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Into the digi­tal fu­tu­re

Arti­ficial intel­li­gence, the future of edu­cation or digi­tal bu­reau­cracy — digi­tal policy has be­come more im­portant than ever. Dur­ing ten weeks as a policy ana­lyst intern at the Hes­sian Min­istry for Digi­tal Strat­egy and De­velopment, part of the State Chancel­lery, RE­SET stu­dent Mat­thias Meller gained in­sights into a young insti­tution and policy field

An emerging policy field

When it comes to imag­ining to­mor­row’s digi­tal fu­tures and ad­dress­ing their chal­leng­es, states no long­er leave this only to inno­vative com­pa­nies and their inves­tors. The young field of digi­tal policy is de­veloping. Hav­ing worked in the startup in­dustry be­fore join­ing the RE­SET pro­gram, Mat­thias Meller had the chance to gain im­portant in­sights dur­ing his time at the Min­istry for Digi­tal Strat­egy and De­velopment, part of the State Chancel­lery, of the Fed­eral State of Hes­sen. Digi­tal policy in Ger­many has be­come in­creas­ingly visi­ble and a great deal has hap­pened in a short peri­od of a few years: strat­egy pa­pers have been pub­lished and laws have been passed, which re­quire the digi­taliza­tion of most ad­minis­tra­tive pro­cesses by 2022. Some fed­eral states have estab­lished dedi­cated minis­tries for digi­tal af­fairs and the Ger­man Fed­eral Chancel­lery has even ap­pointed a “Nerd-in-Chief”. “Eve­ry (fed­eral) state tries to tell its own re­gion-specific story of how to mas­ter what we often call ‘digi­tal trans­for­mation’,” Mat­thias con­cludes from his anal­ysis of many digi­tal strat­egies. “You see refer­ences to his­toric strengths and insti­tu­tional suc­cess­es. That is be­cause man­aging socie­tal and tech­no­logi­cal change needs a form of trans­lation into more famil­iar con­texts.”


Responsibility in and for digital policy

Evok­ing asso­cia­tions with Sili­con Val­ley is fre­quent. The sym­bol for enormous eco­nomic de­velopment through global tech­no­logi­cal dom­inance has in­spired a num­ber of initia­tives in digi­tal poli­cy. Without a doubt, the de­velopment of inno­va­tions by public and pri­vate or­gani­za­tions, and indi­vidu­als is im­pres­sive. How­ever, it is de­bata­ble whether these de­velopments are an ade­quate benchmark for com­pari­son, given the mark­edly dif­ferent his­toric and cul­tural con­texts. This raises the ques­tion: What is good digi­tal poli­cy? How do you as­sess, measure, even com­pare it? Do you look at the share of households with high-speed fiber inter­net con­nec­tion, the num­ber of com­puter sci­ence grad­uates, or the funds for pro­jects in artifi­cial intel­li­gence? Re­spon­sibil­ity means also rais­ing the ques­tion of which groups in socie­ty these inno­va­tion standards in­clude and which groups they leave out. At the same time, digi­tal strat­egies allow citi­zens to (re-)consider the state’s role in shap­ing tech­no­logi­cal change.


RESET program proves its value

The grad­uate pro­gram “Re­spon­sibil­ity in Sci­ence, Engi­neer­ing and Tech­nolo­gy" (RE­SET), fund­ed by the Elite Net­work of Ba­varia, has helped Mat­thias to deep­en his ana­lytical skills. Be­fore work­ing for startups, he grad­uated in Phi­loso­phy & Eco­nom­ics from the Uni­versi­ty of Bay­reuth with se­mes­ters abroad in Can­ada and Italy. This pre­vious expe­rience, cou­pled with his theo­retical and prac­tical learn­ings from RE­SET, al­lowed him to mean­ingfully con­trib­ute to the work of his col­leagues at the minis­try. Fur­ther­more, the in­tern­ship also proved im­men­sely valu­able for the aca­demic ex­change with­in the pro­gram. “We often dis­cuss how to shape tech­no­logi­cal change and inno­va­tion in a re­spon­sible way, and the evolving roles of the state and other ac­tors. Working at a Min­istry for Digi­tal Af­fairs gave me valu­able in­sights into the im­portance of the ques­tions we raise in the RE­SET pro­gram,” says Mat­thias. The bene­fits are clear: hav­ing RE­SET em­bed­ded at the Tech­nical Uni­versi­ty of Mu­nich (TUM) means there is ample po­ten­tial for col­la­bora­tive re­search at the inter­sec­tion of tech­nolo­gy and socie­ty.

Text: Matthias Meller