by Anja Rueß
Inside SCALINGS – Meet Ulm’s “Digital Municipality of the Future”:
SCALINGS collaborates with numerous case study projects all across Europe. But how does such a partnership look like in practice? In this report Anja Rueß, a SCALINGS researcher, tells us about her work.
A Public-Engagement Event in Ulm
On a Friday evening in April 2019 almost 70 citizens of Ulm, a lively city in the South of Germany, gathered to discuss how everyday life in their quarter, the “Alter Eselsberg”, will change in the near future. They are convinced that it will be influenced by new and emerging technologies. And they feel responsible for finding ways in which everyone in the quarter can benefit from technical improvements.
Amongst the participants was also Anja Rueß, a researcher from the SCALINGS team in Munich. As SCALINGS aims to better understand co-creation processes, Anja was observing the event on behalf of SCALINGS.
The brainstorming workshop was organized as a part of the project “Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm” (Digital Municipality of the Future) and provided a platform for citizens and other stakeholders to exchange views on the future of life in their quarter. In the course of the event, participants discussed emerging opportunities and challenges of technical improvements, imagined solutions for current problems and tried to develop a common vision for the “Alter Eselsberg”.
Why SCALINGS and “Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm” Cooperate: An Interview with Anja Rueß
Anja, why did you attend the workshop and how does it connect to SCALINGS?
The project “Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm” serves as a case study for SCALINGS, as part of the urban energy focus area. The brainstorming workshop in April, for instance, can be considered a co-creation event, as citizens and other stakeholders deliberated jointly on the future of the Eselsberg quarter. For me as a researcher, the interesting part was to observe how participants interacted as well as what kinds of ideas emerged and in what ways. In the upcoming months, these ideas will be further developed and tested in the district that eventually turns into what we call a living lab – i.e. a user-centered innovation space, which places the idea of experimentation in a real world context. That’s why “Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm” makes a great fit for the SCALINGS research agenda.
What exactly did you do when attending the workshop?
My work consists of two main components: observing and talking. When I do an ethnographic observation, I pay close attention to my environment and I take detailed field notes about what people do or say and how they interact. During the brainstorming workshop, I also approached some participants directly to ask them about their impressions and perspectives.
The participants of the workshop: did they have time at all for in-depth interviews?
No, not in that case. The event was tightly scheduled and very dense in content. That’s why I decided to stick to informal conversations, which I captured in the form of thought protocols, to get a more general impression. A formal interview, on the other hand, takes 30-60 minutes; this requires me to schedule meetings with the citizens or stakeholders I would like to interview in advance.
What happens with all the data you generated during the workshop and the interviews?
Since most interviewees allow me to record conversations, I end up with a number of audio files. Those files are transcribed into plain text, which we can then use for the ongoing analysis. My field notes from ethnographic observations, on the other hand, are usually extremely messy. In order to make such hand-written notes accessible, I re-write them as a cohesive text and of course in a digital format.
What does this mean: You and the other researchers are using the data for the ongoing analysis?
All SCALINGS researchers collect similar data for similar case studies across our partner countries. This means we are currently accumulating a humongous amount of field notes and transcriptions. However, data collection is only a first step towards our research aim. In order to make our cases comparable, we categorize our data in a structured way. This process is called coding and essential for our comparative analysis as well as our approach to the central research question: How do co-creation practices relate to their local particularities and to what extent can they be scaled up or transferred to other contexts?
“Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm”: What Is the Project All About?
In 2018, a total of 74 municipalities applied to be become one of the “Digitale Zukunftskommunen” (Digital Municipalities of the Future) of the German state of Baden-Württemberg. Ulm, along with three other cities and a collective of five administrative districts, won the bid. During the next three years, Ulm will pilot innovative digital infrastructure in the model quarter “Alter Eselsberg”.
The vision of “Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm” is “to harness digital innovation to improve peoples’ lives in a sustainable and cross-generationally equitable manner”, Sabine Meigel, Director of the Department “Digitale Agenda” of the City of Ulm, explains. “Digitalization is to be made tangible for the residents of the “Alter Eselsberg” quarter with solutions they can co-develop.”
Therefore, ideas about how to include digital innovation in peoples’ daily lives are collected from the local citizenry: “Here, co-creation brings together actors from science, business, the city and civil society in the implementation process [in the five thematic fields: Life in the quarter; mobility; environment, energy and utility supply/waste disposal; trade; infrastructure and data platform]. In the “Alter Eselsberg” quarter, we put a strong emphasis on public engagement: The project is not interested in simply deploying digital solutions but tries to create examples that help make digitalization and the benefits of urban data platforms more tangible for citizens.”
To put this in a nutshell: “We are better at developing sustainable digital solutions for local needs if we develop them jointly.”
If the solutions developed in the course of the project work out in the “Alter Eselsberg” quarter, they might be transferred to other parts of the city or other municipalities.
SCALINGS & “Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm”: What Happens Next?
SCALINGS is about to enter its second project phase: Having conducted observations and interviews in co-creation projects across 10 European countries, SCALINGS will compare findings and share them with interested case-study partners. As a next step, these partners, in close cooperation with the team, can implement these findings in the further course of their projects.
After the brainstorming workshop, “Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm”, too, is entering the next project stage. All ideas developed during the workshop together with insights from a subsequent online participation will be elaborated, clustered, evaluated and, some of them, implemented. Certainly, the project will continue to make use of co-creation as a means of involving all relevant stakeholders – true to the motto: After a co-creation process is before a co-creation process…
Learn more on Digitale Zukunftskommune@Ulm: