For big organisations that have steadily grown in size and complexity over several decades, embracing change and innovation is no easy task. In this sense, the government isn't so different from companies or other similar structures. To help them adapt to rapidly changing society, it can sometimes be useful to bring in external forces, like think tanks or similar organizations. These types of actors tend to have the advantage that they operate outside of existing government structures and thus are better equipped to think outside of existing boxes. Tech4Germany was founded under such a premise in early 2018 by recent university graduate Andrej Safundzic and Helge Braun, the Head of the Federal Chancellery. I joined the Tech4germany team as a tutor, helping the students deal with User Experience and Interface Design challenges.
Tech4Germany acts as a digital technology task force, taking on challenges throughout the governmental infrastructure, with a special focus on tasks concerning citizen-facing products. The applicants apply modern, agile, user-centered design and development processes and, thereby, challenge the existing structures and processes within the government. In the span of just a few months, the Tech4Germany teams worked closely with various governmental partners to develop prototypes that have since been turned over to government development teams to be used as a basis for further development.
The Tech4Germany fellows at work. (Source: Tech4Germany)
In the first round in 2018, nine students joined the program, with backgrounds spanning from computer science to design. Over the summer, they formed teams and tackled two digital challenges: redesigning the auction platform maintained by the federal customs agency (project description (in German)) and redesigning the registration process for the user accounts for a federal citizen portal (project description (in German)). The teams delivered impressive work in a short amount of time, using agile methodologies to guide their approach. An important part of this process was user research, in which the Tech4Germany fellows worked to find out what the true needs of their target audiences were and where the actual problems were located.
It was important to us to start with citizens when identifying problems and challenges and to center the whole development process around them.
Usability and accessibility were at the core of our projects. We wanted to build websites that are easy to use for all citizens.
They designed, developed and tested prototypes for services which would haven probably taken years to deliver traditional governmental development environments.
Example screenshot from the redesign of the customs auction platform. (Source: Tech4Germany)
As someone who has been working with different governmental bodies on digital projects over the years, I see this project as a significant success. I was excited to see so many motivated and talented young people interested in making a difference. It was also great to see that the government took the project seriously and provided the students with both the necessary resources as well as access to people and departments that were crucial for their work. This impression was also reflected in the feedback we heard from participating students at the end of the 2018 fellowship, as they asseessed what they found positive about their Tech4Germany experiences:
Open discussions with the mentors and conversations where we were treated as peers, insight into the administration and government, and the trust and confidence displayed from everyone involved in our project planning and execution.
The 2018 fellows, mentors and the supporting partners from the administration. (Source: Tech4Germany)
Perhaps most exciting of all is that the program was continued into 2019, with resources available for both more fellows and more projects. I can strongly recommend that anyone interested in bringing digital innovation to the government submits an application before the deadline closes on March 17th.