Add colleagues, then?
  • Great discipline what you say online.
  • We have become aware of some risks and threats to democracies in the context of Big Data. In the beginning, however, you also had three chances each named by Big Data for democracy. We know you look at the subject neutrally from a scientific perspective BUT what would you say if you had to make a flaming plea for Big Data?

Democratization effects of Big Data:

  • There was a time when we all thought that Big Data had a democratizing effect. Everyone has pointed out that the Arab Spring would not have been possible if the demonstrators in Egypt had not gathered online worldwide to meet physically in Tahier Square. These are undreamt-of possibilities that Big Data offers: Information is distributed to many people and the power these demonstrations have can actually change the course of a government. Whether the results are always what you hoped for from a movement is another question. There are many examples, such as #BlackLivesMatter hashtag, NRA student protests in the US against the government and against the National Rifle Association -> no great improvement for the affected groups.
  • On the other hand, hashtags like the #metoo campaign skipped the channel and led to accusations, job losses, publicity that could possibly lead to a change in behavior. In any case to an empowerment (strengthening) of the position of women,

The promise to gain unexpected insights into the actual behaviour and preferences of groups of people or even whole nations:

  • Be it political voting behavior,
  • Purchasing preferences,
  • Effects of natural disasters on entire regions,
  • But also reactions of citizens to changed laws and the effects on certain population groups that were not previously on the radar

Additional material is available here:

  1. Article “Big Data in Public Affairs” in Public Administration Review [free pdf file]
  2. Article “Big Data in Public Affairs Education” in Journal of Public Affairs Education (JPAE) [free pdf file]
  3. European Group of Public Administration keynote speech 2017: Big Data in Public Affairs (full Powerpoint presentation available on ResearchGate)

A digital agency for Germany? Good idea – if you do it right!


The Grand Coalition wants to make Germany a digital country and reform the public administration. A few suggestions on how this could be achieved.

The coalition agreement negotiated between the CDU/CSU and the SPD provides for an e-government or digital agency. We want to develop our country into a strong digital country in all areas,”the coalition agreement states. But what exactly could this mean? Germany has no experience with digital agencies. This makes it all the more important to look at examples of this kind abroad.

A look at Denmark, Great Britain or the USA shows that if a digital agency is set up correctly, it can rapidly advance the digital transformation of public administration, create common standards at all administrative levels, reduce bureaucracy and bring it closer to the citizens. Essentially, we are talking about new online services that are easy to use for everyone, similar to those we are all used to in our private lives, for example when we shop online or use social networks.

In Europe, Denmark has already set up a digitisation agency in the Ministry of Finance in 2011, which prepares digital solutions together with citizens, tests them on a wide scale and makes them available to all levels of government. Especially in Anglo-American countries, digital agencies have already established themselves as an important instrument for modernizing administration. In Great Britain, the digital agency Government Digital Service (GDS) was founded seven years ago. It involves designers, software developers, administrators and citizens from the outset in the design of digital services for public administration to ensure a high degree of acceptance and usability.

In the United States, two teams were formed under President Obama following the crash of the HealthCare. gov website: First of all, the U. S. Digital Service (USDS), which was initially created as a so-called fire brigade team and then assigned to the White House as a staff unit. Later, 18F joined the team, which provides advice and support to the public administration to develop digital services from a user’s point of view. Since then, digital agencies have been established in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Italy, following the example of GDS, USDS and 18F.

What they all have in common is that they are directly assigned to the highest level of government. The management teams of the agencies – mostly at State Secretary level – were recruited mainly from the private sector, from Amazon, for example, from Pixar, Google, Guardian. Only in Denmark did the agency emerge from the administration.

The digital agencies have extensive budgets for administrative projects, be it online payment systems or the introduction of electronic ID cards, but also for the modernisation of internal administrative processes. Digital agencies have the freedom to work experimentally, similar to start-ups, in order to quickly gain insight into how online services of the administration must be designed to be accepted by citizens. This also includes reducing bureaucracy by rethinking existing administrative processes. In addition, digital agencies have the task not only of developing standards but also of ensuring that they are adhered to. Their “digital service standards” are valid guidelines for all other authorities and ministries. If they do not meet these standards, the work on services is interrupted and some budgets are frozen.

More user-friendly and cost-effective
What are the advantages of digital agencies? In a decentralised bureaucracy like in Germany, the urgent question arises as to whether the wheel really must be reinvented for every administrative level or whether once designed administrative systems can be replicated at other levels. As a result, costs can be saved and the interaction with public administration will look the same to citizens everywhere, increasing user-friendliness. Italy and Great Britain are already doing so: they offer once developed online services centrally and make them available to all levels of government. This even saves taxpayers’ money.

In Germany, public administration is currently working on the introduction of the e-file: the physical file is to be abolished, all documents are scanned, processes are being digitalised. Citizens’ accounts should be set up for citizens, so that everyone only has to enter their data once and can then be shared with other authorities. For many administrators, this changes the familiar and learned work steps. It would therefore be important to change the way the public administration functions in these processes of change. Following the model of digital agencies, agile working methods should be introduced, involving administrators and citizens rather than remaining passive users.

New tasks, new job descriptions
Digitalization is a major challenge for managers and employees in administration. They have to continue their training and learn many new processes. Wherever necessary, even new job profiles have to be created or external competences must be used. In any case, it is important that a “digital mindset” is created in the administration – the inner attitude, that it goes without saying that administrative services are automated.

Such fundamentally new forms of organisation and work in public administration need role models. Before setting up its own digital agency, the Canadian government had talks with existing digital agencies abroad in order to avoid mistakes once made and to be able to take its own Canadian route. A digital agency needs financial resources that allow it to build up personnel capacity for new forms of work. Internally, teams need the freedom to experiment, to rethink administrative processes from the user’s point of view and to develop a start-up culture so that change processes can be initiated. They need political support and wide-ranging powers of command to support radical changes in the German administrative landscape.

The next three steps for Germany
The coalition agreement is in place, the Grand Coalition, as we have known since the weekend. The federal and state governments must act now, the priorities are as follows: (1) The Federal Government should support experts – including experts from abroad or with experience abroad – in developing the concept of the digital agency. (2) As has already been done in some administrations, Germany should strengthen its digital administrative capacity. This includes expanding the digital skills of administrative staff and, above all, managers. (3) The digital agency must be endowed with cross-departmental powers and an appropriate budget in order to develop basic components of digital management in-house and then make them available to all levels of management.

Then, but only then can the idea of a digital agency become a success story.

Ines Mergel is Professor of Public Administration at the University of Konstanz. You can reach them by e-mail or on Twitter.

This article was published as a guest post on the blog of Jan-Martin Wiarda on 6.3.2018.

A timeline of national digital service team start-ups

18F, Agile innovation management, Agility, Digital Service Delivery, Digital Service Teams, Digital Transformation, Government transformation, IBM Center for the Business of Government

National governments are creating digital service teams at an accelerated speed. I have written about their approaches, team compositions, and outcomes in a report published by IBM’s Center for the Business of Government last year and expanded on it in this interview. My report mostly focused on the U.S. Digital Service Team and 18F, and highlighted some of the practices of the Danish Agency for Digitisation and its Mindlab, as well as the UK’s Government Digital Service and Team Digitale in Italy.

Since I published the first report, additional service teams were created in 2017: the Canadian Digital Service, Finland’s D9 team, and New Zealand consolidated its IT operations into one new agency, Digital.Govt.NZ.


New article out in print “Open innovation in the public sector: drivers and barriers for the adoption of”


The Public Management Review has published a special issue on “Digital Government and Public Management”. I contributed an article on “Open innovation in the public sector: drivers and barriers for the adoption of”. The journal has made 50 eprints available for free


Online Open Innovation (OI) platforms like are used to post public sector problem statements, collect and evaluate ideas submitted by citizens with the goal to increase government innovation. Using quantitative data extracted from contests posted to and qualitative interviews with thirty-six public managers in fourteen federal departments contribute to the discovery and analysis of intra-, inter, and extra-organizational factors that drive or hinder the implementation of OI in the public sector. The analysis shows that system-inherent barriers hinder public sector organizations to adopt this procedural and technological innovation. However, when the mandate of the innovation policy aligns with the mission of the organization, it opens opportunities for change in innovation acquisition and standard operating procedures.


Mergel, Ines (2018) Open innovation in the public sector: drivers and barriers for the adoption of,Public Management Review, 20:5, 726-745, DOI: 10.1080/14719037.2017.1320044



Opening access to academic knowledge beyond the usual echo chamber

Open Public Administration Scholarship, Public Administration, Public Management, Publications

My publication and open access strategy

I am working at a public University with an explicit open access policy and an active funding pipeline to extend open access to academic journals. This includes an open access repository for faculty publications (KOPS – The Institutional Repository of the University of Konstanz). Publications are listed when they come out and after one year of publishers’ embargos are uploaded in full text. Incentives are available to partially pay for publications in open access journals – but not for open access options in closed access journals.

Over the years of publishing for both academic and practitioner audiences, I have developed my own open access strategy by using free social media tools, like this WordPress blog or Twitter and Facebook to push information about new publications out.

Here is my own publication strategy:

I. Academic journals in the public administration field

I am publishing only in public administration journals that I consider the core journals of our field and are ranked highest based on the number of citations they receive. The ranking is derived from Google Scholar’s top publications in public policy and public administration list:

1. Public Administration Review
2. Government Information Quarterly
3. Public Management Review
4. Public Administration
5. The American Review of Public Administration
6. Administration & Society
7. International Review of Administrative Sciences
8. Review of Public Personnel Administration
9. International Public Management Journal

So far, I haven’t tried to place articles in German speaking public administration journals given my above mentioned reasoning to submit to highly cited journals. But I might change this in the future. I also don’t write book chapters anymore – except if they are low cost in terms of effort or a PhD student needs to get into a writing rhythm. I noticed that none of my 18 book chapters received a single citation – so in effect it is dead knowledge and a waste of my time. However, it might be a useful tool for PhD students to learn how to write and how to handle reviewer feedback.

I have also mostly stayed away from conferences – in the IS field for example – that require full-texts and publish them online. In PA, these conference proceedings are usually not considered as full publications – only as conference presentations.

II. Practitioner-oriented blogs and research reports

A few years ago, I decided to repurpose my academic research and ‘translate’ it in plain language for public managers. I like to have an impact, but much more importantly: I experienced the risk-taking attitude of many public managers who are willing to explore and experiment with new technologies to make their organizations more efficient and effective. They continuously amaze me by taking the time for research interviews, follow-ups, and by providing additional documents. I like to give back – but the timeframes that academic journals have do not match the needs of public servants, who are RIGHT NOW working on the problem I am conducting research on and could potentially use the input I received from their peers.

The problem is: The academic community tends to label those of us who step outside as “practitioners”. Which in all other fields is an honor, but apparently among academics it moves you into the category of the shunned… I wish people would be more open minded, especially in public administration a field that is highly applied and works on the hard problems that society – and by extension public administrators – are currently dealing with.

Now that my research is also publicly funded, I believe we even have an obligation as academics to give back to society and move our research out in formats that are accessible to all – not just our own echo chamber.

I was lucky to have received several research stipends to publish my reports for public managers. You can find an open access list on my faculty page.

III. Social media to move my writing into people’s timelines

When I started my first faculty job in 2008, I was lucky to conduct research on how the US bureaucracy absorbed some of the technological innovations that were moved from the Obama political campaign into day-to-day governing. This coincided with my own habit to write about my research experiences online, so I repurposed my social media channels mostly for professional use.

I use my WordPress Blog “Digital Innovations in the Public Sector” to post about new publications, add a URL to the open access version as well as any additional information that people might find useful. I sometimes add background or links to related topics.

Recently, I started to separate out German blog posts on a new Medium blog under my own name. I felt it was important to cater to German public managers who might not read my English updates on WordPress.

There are other blogging options out there. For example, professional organizations are offering their members blogging options. For the Public Management Research Association, whe have set up the PMRA Insights Scholarly Blog on which members of the Board of Directors post about their research. Or LSE’s Impact of Social Sciences blog on which we recently published an extension of our Big Data in Public Affairs PAR paper. Brookings’ TechTank blog that allowed me to post an update about one of my social media projects.

In addition, I repost these writings through all other social media channels, such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Xing. I tend not to get into heated conversations on social media – and revert to DMs or email instead.

IV. Listing for transparency and impact assessment purposes only

For transparency purposes I am also listing my research on ResearchGate. Unfortunately, ResearchGate has caved in to the pressure of publishers and has removed all full texts I was once asked to upload. This has made the process even more cumbersome, because now you have to answer to requests for articles that are already available on the platform, but no longer accessible to the members of RG. What is the point of staying on RG? The impact indicators are interesting – but otherwise I haven’t figured out an additional purpose yet. I removed myself from other predatory platforms, such as, and hope that my University’s open access strategy will become similarly relevant for academics who are looking for my writings.

My OrcID and GoogleScholar pages are automatically populated and sometimes I add updates, for example for funding I received or early publications that are not listed yet.

V. Building an Open Public Administration Commons

In 2008, I attended the third Minnowbrook Conference III that is organized every 20 years to review and revise the directions of public administration as an academic field. The findings from Minnowbrook III are summarized in this edited volume “The Future of Public Administration Around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective” by Rosemary O’Leary, David van Slyke, and Soonhee Kim – who were also together with Stuart Bretschneider members of my tenure committee. I contributed a book chapter on social media that later served as the foundation for my research program.*

As part of Minnowbrook III, we also contributed to a special issue of JPART – Journal for Public Administration Research and Theory. Together with my co-authors, we developed our vision of open public administration scholarship – and I am in the process of establishing exactly that: an open access platform to move our research and the students’ research each semester online and make it accessible. At the moment, I am the only one who reads it. It is archived in paper format in the library, but not available in the open – a shame given that lots of it is empirical in nature and many public servants have taken the time to answer surveys or conduct interviews with my students. The platform will provide the full versions of articles, final papers from my seminars, and bachelor, master and PhD theses. In addition, an editorial team will work with the students to summarize these full text versions into smaller, easier to digest pieces of 2-3 pages. We are planning to publish both in English and German, so that our writing continues to be available for international audiences, and most importantly also for practitioner audiences in German public administrations. Stay tuned for the announcement of OPAS.

I am curious what other people’s publication strategies look like. Please leave a comment!

=> A German translation of this blog post is available on my Medium blog.

*Mergel, I. (2010): The use of social media to dissolve knowledge silos in government, in: O’Leary, R., Kim, S. and Van Slyke, D. M. (Editors): The Future of Public Administration, Public Management and Public Service Around the World: The Minnowbrook Perspective, Georgetown University Press, pp. 177-187.

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


Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 3.00.53 PM

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

Academia 2.0, Adoption of new technology, Classroom innovation, Digital Competencies, Digital Government, digital literacy, Digital Transformation, Teaching

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.