Innovative Municipalities: Sustainable and Digital

On 11 May, TUDO (TU Dortmund University) hosted a digital workshop on the digital transformation of municipalities processes.

Public sector innovations are diverse. From the digitalisation of internal and external processes, through agile project management up to small and large steps to achieve the global sustainability goals (SDGs) – the challenges that municipalities are facing and the changes needed are vast. To approach these challenges, municipalities are using various instruments and are increasingly setting up special areas of responsibility. For example, this development is advancing the establishment of chief innovation and information offices (CIOs), open government offices, climate protection management offices as well as municipal sustainability councils. Often, these areas of responsibility and their related strategies and implemented measures, stay unrelated. Though, achieving the global sustainability goals and dealing with digital transformations are major challenges of today and should be achieved in integrated approaches.

Considering this background, the workshop ‘Innovative Municipalities: Sustainable and Digital’ addressed the intersection of municipal development in relation to SDGs and digital transformations. The workshop brought together nine engaged actors to discuss how political measures and best-practice examples target digitalisation and promote sustainability at the same time. Participants of the workshop work in the fields of sustainability, innovation and digitalisation in municipalities and related organisations in different smaller cities in North-Rhine Westphalia as well as other federal states of Germany.

The workshop focused on the interactive exchange of experiences and the joint development of practical knowledge for integrated processes from conceptual design to implementation of municipal projects in the area of digital and sustainable transformations. In terms of methodology, the focus was primarily on the mutual exchange of participant’s experiences, but also on joint development of workshop results. For this, a protected space for discussion and methodical support was offered.

After an introduction about the organisers, participants, project context and goals of the workshop, input was given on the subject of ‘Public innovation and transformation design – insights into current debates on the link between SDGs and digitisation’ by co-founder of ‘Politics for Tomorrow’ a civil society initiative, which has been advancing the public innovation discourse in Germany since 2015. Following that, participants were invited to two parallel working groups. The first round of discussions dealt with the topic ‘Strategies, Structures, Processes’ and the second with concrete instruments, products and services. Due to time constraints, each of the participants first gave a short input based on their prepared presentation. This ensured that each of the participants could contribute equally to discussions. A third round of discussions was used to reflect upon different modes of stakeholder integration in policy-making in each participant’s field of work. After the breakout session, participants came back together in the online plenary to reflect upon the overall workshop concept.

Due to the current corona pandemic, the workshop design had to be adjusted. On the one hand, this affected the location, so the event could not take place face-to-face in the location ‘Impact Hub Ruhr’ in Essen as originally planned. Instead, it was carried out digitally using the online meeting tool ‘Webex trainings’. Because of this, the original time frame was adjusted from approximately six hours to two hours online session. Additionally, the participants were asked to put some time in an individual preparation phase for the online-session for developing a short presentation based on 6 questions for discussion during the working groups (breakout sessions). Furthermore, TUDO provided a survey for reflexion on the workshop topics but also on the workshop concept and format itself. This survey was distributed after the online session.

The workshop served as a first meeting and as a starting point for further discussions, since an additional face-to-face workshop is planned for 2021. A discussion has started on which specific forms of cooperation between public administration, civil society, science and the private sector are conducive to design sustainable municipalities (the role of co-creation and co-production). Central to this was the exploration of the respective scope for innovation of employees in municipalities.

Main results of the workshop include:

The most important learnings regarding the workshop implementation include:

Overall, the workshop was a successful experience for all participants. Additionally, a workshop booklet was provided to the participants, which contains an overview of the workshop topics and their respective interfaces. The overview mainly contains references to current publications, in particular reports, manuals and guidelines, but also further links to networks, platforms, conferences regarding the intersection of sustainability and digital transformations. TUDO would like to thank all participants for their contribution to the workshop.


Graphic credits: Enrico Fleiter (sfs/TUDO), SDG Graphic,; Internet Icon, Idea Icon and Mansion Icon made by Smashicons from (CC BY 3.0)

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