Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
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.
Digital Transformation Process
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.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
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.
Challenges & Bottlenecks
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.
Transferability & Replicability
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.