TUM Center for Digital Public Services
TUM shapes digital administration for the new decade
Public authorities in Germany lag far behind their counterparts in most other EU countries when it comes to the digitalization of their operations. According to an EU Commission report, German residents rarely have online access to essential public services. This indicates an urgent need for action that has become even more apparent amid the coronavirus pandemic. Despite widespread agreement on the need for better online access to administrative services, many legal questions remain unresolved, for instance with regard to privacy. In many cases, the expertise needed to address these issues is in short supply.
To explore the legal foundations and draw up concrete legal, technical and organizational proposals for the design of digitalization projects in public administration, the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has now established the TUM Center for Digital Public Services. It will apply an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together lawyers with experts from the social sciences and informatics.
"We don't see laws as an obstacle, but rather as a design feature," says Prof. Dirk Heckmann, the director of the new research center, who also holds the TUM Chair of Law and Security of Digitization. "That means that we will be doing more than just analyzing the legal situation. We will also show how, from the very beginning, the same kind of foresight can be applied to legal aspects when developing e-government services that is applied to IT issues or user friendliness."
In the first step, the research center will launch an e-government study that will initially assess the needs of Bavaria's public authorities and identify quality criteria for digital services. This will serve as the basis for setting targets and creating solutions designed to gain public acceptance. "Big projects in Germany have often been doomed to failure due to the lengthy process of defining the legal framework. In our case, we want to take an agile approach for quick testing and validation of concepts for everyday use through intelligent pilot projects," says Heckmann. The researchers see the most urgent problems in healthcare and education. In these areas, digitalization could make it easier to cope with the economic and societal effects of the pandemic, for example, or create a more legally secure framework for remote examinations at schools and universities.
The TUM Center for Digital Public Services will work with the Bavarian School of Public Policy through the TUM Think Tank established during the coronavirus crisis to cooperate closely with ministries and public authorities and provide expert support for legislative initiatives. The center will initially receive funding for two years from the Bavarian Ministry for Digital Affairs.
Bavaria's Minister of Digital Affairs Judith Gerlach said: "In Bavaria, while striving for the full digitalization of our administrative services, we also want maximum efficiency, security and user-friendliness. This requires a thorough understanding of the legal and technical possibilities. The new research unit at TUM will provide ideal scientific backing to these efforts and represents a further step towards the optimal development of digital administration in Bavaria."
The TUM Center for Digital Public Services is integrated as a research center into TUM’s Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS), which investigates the interactions between technological and societal trends. "With the new center, which is unique in Germany, we are establishing a bridgehead between exceptional international research and modern administrative practice," says Prof. Thomas F. Hofmann, the President of TUM. "The goal is to make a decisive contribution to improving the speed, efficiency and user friendliness of the dealings of citizens and companies with public authorities." The results will also flow directly into the digitalization of the administration of TUM, which forms an integral part of the TUM AGENDA 2030 and is making great strides as a project under the excellence strategy of the federal government and the German states."
TUM established the Chair of Law and Security of Digitization at the TUM School of Governance in 2019. Its research and teaching activities explore the interaction between politics and technology, which plays a crucial role in nearly all policy fields today. The chair offers the course Legal Tech Expedition, which consists of videos, podcasts, dossiers and a coding course, for eight degree programs in political science, economics, informatics and engineering.