German Chancellor Angela Merkel is going online to engage Germans on the future of their country. On February 1 the Chancellor’s office launched a “Dialogue about Germany’s Future”, a project that combines an online crowdsourcing website and a series of in-person, “US-style” town hall meetings. It marks the first time the Chancellor is going directly to citizens using an online tool to engage them in decision making.
Over the next two months, Germans will have a chance to share their views on the Germany they’d like to see in the next 5-10 years, answering three main consultation questions:
- How do we want to live together? What holds society together? How can we produce more children and be more family friendly? How can society and government enhance security? How can we engage citizens better?
- How do we want to sustain ourselves? What are Germany’s strengths on the world market? How can we stay curious and innovative while making money? What can employers, employees and government do to make employment more secure and appealing?
- How do we want to learn? What do practical values look like? How can we all learn to do better – at work and at home? What role does the internet play? How can we improve professional development? Can the society as a whole learn?
Taking Ideas Seriously…and Uncharted Territory
In a weekend interview with the Bild am Sonntag, Merkel emphasized that all suggestions would be taken seriously: “They won’t land in the thin air of the internet. Rather, each one will receive an answer, and the best have the chance to be acted upon”. Pushed further, Merkel explained how ideas could be acted upon, while acknowledging the novelty of the initiative:
I can’t promise anyone that we will immediately implement everything, but I also won’t say what won’t work. Reasonable ideas could be turned into a research project or model project. Examples of best practices, on topics such as “better working conditions for the elderly” or “the city of the future” could achieve more than current political discourse. We will also send good ideas to the responsible ministries. What’s clear to me is this: With this online “Dialogue of the Future” we’re entering new territory. We don’t know 100% how exactly this will work, and how many people will actually take part.
Merkel explained that her team of “120 experts” would be pouring over the results after the online tool closes in April, releasing a book in June, and presenting the most useful ideas in September.
In-person vs. Online
When asked why the main thrust of the project was online, Merkel answered simply, “there’s no other way to reach so many people”.
After the crowdsourcing site has been closed, authors of the ten top-voted ideas will have a chance to meet with Merkel in her office.
The online process is also being complemented by 3 in-person “US-style” town hall meetings in the cities of Erfurt, Heidelberg and Bielefeld with 100 participants each, as well as sessions for children and youth.
The project has only been live for a few hours, so I can only make general observations. It’s clear that the project has lots of potential. It has buy-in from Merkel herself, who has committed her government to respond to and act upon all “reasonable” ideas within a strict timeline (the timeline below, which appears on every page, explains the process. Click to view larger image). It shows that the federal government in Germany is interested in using novel ways to engage citizens, including both crowdsourcing and “town hall” meetings.
Potential challenges include how to deal with popular suggestions that are beyond the scope of the federal government. A “Citizen’s Forum” project last year in the country, for example, brought together 3,000 interested citizens who suggested that education systems (a state responsibility) be harmonized across the country. The idea was pretty much dead on arrival, as states have clung to that responsibility vehemently. Critical to the collection of useful ideas will be communicating to participants the scope of ideas being solicited (what is up for discussion, and what is not). Another essential step for the Chancellor’s office will be to ensure enough resources to wade through the ideas (6 hours after launching, a total of 123 have been posted).
Stay tuned for further updates as we track this exciting project.
All translations are my own.