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October 15, 2020

The Coronavirus pandemic is speeding up digitalisation in local government

▪ An average visit to local authorities takes 2.5 hours

▪ Citizens demand more online services from local government

▪ The Smart Country Convention will take place on 27 and 28 October

The coronavirus pandemic is forcing local government to offer online services – that is the impression most people have. Two out of three German citizens (66 per cent) are of the opinion that the crisis is accelerating digitalisation efforts in local government. That is one of the findings of a representative survey of more than 1,000 people aged 18 and above in Germany, commissioned by the digital association Bitkom. According to the survey nearly half of all local government offices (47 per cent) have introduced new online services since the pandemic began. One in five German citizens (22 per cent) have already made use of them, while 25 per cent have not yet done so. One in ten (10 per cent) would like to see online services introduced in response to the pandemic, but were disappointed by the availability in their home town. 43 per cent do not know whether their home town has new online local government services. “During the coronavirus crisis many towns and municipalities have begun setting up online services out of nowhere, have given up requirements for written forms in record time, made it possible to fill in forms online and have ensured people no longer have to appear in person. This has been well received by the general public “, said Dr. Bernhard Rohleder, managing director of Bitkom. “Policymakers, businesses and municipalities need to talk about the next steps and make the digital transformation permanent.“

The Smart Country Convention is the platform for the digital transformation in local government and the public sector, which on 27 and 28 October will be taking place for the first time as a virtual event. The online event combines a convention and networking events on the topic of eGovernment and smart cities. The object is to learn from the experiences of the best, speed up digitalisation and implement it according to people’s needs. Jens Heithecker, executive vice president of Messe Berlin, said: “Due to the constantly changing situation regarding the coronavirus pandemic, together with the digital association Bitkom we have decided to hold the Smart Country Convention as a Special Edition. It means the event will occupy a virtual space. Participants can follow the wide-ranging convention programme in the comfort of their home or the office, as a live stream or as a video after the event. Virtual networking is available too.“

An average visit to a local government office takes up 2.5 hours

A look at how local authorities work shows how much there is still to do. In Germany an average visit to a local authority takes up 148 minutes of one’s time. Travelling back and forth takes 59 minutes, waiting at the local authority 64 minutes, and dealing with the matter in question 25 minutes. Overall, eight out of ten citizens (83 per cent) are of the opinion that local authorities generally require too much time to deal with their concerns. It is therefore no surprise that 76 per cent take the view that visiting local authorities online can save time. One in two people (52 per cent) are convinced that the majority of administrative matters could easily be dealt with online. “There is no reason why people should have to take time off simply in order for a local authority to deal with their concerns. It is not just in the coronavirus crisis that such duties are an anachronism. The aim must be, without exception, to offer online local government services at federal, state, municipal and every subordinate level“, said Rohleder.

An armchair virtual visit beats piles of paper at the local authority

At present four out of five German citizens (82 per cent) say they want their visit to a local authority to be online. Nine out of ten (91 per cent) take the view that applying for and renewing documents such as a passport or ID, and having them delivered, should be an automatic process. 82 per cent think that a standard “citizen’s account” which could be used for identification and authentication purposes and for access to all online local government services would be a good idea. Four out of ten citizens (44 per cent) would be willing to fill in personal information once in order for it to be subsequently shared by local authorities. “Putting the Online Access Law into practice is one of the most important steps en route to a digitalised state. To date, 315 out of the target number of 575 services are available online“, said Rohleder. “What is important is that online access to a local authority is user-friendly, quick and environmentally sustainable.“

Online services for families are particularly in demand. Thus one in two people (50 per cent) think that services such as child and family allowances should be dealt with online. The same applies to obtaining a birth certificate (42 per cent). 93 per cent would favour a centralised portal where they could register children at kindergarten and school and be offered an automatic kindergarten place, in order to minimise the time registering takes. Rohleder: “Anyone wanting to have children in Germany subsequently needs a lot of patience to obtain routine local government services. Instead of complicated registration procedures we need form-free processing and centralised portals to be able to offer kindergarten and school places.“

Digital democracy: citizens want to participate more online

Being able to access local authorities online is not where the story ends. Nine out of ten people (91 per cent) say that citizens need to be involved more in developing and shaping the digital transformation in towns and municipalities. Popular suggestions include being able to report problems in public spaces (76 per cent) and making suggestions online for improving the quality of life in one’s home town (72 per cent). 45 per cent would like to participate online in planning and decision-making in politics and local government. Nearly two out of five (39 per cent) would use the internet to cast their vote in elections, while a similar percentage (36 per cent) would take the opportunity to submit their ideas on how taxes could be put to use in local budgets. 30 per cent would sign online petitions. Rohleder: “A democracy must be able to act, particularly in times of crisis. That coincides with people’s desire to be involved more – and the easiest way to do that is via the internet. Federal and state governments must establish a legal framework to enable citizens to become involved online in all areas.“

Most people trust their town council on issues regarding digitalisation

However, the greater people’s expectations of a town’s ability to provide online services, the more they are disappointed by reality: more than one in two respondents (57 per cent) say their home town is lagging behind in online services. Only just over one-third (37 per cent) take the view that their municipality has taken a leading role. 78 per cent would like towns and municipalities to make a greater effort with online services. Nevertheless, people retain a high level of confidence in their local government’s expertise regarding online services: two out of three people (64 per cent) trust the ability of their town or municipality’s local government to deal competently with issues regarding digitalisation. “City halls now have to justify the faith citizens have placed in them”, said Rohleder.

Methodology: the information provided is based on a survey conducted by Bitkom Research and commissioned by the digital association Bitkom. A telephone survey was carried out among 1,004 people in Germany aged 18 or over. The findings are representative