There are two main stakeholders, that facilitate the activities of the Verschwörhaus. The first stakeholder group are the city administration and the initiative initative.ulm.digital that founded the Verschwörhaus and are responsible for the operational tasks surrounding the living lab. They provide the resources for the volunteers so that they can focus on the various projects and events happening at the Verschwörhaus. The initiative.ulm.digital consists of different local corporations. Therefore, the Verschwörhaus also has ties to private sector organizations. The second group of stakeholders are the volunteers that organize and host the events. They can freely decide what they want to do and through their efforts they bring the lab to life. Most of the volunteers working there have a background in the STEM fields and therefore provide technological knowledge and experience and share it with citizens that lack this kind of knowledge. The main beneficiaries of the Verschwörhaus are the members of the civil society as the Verschwörhaus is an opportunity for individuals to work with tools that are expensive or take a lot of space, for example, most people do not have laser-cutters at home. Individual citizens can experiment with these tool and get help by volunteers, who explain them how the tools work. Furthermore, also young people benefit from the Verschwörhaus, as it hosts events that are targeted to young people.
The co-creation processes taking place at the Verschwörhaus are diverse, as the volunteers that participate there are independent and pursue projects as they like. Because of this, the co-creation processes are characterized by a diverse set of actors and at the end, a prototype of a technological tool or product is presented. For example, some volunteers planned and developed a cheap circuit board, that can be used by students, individual citizens or the volunteers themselves to experiment with sensors or establish an Internet of Things. In this project the volunteers had the initial idea and came to one of the employees of the city administration to pitch it. The employee of the city administration procured the materials so that the volunteers could construct the circuit board. The volunteers then independently developed the circuit board. The funding was also partly provided by the initative.ulm.digital so it was possible for the volunteers to develop several prototypes. This example of co-creation shows that co-creation happens independently in the Verschwörhaus and is driven by the work of the volunteers. The role of the city administration is to facilitate this process and to solve problems.
At the Verschwörhaus facilitating the digital transformation of the public administration and civil society is not an explicit goal, however a lot of activities are targeted at developing digital tools or facilitating the digital infrastructure. Furthermore, the focus on digital transformation is also mirrored in the type of stakeholders of the Verschwörhaus, as the initiative.ulm.digital was founded to facilitate the digitalization of the city of Ulm. The digitalization is mainly driven by the outcomes the Verschwörhaus produces (as for example, the circuit board) or the events, where individual citizens learn about technology. Furthermore, the Verschwörhaus also helps public servants from the city of Ulm to digitize processes, as the head of the Verschwörhaus invites them to the living lab and hosts design-thinking workshops for them.
There are several benefits, that arise from the Verschwörhaus’ activities. For example, digital technologies become more accessible. Public servants and individual citizens can come to the Verschwörhaus and play around with tools and technologies as circuit boards. Especially the creation of prototypes leads to an enhanced understanding of technologies. Therefore, the public servants learn about different technologies and open up their minds about digitization. However, the impacts the Verschwörhaus has is partly dependent on how the prototypes can be scaled-up. As the Verschwörhaus is seen as an experimental space, it is questionable if an upscaling can be realized through the work of volunteers. For the civil society the benefits are that they have a space with advanced technological equipment to experiment with technology. Furthermore, knowledge-transfer is enabled, as the volunteers explain individual citizens how they can use the tools properly. The benefits for the volunteers working at the Verschwörhaus are the generation of knowledge and networks. For example, one motivation for the volunteers to create a circuit board was to learn how a circuit board is created. So they took the opportunity to learn more about technology themselves. Networks are generated, because the Verschwörhaus creates the opportunity for volunteers to meet like-minded people and share the knowledge and experience they have.
Even though the Verschwörhaus is independent in pursuing projects and setting goals, there are some legal barriers that inhibit the progress of some projects. For example, if the Verschwörhaus needs additional material resources (as, for example a circuit board) they have to follow the rules for procurement of the city of Ulm. Therefore, procuring new materials takes time which slows down project progress. The second barrier is the lack of staff, as there are only two employees of the city administration that work primarily at the Verschwörhaus. Therefore, the Verschwörhaus in not able to host as many events as they like, as the employees are present at these events and their work schedule does not allow for events on every day of the week. This limits the possibilities of the Verschwörhaus, as it is open only at a few days of the week for citizens to come there and work with the different tools. The third barrier is that the communication between the Verschwörhaus and the city administration is flawed sometimes. Reason is, that the volunteers working there, have a different mindset and educational background. Therefore, it is hard for the volunteers to justify what they do and why they need those expensive resources as the decision-makers at the administration lack technical knowledge to understand exactly what the projects are aiming at. This challenge is partly resolved through the efforts of the head of the Verschwörhaus, who is working part time at the Verschwörhaus. He serves as transmission between the volunteers at the Verschwörhaus and the city administration because he has a STEM-background as well but also knows the organizational structure and culture of the city administration.
The activities of the Verschwörhaus are dependent on the work of a lot of volunteers that contribute time and resources in their leisure time. Therefore, the transferability of the concept of the Verschwörhaus is dependent on an active civil society that is willing to get involved in such a project. Here, the city of Ulm has a few advantages because some local firms are technological, innovative firms, and some of them collaborate already with the Verschwörhaus. Furthermore, in the civil society there are a lot of highly-educated people with a background in the STEM-fields that volunteer at the Verschwörhaus. This economic-political context might be rare, so if another city wants to adopt this concept, they should strategically think about if there are volunteers with fitting knowledge available that would volunteer. The second factor that is important for transferability is, that the decision-makers within the administration as well as the employees at the Verschwörhaus need to be careful not to demotivate the volunteers working there. In this case, the Verschwörhaus enjoys political support and the volunteers can freely decide which projects they want to pursue. However, for an administration this might by risky, as the absence of formal goals makes it hard to justify why a living lab might be necessary for the city.
There are several factors, that contribute to the success of the Verschwörhaus. The first factor is the physical space and equipment of the Verschwörhaus. The Verschwörhaus is located at the city centre and is easily reachable by bike and public transportation. Therefore, it is possible for a lot of citizens to come to the Verschwörhaus. Besides the different tools there is also a kitchen where the volunteers can meet and cook together, so the equipment of the Verschwörhaus also facilitates a sense of community. The second factor is the technological infrastructure, as the variety of tools enables the volunteers to create prototypes. Furthermore, they provide free Wi-Fi and server infrastructure so the volunteers can bring their own technical devices. The third success factor is the political support the Verschwörhaus enjoys from the mayor of the city. The mayor initiated the Verschwörhaus and enables that the Verschwörhaus can act independently. For example, the mayor convinced sceptics within the administration to take the financial risk without knowing the benefits the Verschwörhaus could produce beforehand. The fourth success factor is the freedom of action that the Verschwörhaus has, as they can set their goals independently without limits or requirements that have to be fulfilled. The employees of the Verschwörhaus support the volunteers and provide them feedback, without determining the goals of a project. The fifth success factor is the mindset of the volunteers and public servants working at the Verschwörhaus. The volunteers are crucial in this regard, because the Verschwörhaus is dependent on the input they provide, as they have specialized knowledge that public administrators do not possess. They are highly motivated, as they contribute time and effort to pursue the projects of the Verschwörhaus. The same applies to the head of the Verschwörhaus, as he is also motivated to work with volunteers as well as facilitates the co-creation processes within the Verschwörhaus and communicates the results back to the administration.
This case study on the Verschwörhaus highlights the importance of political support, sufficient financial and material resources as well as the independence of the organization. To be successful, it is necessary to facilitate the voluntary effort that the Verschwörhaus is dependent on. This happens through the ongoing support from the mayor as well as the operational support from the head of the Verschwörhaus. They have recognized that the volunteers need the best environment possible to work on the solutions and projects and that the task of the administration is to facilitate this environment. Especially important here, is that the collaboration between the administration and the Verschwörhaus still needs some adjustment, as the barriers that are described by the respondents refer to the lack of staff as well as the scepticism of decision-makers within the public administration of the city of Ulm. Therefore, if a lab is too independent from its founding organization, it might be the case, that it loses its legitimacy within the organization, as the benefits produced by the lab do not benefit the administration as well.
Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
The amount of stakeholders and beneficiaries of GovLab Arnsberg is small. The main stakeholder of GovLab Arnsberg is the regional president. As he initiated GovLab Arnsberg, he is particularly interested in its activities and success and offers the employees at GovLab Arnsberg continuous support. The other important stakeholder group within the administration of GovLab Arnsberg are the front-line employees that deliver the services. The employees of GovLab Arnsberg perceive them as experts and value the knowledge they incorporate into the co-creation process. Furthermore, to carry out their projects, the employees at GovLab Arnsberg collaborate with actors outside the regional administration. Those are civil society organizations, private firms and individual citizens. Those collaborations are vital for the success of GovLab Arnsberg’s projects. For example, one civil society association payed for a chatbot-software that was needed to develop a chatbot for the regional administration’s website. Besides the private firms and civil society organization, GovLab Arnsberg also tries to interact with living labs from private sector organizations to share knowledge and information, that enables the employees of GovLab Arnsberg to improve the processes of the living lab continuously.
The co-creation process of GovLab Arnsberg consists of two parts: idea generation and idea development. The process of idea generation is designed in a bottom-up way, as public servants are invited to submit ideas. For example, they can contact the employees working at GovLab Arnsberg and describe processes that need to be re-designed. One respondent described, that they have received over 100 messages from public servants with ideas for processes that could be improved. Therefore, the process of idea generation is open, as every public servant can submit ideas. Besides the individual submission of project-ideas by public servants, the employees of GovLab Arnsberg also act proactively and look for processes or services that could be redesigned. The ideas submitted by the public servants or the GovLab employees themselves are turned into improvements through design-thinking workshops hosted by the employees of GovLab Arnsberg. The participants in these workshops are internal users, for example, frontline employees or external users that receive a service. The design-thinking process is split in two parts: in the first part, user research is conducted. The participants are asked to adopt a perspective of users to identify user needs and problems. From the information received, personas are developed that depict the needs of users. In the second part the participants create user journeys to analyse the process or service in question. From those user journeys a prototype is developed. The co-creation process is driven by the participants of the individual workshops. The role of the GovLab Arnsberg employees is to facilitate the workshops by moderating the discussions and providing resources.
Digital Transformation Process
In GovLab Arnsberg, the co-creation processes primarily aim at re-designing processes and services and the respondents did not mention that they are automatically digitized. However, the employees of GovLab Arnsberg are aware, that digitizing processes might help them to achieve the goals of being more efficient and effective. So, they opt for digital solutions when they can. For example, they developed a chatbot to improve the website of the regional administration. As one respondent described, the chatbot had several positive effects, as they enabled the administration to collect data on how users use the website and those additional data helped them to improve the website even more. However, those benefits of digitizing services and processes are small, as GovLab Arnsberg had, at the time of data collection, no plans to upscale the developed solutions to other agencies. Instead, the initial goal was to develop small-scale solutions that help to convince sceptics within the organization that GovLab Arnsberg can be valuable to the whole organization.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
There are several results produced by GovLab Arnsberg. The first one are prototypes of re-designed processes and services. Those can be, for example, the chatbot that was described above. Besides the benefits of collecting data and improving the website as making it more user-friendly, the successful re-design of services and processes might also lead, in the long-term, to a change in the organizational culture. This is the case, because the employees of the regional administration changed their attitudes towards GovLab Arnsberg. In the beginning, they were skeptical and interest in the workshops offered by GovLab Arnsberg was low. This changed after the first projects of GovLab Arnsberg were successful. Besides a change in mindset of the frontline employees, also top-level employees changed their mindset about innovation practices in the regional administration. The change in mindset occurred, as GovLab Arnsberg demonstrated that developing (digital) solutions must not necessarily be costly but can be achieved with small changes in the administrative set up. However, the long-term impact of the initiation of GovLab Arnsberg cannot be assessed with the data collected, as GovLab Arnsberg was in an experimental stage at the time the data was collected. Instead of producing long-term solutions, they focused at experimenting with different methods.
Challenges & Bottlenecks
There are three main challenges of GovLab Arnsberg: legal challenges, the mindset of public servants as well as the skills of individual employees. The legal framework was a challenge for GovLab Arnsberg, as they limit the freedom and room for maneuver. For example, the implementation of the chatbot was hindered by the existing laws, as they could not use a cloud-based service which limited the amount of software to implement the chatbot. Furthermore, the laws limit the creativity at design-thinking workshops as the public servants were concerned to break laws when they were re-designing existing processes and services. Therefore, public servants are careful when thinking about the use of technology to implement new or re-designed services. The second challenge is the mindset of individual public servants. At the beginning, some public servants did not allow their employees to participate at design-thinking workshops as they did not see the advantages. This demonstrates that some public servants are risk-averse. The risk-aversion is also seen in the interpretation of the existing laws, described in the paragraph above. The third challenge is the skillset of the employees of the regional administration. Most of the employees receive extensive legal training in their education, so the main skill of public servants is to interpret laws. What is missing are skills to assess and evaluate technologies. This is problematic, as for the implementation of the prototypes developed within the design-thinking workshops the regional administration needs employees can implement those technologies at large scale.
Transferability & Replicability
As GovLab Arnsberg was only a year old at the time the data was collected, it was still in an experimental stage and scaling up the prototypes developed was not an initial goal. Therefore, there are only hints in the data on how the results of GovLab Arnsberg can be transferred to other contexts. However, the strategy of GovLab Arnsberg, that is to be successful on a small scale to convince sceptics and enhance the legitimacy of its actions might be also a strategy that works in other contexts, as the co-creation barriers described earlier are not unique and might be present (to varying extent) in other contexts.
There are three success factors that enabled GovLab Arnsberg to carry out their projects: political support, acting outside organizational hierarchies and provision of material resources. The political support GovLab Arnsberg has enables experimentation at GovLab Arnsberg. The regional president grants them the freedom to experiment with different ideas and make decisions independently. Furthermore, GovLab Arnsberg directly reports the progress to the regional president in regular meetings instead of writing reports. Furthermore, the regional president supports the activities of GovLab Arnsberg which legitimizes the projects of GovLab Arnsberg and makes them immune of criticism stemming from middle managers. The second success factor lies in the organizational arrangement GovLab Arnsberg is embedded in. Formally, GovLab Arnsberg is part of the IT department and from the budget of the IT departments the salaries of the employees are paid. However, the head of the IT department is not involved in the operational business and strategic alignment of GovLab Arnsberg. This leads to faster decision-making processes and contributes independence of GovLab Arnsberg, that is also stemming from the political support. The third success factor is the equipment that enables GovLab Arnsberg to carry out design-thinking workshops. Here, the goal was to provide a room that is visually and physically different from the other offices of the regional administration. For example, the employees bought furniture from Ikea instead of using the official procurement system. This influences the overall atmosphere of the lab and stimulated creative thinking.
From this case study, it becomes evident, that political support is crucial for the labs survival and success. Without the top-level support, GovLab Arnsberg would not have been able to carry out its activities independently. Furthermore, the top-level support enhances the legitimacy of the lab within the regional administration. This freedom is reflected also in the organizational set-up that grants the GovLab freedom from the rigid hierarchical structure that slows down decision-making processes. In addition, the analysis of GovLab Arnsberg has shown that most of the barriers that inhibit the co-creation processes within an administration are deeply ingrained in the regional administration. The organizational culture as well as the mindset and skills of individual employees challenged the co-creation activities of GovLab Arnsberg. However, the analysis has also shown, that those barriers can be overcome, if the initial projects are carried out successfully.