5 Questions for… Martin Wimmer

GovTech describes technologies that digitise services and processes in the public sector. To put it directly: What is the benefit?

Digital solutions improve people’s access to important services such as health care, education and social services worldwide and can even save lives, as the COVID 19 pandemic recently impressively demonstrated. The digital transformation of governance has therefore experienced an enormous upswing in recent years. At its core, it is about how the state can use technological advances for the benefit of citizens. In times of crisis, it becomes particularly clear how – despite all the risks of digitalisation – GovTech solutions can bring benefits. Take the example of Ukraine: its digital public infrastructure in many places proved highly resilient to bombs and missiles. Citizens in Ukraine can still register a business, apply for state benefits or report war damage because the digital administration works despite Russian attacks.

What is the situation in Germany in terms of GovTech and digital public infrastructure?

In fact, there is a growing GovTech scene in Germany in which public authorities and companies are jointly pushing digital solutions, for example platforms to improve citizen participation, eGovernment systems to simplify administrative processes or smart city solutions to optimise urban infrastructures. Worldwide, a third of people are still offline, whereas here we see a lot of complaining on a high level. Compared to the rest of the world, the German digital scene is much better than its reputation, not least because of its excellent research institutions. At the same time, our GovTech scene is often still too strongly focused on the administration in German federalism. But there are also ICT markets in the Global South: labour markets, data markets, sales markets. I would like to see more openness and courage here. There are 2,000 FinTechs on the African continent alone – there is a lot to learn, to cooperate, to grow with and to stimulate business with outstanding German solutions.

What approach is the BMZ taking to promote digital public infrastructure?

This year, for the first time, the German government is developing an international digital strategy. In anticipation of this, the BMZ has already named the GovStack initiative as a lighthouse in the national digital strategy in 2022. GovStack offers a construction kit for secure and trustworthy digital administrative services. From identity management and payment systems to databases with corresponding interfaces, GovStack provides combinable building blocks as digital public goods. These can be reused by public authorities worldwide and adapted according to their needs. The solutions developed come back into the initiative’s network and can thus be used by all partners – including Germany, by the way.

That sounds like we could still learn from our partner countries in the area of GovTech?

Sure. What is working in Kigali or Kiev can also help in Kreuzberg or Kiel. When technologies developed in emerging countries are used in industrialised countries, it’s called ‘reverse innovation’. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, German health offices used the open-source software SORMAS for contact tracing, which the BMZ had originally funded with a view to Ebola pandemic management. We want to explore which ideas from international cooperation will also help us in Germany. Therefore, we rely on innovative partners such as the GovTech Campus, which has set itself the task of promoting digital solutions for the public sector in Germany. Because one thing is clear: in the end, everyone benefits from trustworthy digital partnerships – at both national and international level.

What message would you like to give to the readers of [digital.global]?

The goal of each of us should be a social and ecological digital transformation. We all – whether we are active in politics, business, civil society or academia – should actively shape it in a value-oriented way: a digitalisation that closes existing gaps instead of widening them – especially those between women and men. A digitalisation that reduces hunger and poverty, protects the climate and prevents future pandemics.