Germany’s cities and towns are where the country’s demographic challenges are being experienced firsthand. The Bertelsmann Stiftung has therefore developed a demographics portal for this target group which all interested parties can access online. The population forecasts offered by Wegweiser Kommune (Community Roadmap) continue to be a unique selling point: unencumbered by political requirements and developed together with expert partners, such as state-level statistical authorities and Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, the portal makes its forecasts and action plans available to all cities and towns in Germany with over 5,000 inhabitants. With 193,000 visitors each year, Wegweiser Kommune has now become a recognized data portal throughout the country and is appreciated by local-level actors as a central source of data.
The Bertelsmann Stiftung was one of the first independent drivers of reform to systematically address the impact of demographic change on German society. It began its activities in this area in 2003 and they are currently scheduled to continue until 2022.
When the public debate on this issue first gained momentum, it was dominated by horror scenarios and warnings of negative trends, a situation the Bertelsmann Stiftung wanted to counteract. A main aspect of its “Demographic Change Campaign” was portraying this fundamental process of social transformation as an opportunity – if the right steps were taken to respond to it.
Awareness campaign in cooperation with German President Horst Köhler
After launching its program work, the Bertelsmann Stiftung pursued a dual strategy: On the one hand, the political, business and public spheres were to be sensitized to the consequences of demographic change. On the other, the relevant data, action plans and practical examples were to be made available to Germany’s communities, since they are where demographic developments are being experienced firsthand.
One of the milestones of the awareness campaign at the national level was the Demographic Change Forum, an initiative of German President Horst Köhler in cooperation with the Bertelsmann Stiftung. Between December 2005 and April 2009, numerous conferences and workshop discussions took place as part of this alliance. In his remarks at the final conference President Köhler said:
Partnerships with Germany’s states
An early example of the awareness campaign at the state level was the Demoggraphic Summit organized together with the Saxon State Chancellery on April 21, 2004. Renowned population experts convened at the event from throughout Germany to discuss topics such as the state’s ability to take action, financial resources, family policy, the labor market and training, as well as urban development and planning. One of their key conclusions was:
Many communities in the country’s eastern regions are now experiencing what communities in western Germany will experience in a few years: shrinking populations, increased aging, the departure of younger and mobile residents and, as a result, reductions in educational and other basic infrastructure. The information presented at this summit has clearly demonstrated how demographic change can be turned into an opportunity for society.
Based on the Saxon Demography Summit, numerous other events were organized together with various partners in other German states.
Communities: where demographic challenges are experienced firsthand
Since the Bertelsmann Stiftung began addressing the topic in 2003, it has firmly believed that Germany’s cities and towns are where demographic challenges come together and are experienced firsthand. A focus was therefore put on this target group during the awareness-raising phase. A representative survey of mayors carried out by the foundation in 2005 showed how significant the topic of demographic change is: 72.1 percent of the respondents said it is highly relevant and called for an information and early warning system, including forecasts, to help them address the relevant challenges.
In February 2006 at the Communities Creating the Future conference in Berlin, the Bertelsmann Stiftung released for the first time findings from the Wegweiser Kommune project, which was then called Wegweisers Demographischer Wandel (Demographic Change Roadmap).
The population forecasts provided by Wegweiser Kommune continue to be a unique selling point: Unencumbered by political requirements and developed together with expert partners, such as state-level statistical authorities and Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, the project makes its forecasts and action plans available to all communities in Germany with over 5,000 inhabitants (3,053 cities and towns and 294 rural districts). Wegweiser Kommune thus offers an evidence-based view of the developments taking place in the policy fields of demographic change, education, public finance, integration, sustainability, health and nursing care, and social affairs, as well as the economy and job market.
The information platform (explained in this video in German) was initially geared toward local-level policy makers and public administrators. The platform’s user group has become much more diverse and it is now an important source of information for academics, journalists and members of the public, allowing them to become actively involved in shaping demographic change on site.
Impact of Wegweiser Kommune
The Bertelsmann Stiftung has repeatedly asked external experts to evaluate its program activities in the area of demographic change to ensure it is effectively meeting the target group’s needs and expectations. The basis for the evaluation is the foundation’s impact model for evidence-based local-level management.
The key questions were:
- Are the topics relevant from the target group’s perspective?
- Have the right problem-solving tools been developed?
- Has the chosen target group been reached?
- How can the project be scaled?
- How does the target group view the quality of the project work?
- Do the resources offered by the project increase the target group’s ability to solve the relevant problems?
The Bertelsmann Stiftung bases the evaluation of its project work on the social impact model developed by PHINEO. The last evaluation was carried out in 2017.
In terms of reaching the target group, 70 percent of the respondents say that half of all German communities are familiar with the resources offered by the foundation for addressing demographic change. In terms of scaling, it is clear that the initial target group – local-level decision makers – has become considerably more diverse: The Wegweiser Kommune data are now used by academics, school and university students, community groups and trade associations, members of the public and the self-employed. Overall, the respondents feel the Bertelsmann Stiftung’s portals and studies offer a high degree of problem-solving expertise.