Sub-Project Law Execution: Efficient & identity-enhancing law execution in the municipality of mid-sized towns

Public services are specified by legal regulations. Legislators enact legal norms to define services that are subsequently provided by municipalities. Many of the implementing authorities individually analyze legal texts in order to derive implications for their actions, for instance, to determine required form fields and to design internal processes. This results in redundant efforts, which mid-sized towns in particular can afford less than large cities due to their limited financial resources. In addition, mid-sized towns have to implement the central requirements on the one hand, while on the other hand they want to preserve and emphasize their identity, individuality and independence. Mid-sized towns have a strong local patriotism, but often do not have the financial means to strengthen their own identity through marketing activities. This is where a town's agency is called upon to position itself as a regional player, i.e. to demonstrate its capabilities. The resource-saving accentuation of the local identity is of essential importance, especially for mid-sized towns. Therefore, this sub-project develops a semi-automatic method that supports and simplifies law execution in public organizations with the help of reference models in such a way that redundant workloads are reduced and at the same time the local identity and logic of a mid-sized town are strengthened. This sub-project uses a design-oriented approach that goes through the phases of analysis, design (concept and demonstrator), evaluation, and diffusion, as it is common in information systems research.

Sub-Project Energy: Regional Energy & Sustainability

The sub-project " Regional energy and sustainability" develops a strategy for mid-sized towns to use digital technologies through which they can promote the use of renewable energy, sustainable behavior and the expansion of sustainable energy production in the region. It will explore whether targeted information, gamification approaches, and a positive motivational approach can encourage the use of regional energy and support the expansion of renewable energy in mid-sized towns and their surrounding areas. In view of a stagnating expansion of onshore wind power plants, which is also due to local resistance against plant construction, a promotion of acceptance and active participation plays an elementary role. Accordingly, this sub-project will comprehensively investigate possible barriers around the topic of sustainable electricity demand and the regional expansion of renewable energies. Mid-sized towns are in the focus of the considerations, since they and their surroundings are particularly suitable for the expansion of wind power and large-scale photovoltaic plants due to the often good conditions. On the one hand, it should be better understood under which conditions regional, sustainable energy is perceived by residents as particularly worthy of support. On the other hand, factors are to be identified through which the regions and their inhabitants increasingly support the common goal of 'sustainability'. The co-benefits for mid-sized towns, i.e. the positive effects and potentials of sustainable behavior and the promotion of renewable energies for the regions, will also be focused on. These co-benefits can, for example, contribute to the regional development of mid-sized towns and increase the attractiveness of the locations from the perspective of both industry and the population.

Sub-Project IT-Security: Stratgic Security Orchestration, Automation & Response for Digitizing Mid-sized Towns

Digitalization is a twofold challenge for small municipalities and mid-sized towns: On the one hand, processes within the town should be handled digitally and citizens should be given access to digitalized municipal services; on the other hand, resources for implementing digitalization are scarce outside metropolitan regions. In this setting, IT security takes on an essential role as municipal systems must be protected against security incidents and also citizens must trust these systems in order to use them. The paradigm of Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) offers great potential for small and mid-sized towns to counter security threats with a clear strategy as well as a high degree of automation, using the scarce resources effectively, e.g. in the events of cyberattacks or malware infections. Here, machine learning techniques are increasingly utilized to protect the infrastructure and detect incidents. But the specific requirements and implementation options for the digitization of small and mid-sized towns are still largely unexplored. This sub-project aims to fill this research gap by specifically exploring the threat landscape for municipal IT infrastructure, creating methods to detect vulnerable and critical systems, and developing a SOAR strategy for small and mid-sized towns. This strategy includes AI-powered automation through machine learning and response plans for potential security incidents. While parts of previous SOAR strategies may be transferred, for example from the logistics sector, small and mid-sized towns require their own adapted IT security mechanisms as their structure differs from that of companies. This sub-project will ultimately present a SOAR platform, to make potential attack targets visible and enable rapid responses under scarce resource availability. In addition, the aim is to strengthen trust in municipal IT systems by making the security gained through SOAR clearly visible and understandable to administrative employees and citizens alike. Therefore, this sub-project makes its own contribution to the IT security of small and mid-sized towns by researching SOAR methods and at the same time integrates itself into the context of the overall project goal, through joint work on energy infrastructure and city administration, as well as by gaining knowledge on trust and competences in dealing with IT security.

Sub-Project Trust: Trust Management in Mid-Sized Towns

About 80% of all public services in Germany are provided at the municipal level, and with the passage of the Online Access Act, the online provision of 575 public services will become mandatory across all federal levels. However, citizens nationwide still prefer to go to the office in person. Smaller municipalities in particular face the challenge of creating costly online services that are little used. In this context, the importance of the relationship of trust between citizens and public administrations comes into focus. A large number of studies show that trust has a positive effect on the willingness to use and on actual usage public online services. Towns in particular can benefit from the fact that they tend to enjoy a high level of trust. This is due, for example, to the spatial proximity, which allows a closer evaluation of political-administrative processes from the citizens’ point of view, but also makes political decisions directly perceptible. The trust of citizens in local public administrations can therefore be seen as a special asset of towns as compared to cities. However, the increasingly digital mediation of citizens’ interactions with their local public administration is changing the relationship of trust and is increasingly turning the technical infrastructure into an actor that is trusted or mediates trust between administration and citizens. In addition, the preservation of citizens’ digital sovereignty is increasingly in tension with the digitization measures of public administrations and can also have an impact on existing trust relationships. Against this background, the project investigates how existing trust relationships are changing and what new trust relationships are emerging in towns as a result of increasing administrative digitalization? Furthermore, a tool will be conceptualized that supports the strategic management of trust relationships in towns and that balances and supports the protection of economic interests of the public administration on the one hand and the protection of the digital sovereignty of citizens on the other hand.

Sub-Project Education: Educational Infrastructures in Mid-sized Towns

The sub-project Educational Infrastructures examines how digital infrastructures in education complement the existing educational offerings in mid-sized towns and looks at the potentials and limitations of digitalisation to support local educational infrastructures. The idea of the project departs from the observation that the opportunity structures of young people in German mid-sized towns are shaped by two main developments: On the one hand, young peoples’ access to education still varies substantially across the regions; on the other hand, the educational policies have been dominated by new digital forms of governance. The sub-project, however, places the accessibility of education centre stage, which points to the subjectively perceived accessibility of educational systems and the ability to shape and eventually change the educational decision-making. The partners work transdisciplinarily to scrutinise what the school-based, extracurricular, formal, and non-formal educational services in mid-sized towns are and to capture the various points and means of cooperation and communication (ways, reasons, interactions) among the actors. Based on the evidence gathered, they can provide insights on how to overcome the typical “pillarization” of educational landscapes and to enhance the life chances and opportunity structures of young people. The sub-project applies both qualitative and quantitative research methods in contrasting case studies. It is split into five working packages and starts with a reconstruction of institutional infrastructures, both school-based and extracurricular, by applying the method of document analysis. It then continues with researching the various rationalities, practices, and courses of action that appear among the actors involved. By applying expert interviews, the sub-project examines the existing processes and interactions in the mid-sized towns. Finally, the sub-project captures the competences, needs, and requirements of the educational policymakers and practitioners by conducting web-based expert surveys. In line with the knowledge-based and application-based foci of the research group, the sub-project also enquires into the possibilities of efficient use and/or establishment of digital infrastructures in mid-sized towns. In line with the overall concept of the research group, the sub-project seeks to understand how the processes of digitalisation shape the capabilities/capability sets of relevant actors in education, how they affect educational structures, networks, and processes, and what needs and requirements become visible and/or problematic. Since mid-sized towns are conceptualised as living labs and are actively involved in the research process, it becomes possible to examine, how the existing rationalities, practices, and actor-constellations are being re-framed and re-adjusted through the processes of digitalisation and to propose solutions in terms of policy recommendations, datasets, and reflexive tools.

Sub-Project Competences: E-competences & imparting e-competences in medium-sized local administrations

Federal structures, complex laws, and regulations as well as a large number of involved stakeholders make the public sector digitalisation a major challenge, especially in Germany. In this context, the e-government competence (e-competence) of public officials is proving to be a decisive success factor for digitalization projects and public sector digitalization as a whole. Previous research on e-competence, in particular frameworks, and e-competence training, including the eGov-Campus, offer limited added value for the specific challenges in mid-sized towns. On the one hand, it is necessary for mid-sized towns that local structures and administrative tasks are considered when defining competence needs. On the other hand, there is a need for adapted placement strategies to equip public officials with the appropriate competences and to provide them with continuous training. The sub-project "e-competences and imparting e-competences in medium-sized local administrations" ("Competences") within the research group "Future Smart Towns" develops a configurable reference model that shows the necessary e-competences for all roles in medium-sized local administrations and, depending on mid-sized town criteria, prototypical role-competence profiles so that the administrations can meet the digital requirements for providing customer-oriented services internally and at the interface to citizens and companies. In addition, the sub-project also addresses the question of how public officials can successfully acquire these e-competences. The sub-project can thus achieve an increase in the e-competence of a mid-sized town as a whole, so that the possibilities of digitalisation are exploited for more efficient processes and more citizen-friendly services. This contributes to the liveability of a mid-sized town in several ways. Citizens and businesses have to spend less time applying for and using administrative services. They perceive the public administration as digitally competent, which can lead to an increase in trust. Similarly, savings from increased efficiency can be invested in goods with a higher welfare contribution, such as education, culture, and sports. Since mid-sized towns are also not homogeneous in their structure and service provision, the role-specific e-competence service bundle must be formed criterion-dependently for specific mid-sized towns. For this purpose, it is necessary to make the reference model to be developed configurable, i.e. adaptable according to the criteria. The reference model includes tasks, roles, data, and processes specific to mid-sized towns as well as adequate mediation techniques for the efficient provision of stakeholder-friendly services.