There is no doubt that the public sector and its administration are undergoing change. The evolution of public administration from the analog to the digital age represents both an immeasurable opportunity and a complex challenge for modern society. A major Munich suburban municipality finds itself in the eye of the storm: with a population of about 25,000, it manages, like so many municipalities in Germany, a diverse, cross-sector and modern population – with analog tools.

Not least the Online Access Act (Onlinezugangsgesetz – OZG), but also the ambitious plan of the Bavarian Council of Ministers to “digitize the most important administrative services across the board by the end of 2020” underscores the urgency of digitalization in municipalities. On the one hand, this urgency demonstrates the unconditional will to adapt the way the administration works to the needs of a society that is modernizing as a whole. However, in the eyes of the office management, it also reinforces the following areas of tension:

  • There is little clarity about the scope and consequences of digitalization
  • Employees are concerned about how work processes and the work environment will change, even to the point of fearing that their jobs will be eliminated
  • There is little knowledge about skills that will be needed in the short to long term in the various levels of administration

Based on these areas of tension, Breitenstein Consulting deployed an interdisciplinary team from October 2019 – January 2020, which used our transformation approach to initiate this gigantic change process in the context of the long-standing cooperation project “Change Management” between Breitenstein Consulting and LMU Munich. Based on our approach of first understanding the transformation holistically in order to later jointly develop, implement and anchor it, our team initiated an inventory of the community’s change architecture.

Our analysis shows: The human factor is decisive! When asked what municipality employees value about their workplace, many responded with the “social factor” and “closeness to the people”. Associations with digitalization are all the more striking: “anonymity,” “loss of closeness to the citizen,” and “information overload. In addition to political/organizational aspects (42%), it is socio-psychological factors (30%) ahead of technical aspects (28%) that represent the greatest barriers to digitalization.

In addition, our analysis shows that employees in the public sector often have only a limited understanding of digitalization – the idea of “paper freedom” is a predominant simplified idea here.

Digitalization education and the associated realistic “readiness” for change is therefore the first key. The state analysis also shows that there is a lack of clarity as to whether and, if so, how digitalization processes can incorporate important, social aspects of current work in the public sector. Our long experience shows that automation can improve the social, communicative aspect of work! Through creative, agile and innovative work.

Creativity, agility, innovation – words that seem foreign in the public sector. But it is precisely with these principles that we believe we can effectively shape the path of digital transformation in the public sector. The analysis of the municipality illustrates that precisely such principles, which we have been teaching our partners for years, can be a blueprint for public digitalization.

To initiate an effective paradigm shift in which principles of modernity are applied in a largely analog world of public service, the human factor must be moved to the center. Together with the community, then, we are embarking on this transformation to realize the full potential of digitalization.