Connecting with Germany's digitization scene
In the last couple years that I've been living in Berlin, I've become increasingly interested in the topics of digitization -- particularly of government and public services -- and civic tech. In the interest of easing the path for any others who are interested in following these developments within Germany, here is a list of starting points, loosely organized by areas of interest and types of resources. It is of course not exhaustive (I'm open to any suggestions for additions!), but I hope it might be helpful for other people trying to get an initial lay of the landscape in Germany.
Since I live in Berlin, most of these resources have a strong Berlin bias - sorry in advance for that. Additionally, be aware that not all of these resources are available in English, but I am sure if you have any specific questions, the relevant points of contacts for all of these place would be happy to offer you more information in English. Finally, I will update this post regularly with further suggestions or additional thoughts of my own (last updated: 24 October 2017).
Open Data & Civic Tech
Open Knowledge Foundation Germany (OKFDE): They are, of course, a natural starting point. Germany's chapter is very active with projects (some of which are mentioned later in this post) and also participates in some lobbying, although that doesn't seem to be one of their main functions. They were involved in shaping Germany's recently-enacted Open Data Law, for example.
Datenschule is one of many initiatives from OKFDE, but one that probably deserves to be acknowledged in its own right (thanks for the suggestion, @miskaknapek). They focus on empowering non-profits and NGOs to better understand and make use of data; they also partner with a number of transparency-related inititaives, like OffenesParlament and JedeSchule.
- Code for Germany: Also an OKFDE project, this is a country-wide initiative to bring together individuals interested in Open Data, including but not limited to programmers and designers, to work on data-oriented projects that serve a public good.
- Individual OD portals: More and more government-led Open Data portals are springing up in Germany, although from my perspective it still hasn't penetrated to the more local levels of government.
- GovData: This is the national-level portal. It's frequently updated and is generally intuitive to use, although from a curation perspective I think it's fairly weak -- it provides people with data, but doesn't necessarily encourage them to engage with the topic of OD.
- State-Level Portals: It is up to individual Bundesländer to set up their own OD strategies, and from a public-facing perspective, not a lot has come out of this yet. One notable exception seems to be the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen, whose OpenNRW platform embraces not just Open Data but the whole concept of Open Government. Most other states have only a nominal platform.
- Berlin-Specific: Since I live in Berlin, I'm a little more familiar with what's happening here. Berlin has an open data portal, though I don't find it particularly inspiring. This portal falls under the mandate of the government-led "ProjektZukunft" which generally exists to advance certain digital topics in the city. Most of these are explicitly business-oriented, but they also do some OD advocacy, such as a Berlin Open Data conference in October.
- Frag den Staat: This is the German freedom of information portal. Run by OKFDE, it enables visitors to easily submit freedom of information requests and publishes the responses for all to see.
- KleineAnfragen: This site, also from the OKFDE, publishes the answers to informational questions posted by state-level or national-level parliamentarians - think, questions about how much a given program costs in a year or what the assessed status of Germany's train bridges are.
- AbgeordnetenWatch: This the platform for tracking elected officials' voting behavior and lobbying connections, among other topics.
- Civocracy: Unlike the other websites listed here, Civocracy is a not an open platform but rather a service that is available for cities to deploy to involve citizens in certain deliberative processes. It's not specific to the German context, but it is a Berlin-based start-up that I think is doing interesting things in the realm of civic tech and open government.
- Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung (BPB): This doesn't fit in here perfectly, but I wanted to at least acknowledge their existence in this post. The BPB offers a huge array of educational resources for understanding politics both in Germany and across the globe; one of their most famous offerings is the "Wahl-o-mat", an online tool that allows people to answer questions about their political beliefs so they can see which parties standing in the next election fit to their viewpoints and access further information on the election. The next election's Wahl-o-mat will be available at the end of August.
Many of these resources, plus some additional ones, are expanded upon in greater detail in this blog post from Joe Mitchell.
Advocacy and Research
- Netzpolitik: This is the go-to resource for staying abreast of the politics surrounding digital topics in Germany. The subject matter tends to be more in the realm of privacy and internet politics than civic tech or e-government, but it is nevertheless a valuable resource and worth following if you are specifically interested in digital Germany.
- Tactical Tech: They explore the "political and social role of technology in our lives", often utilizing creative campaigns and clever uses of various media to do so.
- D64 / Zentrum für Digitalen Fortschritt: This organization aims to play a role in shaping the future of digitalization in Germany with a specific focus on topics like data protection, the future of work, and transparency. Like Netzpolitik, they can be a good resource for staying on top of new developments in these areas (including through their "D64 Newsticker" daily news update).
- Digitale Gesellschaft: This organization also focuses more specifically on internet policy, usually through targeted campaigns and statements related to specific German political initiatives. They also host a "Netzpolitischer Abend" once a month where experts and activists discuss their projects, initiatives and passions related to digital civil society in Germany.
- Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (SNV): This think tank focuses on the role politics play in shaping Germany's digital future. They have a particularly strong set of experts as part of their team and consistently produce interesting research and related content (like this Medium article on how Open Data is transforming a town in Nordrhein-Westfalen), as well as worthwhile events.
- Humboldt institut für Internet und Gesellschaft (HIIG): Like SNV, this is a very well-respected research institute that also consistently produces interesting, quality reports and studies on digital topics. They have a regular "Digitaler Salon" event series that features experts from the field talking about highly relevant digital topics like algorithms, blockchain, etc.
- Technologie Stiftung Berlin: Similar to the previous two, this is a foundation that focuses on the practical, real-world implications of technology through publications and projects.
- Vodafone Institute for Society and Communications: They are a think tank focussing on the use of digital technologies "for innovation, growth and sustainable social impact." They have a selection of publications and do events intermittently, but I don't feel like they are as innovative in the field as some of these other foundations and organizations.
- Initiative D21: This is a network generally focused on digitalization in Germany. They have a variety of focus areas and publications, including some focussing on E-Government and related initiatives in Germany. Their overall content is pretty bland however -- no particularly new or innovative ideas.