[Translate to English:] zwei Frauen schauen auf einen Monitor

Regional paths to the digital future

Where do Germany's municipalities stand and what do they need in order to counter digitization? These were the questions posed by a study conducted last year by Technische Universität (TU) Dortmund on behalf of the Bertelsmann Stiftung as part of the Reinhard Mohn Prize. It provides a database for developing regional digitization strategies capable of responding to the ongoing megatrend of digitization.

In Germany, discussions at the political level focus primarily on the expansion of broadband Internet connections. After all, there is a lot of catching up to do –especially outside the big cities. However, broadband is not the goal, but rather a necessary infrastructure for digitalization to reach people in the first place. It is important for cities and towns to fill this digital future with life for their citizens – and with them – and to identify ways for achieving it. This is why digitization strategies are required that reflect regional conditions and needs. The aim must be to shape digital developments and gear measures to the local environment and the living and working conditions there.

Smart-city strategies for densely populated areas such as Berlin or Stockholm are now bearing fruit, demonstrating how the new possibilities can be successfully applied. However, different communities find themselves in very different situations as they face these changes. Concepts developed for a major metropolis are naturally not applicable to rural regions, or even to small and medium-sized cities.

How digitization beyond the major cities can succeed

With its study Smart Country regional gedacht (Smart Country Region by Region), TU Dortmund was commissioned by the Bertelsmann Stiftung to investigate the initial situation for cities and towns as they make their way to a digital future. The data is based on some 60 indicators that have different impacts on the development potential of individual locations. Demographic data and economic structure are just as important, for example, as education or health. A majority of the indicators for German communities with more than 5,000 inhabitants can be accessed using the information portal Wegweiser Kommune. A cluster analysis has identified similar characteristics among the cities and towns and produced a typology of eight different types, from "towns with major structural challenges" to "prospering centers with excellent future prospects."

This categorization reduces complexity while facilitating comparison. An examination of the distribution of the cities and towns reveals that North-South or East-West differences do not explain the situation specifically enough. This is because the community environments vary widely, both in terms of requirements and potentials. The study offers an empirical basis which municipal actors can use to develop answers to questions pertaining to their region, such as which tasks are unsolved and where there is room for improvement. This allows them to identify in greater detail what must be done and the possibilities for taking action.