Photo: Federico Beccari on Unsplash

“We Want to Highlight Solutions that are Appropriate for all German Municipalities”

The Coordination and Transfer Office (Koordinierungs- und Transferstelle, KTS) for Smart Cities was founded in September 2021. Initiated by the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI), the consortium aims to expand and strengthen the exchange of expertise and experience between the 73 cities and municipalities funded as part of the BMI’s Smart Cities Model Projects programme. 

The transformation of cities and municipalities to smart cities effects all spheres of life. Municipalities need strategic capacities, ideas and to exchange experiences in order to re-think the “city” concept; the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community (BMI) therefore began funding the Smart Cities Model Projects programme in 2019, with a total volume of € 820 million. The programme aims to develop and test smart city concepts until 2030; in total, 73 projects from cities, districts, municipalities and regional associations are being funded, all of which can be divided into a strategy and an implementation phase.

And the concepts have something else in common: they are exemplary and scalable, meaning the practical knowledge obtained over the course of the projects can be implemented on a larger scale and made accessible to municipalities that are not being funded. To manage this task, the model projects will receive additional support from the Coordination and Transfer Office for Smart Cities Model Projects, a well-connected organisation that was launched in September 2021 and is active “on a local level throughout Germany”.  The project is headed by DLR Projektträger (DLR-PT), the project management division of the German Aerospace Center in Bonn. A project office in Berlin and Bonn, coordinated by DLR-PT, is the first point of contact for the SCMPs, while other Berlin institutions and agencies cooperate with DLR-PT within the KTS consortium. 

We talked to Michael Huch, Head of the SCMP project office at DLR-PT, Dr Nadine Kuhla von Bergmann, Managing Director of Creative Climate Cities (CCC) and Dr Jens Libbe, Head of the Infrastructure, Business and Finance research department at the Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik (difu) to find out more about the primary focus, objectives and added value KTS offers funded cities and municipalities.

Michael Huch, what does the KTS stand for and what responsibilities will it assume in future?

Michael Huch: As the central point of contact, we aim to shape smart cities together. The new Coordination and Transfer Office (KTS) for Smart Cities Model Projects would like to add value for all municipalities in Germany. To succeed in our mission, we at KTS work in an interdisciplinary team, combining various schools of thought, skills and background experience within the consortium, including in urban development, digitisation and sustainability. At KTS, our work is centred around the mutual exchange of experience and a sustainable transfer of knowledge to ensure that in future, every municipality in Germany can benefit from the knowledge obtained over the course of the projects.

What should, and must, you focus on to achieve that goal?

Dr Nadine Kuhla von Bergmann: Our work at KTS focuses on two main issues: on the one hand, we accompany the 73 German model projects, providing our expertise to test and implement their smart city strategies with the aim of qualifying local actors and strengthening their exemplary processes. On the other hand, our work addresses every municipality in Germany to boost the exchange of information between the model projects and interested municipalities both in Germany and abroad and to implement the practical knowledge and expertise obtained over the course of the projects on a large scale. This aims to motivate those municipalities that don’t have a lot of smart city experience in particular to develop and implement their own digitisation strategies.

How is your work organised within the consortium?

Dr Jens Libbe: We are a consortium of twelve larger and smaller institutions. Some of us conduct research, others are active on a local level, meaning some of us have valuable practical experience while others have the necessary theoretical expertise. This reflects the complexity of the matter of smart cities: it is comprehensive and spans many fields, as digitisation, sustainability, administration, urban development and other aspects intertwine. This in turn necessitates the aforementioned interdisciplinary approach within the consortium, something that benefits the members as well, as we can all learn from one another. To do so, the various committees coordinate with one another and assume responsibilities according to our expertise.

Michael Huch: If you so will, as KTS partners we test the exchange of experience on a small scale before making it accessible to German municipalities on a large scale.

What expertise does each of you bring to the table at KTS? 

Michael Huch: With years of experience as a project coordinator, and as head of the SCMP project office, coordinating a project that is as comprehensive as this one is incredibly thrilling, for me personally as well as for DLR-PT as a whole. We get to contribute our skills and experience, including in managing offices, in communicating with politicians and businesses as well as in accompanying projects and programmes. And we are really happy to do so!

Dr Jens Libbe: As head of the Infrastructure, Business and Finance research department at the German Institute for Urban Studies (Deutsches Institut für Urbanistik, difu), my research concentrates on future cities and urban transformation. This means that I take a closer look at infrastructure systems and digitisation, municipal public services and services that are of general economic interest. Within KTS, difu is responsible for the accompanying research as well as for consulting model projects and helping them network with one another.

Dr Nadine Kuhla von Bergmann: Creative Climate Cities, CCC for short, is an urban development agency. We consult municipal and private businesses as well as ministries and associations during urban transformation processes, using process design, visual and digital means of communication and knowledge transfer formats. In particular, we focus on urban climate protection and sustainable, resource-efficient urban development on the basis of digitisation. Within the KTS consortium, we are co-responsible for the transfer of knowledge,  providing professional support as well as information on KPI frameworks, governance models and participation strategies.

What added value does KTS offer municipalities and cities?

Dr Nadine Kuhla von Bergmann: We want to highlight smart city solutions that are appropriate for all municipalities in Germany and expand the Smart Cities Model Projects network to create a self-learning system. In concrete terms, we will convey new and existing expertise in thematic transfer workshops, development communities and at congresses, which we will organise together with the model projects and other municipalities.

Michael Huch: In addition, we will scientifically evaluate the results that have been achieved and use them to derive sound, sustainable findings for municipal practice. I am convinced that the work we do at KTS will soon have a quite concrete impact and that we will contribute to furthering the active network between cities and municipalities in Germany, and possibly even on a European level.

How can the cities and municipalities involved learn from one another? And do you already have examples of best practice in the transfer of knowledge and networking?

Dr Jens Libbe: Based on our experience, a large number of regional cooperations already exist; actors in the municipalities want to network and exchange information with one another. At the same time, we notice a willingness to share successful measures and milestones that have been reached with the community, and to discuss risks and opportunities. I believe this has to do with the complexity of urban development and digitisation we just talked about. We are now tasked with taking regional initiatives to a nationwide level to bring people together who are pursuing similar interests.

What are the most pressing issues every model project needs to deal with?

Dr Nadine Kuhla von Bergmann: That’s a tough question to answer, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution – every municipality faces very individual challenges. But some elementary questions are surely: how can I design a digitisation strategy that is tailored to my municipality’s needs and that meets the requirements of socially fair urban development? How can I meet pressing challenges posed by climate and demographic change? We are well aware of the enormous opportunities digital transformation has to offer. But digitisation must, and should, be employed in the interest of sustainable and integrated urban development, pursuing a holistic, strategic approach: entirely in keeping with the concept of the European city – be it analogue or digital.

Can interested municipalities contact KTS, even if they are not model projects?

Dr Jens Libbe: Absolutely! As we mentioned earlier, that’s our stated objective – and the objective of the government. After all, the experiences that the model projects are now gathering will be transferred to other cities and municipalities. So if you want to find out more about a measure a model project has implemented and that might be interesting for your municipality, KTS is your point of contact. We will put you in touch with the right people, provide you with the information you need and support you during the ongoing process.

How and where is KTS visible?

Dr Nadine Kuhla von Bergmann: KTS will be very visible from 2022 on, thanks to our event and academy programme. We are furthermore already planning and organising regional and national events where participants can network on specific topics, and which will further strengthen our visibility and the exchange with smart cities.

Michael Huch: These two pillars are flanked by our accompanying research and targeted press and PR work. Based on scientific findings and concrete examples, we can show the smart city community as well as the general public the success of specific measures – be they smart city approaches to climate protection or mobility. To do so, KTS will provide the responsible local parties with digital and analogue spaces where they can cooperate and develop urban data platforms and tailored open source solutions based on exemplary cases from practice. 

Please complete the following sentence: German municipalities are smart, because ...

Dr Nadine Kuhla von Bergmann: ... they have recognised the benefit of no longer seeing and planning urban systems as separate entities, such as mobility, energy and water, and have begun connecting them instead. When developing digital applications and platforms, they network in development communities and design complementary and open systems and interfaces. They use digitisation to establish a self-learning urban system that benefits everyone.

Dr Jens Libbe: … at the same time, they are aware that smart cities are not a matter of technology and digitisation alone: the concept needs to reach the people who live there. That’s why smart cities consider transparency, participation and active contribution key elements of the urban future. Because everything depends on whether digitisation serves the population or not.

Michael Huch: ... they make people’s lives easier and improve the quality of life by means of smart networks – both digital and analogue.