Digital Strategy Pilot for Rural Regions (DE0024)
Action Plan: Germany Action Plan 2019-2021
Action Plan Cycle: 2019
Lead Institution: Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL)
Support Institution(s): Federal Office for Agriculture and Food with its Centre of Excellence for Rural Development (KomLE, Division 423) "Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering (IESE), Association of German Counties"
Policy AreasLocal Commitments, Public Participation
What is the public problem that the commitment will address?
The specific challenge facing rural regions is that they are sparsely populated, with infrastructure and services in many areas seeing reduced demand and proving increasingly
uneconomical. In this context, setting up an innovative platform that provides digital access
to public services, networks, participation, etc. will create a unique opportunity to address
these specific challenges and thereby contribute in a very real way to the establishment of
equivalent living conditions throughout the country (cf. article 72(2) of the Basic Law). This
will require new, innovative research and development measures. One of the key benefits of
platforms of this kind is their networking effect, as they enable many different stakeholders
– private individuals, county administrations, service providers, businesses – to come into
contact, interact and thus gain mutual advantage from the solutions being road-tested in
this pilot project.
What is the commitment?
Over the course of four years, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) will
provide funds to seven districts in which digital solutions (e.g. apps) seeking to improve
everyday life in rural areas in response to identified need are developed and tried out in
cooperation with a research institute. These endeavours will be supported by the development and study of a nationwide digital platform that will connect new prototype services
with existing ones. The districts will also be assisted in developing strategies for the digital
revolution, enhancing expertise in this area within their administrations and raising public
awareness of the issues. Research will also be undertaken into the possibility of integrating
additional districts – which are not receiving funding – into this digital ecosystem, so that
they too can use the services and the networking potential of the platform in future.
How will the commitment contribute to solving the public problem?
Innovative digital solutions and the propagation of expertise in digital technology among
local and regional players are intended to help establish equivalent living conditions throughout Germany, i.e. to improve living standards. The project will offerinsights into the potential
of digital technology to boost rural areas. The outcome will be the development and study of
a platform that fosters ties and provides digital services which are already available in cities
but are not yet to be found in rural parts of the country. Publishing the results will make it
easier to identify solutions which can also be implemented in other regions.
Why is this commitment relevant to OGP values?
This commitment makes provision for the digital transformation of state and society, for
cooperation and for innovation in pilot regions. The benefits gained will be accessible
to other regions even before the pilot project has ended, which will help make it widely
applicable and thereby enhance its long-term usefulness. Participation, engagement and
a sense of ownership on the part of civil society – people living in rural areas and other
local stakeholders – are a crucial aspect of the project and its implementation, assisting the
targeted reflection of actual needs and the generation of lasting benefit.
The pilot project will also boost open government in Länder and municipalities through
its activities relating to digital transformation strategies and the development of public
services as well as its reconfiguration of administrative processes.
IRM Midterm Status Summary
9. Smarte LandRegion: A pilot project for smart rural regions
Over the course of four years, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) will provide funds to seven districts in which digital solutions (e.g. apps) seeking to improve everyday life in rural areas in response to identified need are developed and tried out in cooperation with a research institute. These endeavors will be supported by the development and study of a nationwide digital platform that will connect new prototype services with existing ones. The districts will also be assisted in developing strategies for the digital revolution, enhancing expertise in this area within their administrations and raising public awareness of the issues. Research will also be undertaken into the possibility of integrating additional districts – which are not receiving funding – into this digital ecosystem, so that they too can use the services and the networking potential of the platform in future.
9.1. Approval of research project
9.2. Call for bids to districts
9.3. Selection and funding of seven districts (pilot regions)
9.4. Launch of digital platform; development and testing of digital services (four central services and 21 additional, less complex services)
9.5. Funding of digital projects by regional players (e.g. businesses, associations, etc.) in the seven districts
9.6. At least once a year: publication of project results
Editorial Note: For the complete text of this commitment, please see Germany’s action plan at: https://www.opengovpartnership.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Germany_Action-Plan_2019-2021_EN.pdf.
This commitment supports using digital technology for public service delivery in rural districts. As part of its “smarte LandRegion"’ initiative, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture will support the launch of context-specific digital service applications in seven pilot districts and build a knowledge-sharing platform for rural districts. The ultimate objective is to help narrow the urban-rural gap and provide equivalent living conditions as mandated by Germany’s Basic Law.
Digitization does not automatically lead to more administrative transparency or citizen engagement. However, the commitment mentions that people living in rural areas and other local stakeholders will participate in the implementation of the smarte LandRegion project,  and one of the main criteria for project selection is citizen and stakeholder participation.  Therefore, the commitment is relevant to the OGP value of civic participation.
Around 90% of Germany’s surface area is rural  and around a quarter of its population live in rural districts.  Rural communities in Germany face distinctive challenges in digitalization of services. Only slightly more than half of rural households can access broadband speeds of 100 Mbits/s or more compared to more than 90% of urban households.  As of 2019, 90% of German districts regard the development of a digital strategy for their community as important and 80% are in the process of developing or implementing one, However, only 20% of districts with less than 20,000 residents have a digital strategy.  Furthermore, even where communities have started implementing digital strategies, the focus is on building basic architecture for administrative operations, and do not include citizen-centric applications in health, energy, mobility, etc.  Two-thirds of local districts forming a digital strategy mention unclear external funding opportunities as a challenge; 39% of these “designers” say they would like to enlist citizen support for strategy development while the same portion of districts that are already implementing strategies have harnessed citizen support for designing them. 
Civic engagement in public service delivery is important in rural communities with shrinking, ageing populations.  Expanding these efforts is promising, as civic engagement in rural communities is considered higher than in urban areas. 
With its built-in research and assessment dimension and a learning platform, the smarte LandRegion initiative could improve transparency and learning, which are missing in many rural digital projects.  However, this commitment’s scale of seven pilot projects is small. While it provides a first step toward greater digitization and participation, any larger impact depends on whether other rural districts follow suit. Moreover, a substantial number of digital innovation projects are already being tested in Germany and many of these contain significant elements of citizen participation.  Overall, this commitment is a minor but positive step for citizen participation in public services at the rural level. However, it should be noted that some activities are scheduled to conclude in 2023 and 2024, well after the second action plan’s 2019–2021 implementation period.
IRM End of Term Status Summary
Commitment 9. Smarte LandRegion
This commitment aimed to implement the “SmarteLandRegionen" initiative, which would support digital services in seven pilot districts and build a knowledge-sharing platform for rural districts. The digital services would address healthcare, mobility, education and work, and volunteering work.
The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) selected the seven pilot district projects.  According to a representative of the BMEL, the districts were selected based on their geographic distribution and diversity of digital services addressed, the coherence of their project, as well as their sustainability. The services will be developed in stages, initially focusing on education and employment in 2022, though the IRM was unable to verify precisely when this commitment is due to end. The platform shall be gradually opened for other districts. Until then, customized instances of the open source platform CONSUL (originally developed for Madrid’s city government) are available for participating districts to create overviews of participation opportunities, provide information, and organize surveys on district topics.  To date, the district of Vorpommern-Greifswald has begun using the tool for surveys, votes on ideas, and communicating updates on project developments.