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The various types of digitization in municipalities

News from Oct. 20, 2020

Municipalities approach the mammoth task of digital transformation in very different ways. In a new publication, the Competence Center Public IT (ÖFIT) along with the Kommunale Gemeinschaftsstelle für Verwaltungsmanagement (KGSt) examines which types of digitalization strategies can be found, what their main focuses are, and what one municipality can learn from the other various types.

Entire IT department or Chief Digital Officer (CDO)? Citizen participation or involvement of external experts? Focus on public administration or opening up to the local community? Local governments take very different approaches to digitization.

A closer look at the data reveals four types that differ systematically in terms of objectives, focus, and implementation methods:

Keeping law and order: “The Thoughtful”

For the thoughtful type, it is mainly about implementing legal requirements. They are happy to build on existing offers and strategies of other public administrations. By adding cooperation with other municipalities, resources can be saved and synergies released.

Increase efficiency and effectiveness: “The Optimizers”

The optimizer type sees digitization primarily as a way to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of administrative actions. By using administrative data and new services such as chatbots and mobile apps, they optimize processes and expand the range of services.

Offering a good user experience: “The Service-oriented

For the service-oriented type, the satisfaction of administrative staff and citizens is a major concern. An integrated strategy development taking into account the municipal fields of action, data use, and the qualification of employees should contribute to the attractiveness of the municipality and an open and citizen-oriented administration.

Focus on business and citizens: “The Community Managers”

The Community Manager type focuses primarily on the needs of the local community. The further development of community services of general interest with the involvement of citizens, digital innovations, and the development of digital competence in the economy and the population are specifically supported.

Of course, not every community fits completely into these “stereotypes”. However, the statistical analysis reveals further characteristic differences. For example, while optimizers and community managers are often CDOs or Chief Information Officers (CIOs), those who are deliberate and service-oriented in matters of digitization focus on the IT and organizational departments. The example of online participation shows that optimizers make relatively more frequent use of surveys, while service-oriented people make use of the information provided by defect reporters, which is also used by almost half of the thoughtful people. Community managers also offer online participation in participatory budgeting and planning approval processes.

Not ideal solution

The “holy grail” of approaches cannot be identified when comparing the types of municipalities. The key is reflecting on one's approach, identifying blind spots, breaking away from the paths taken, and being open to learning from others. The study shows how differently digitization is currently being approached in the municipalities and at the same time inspires questioning one's individual processes and ways of thinking.