How Bern masters the balancing act between participation and data security

Digitale Stadt Bern

What opportunities does digitalisation offer Swiss authorities – and what needs to be considered? Jonathan Gimmel, Head of Digital City of Bern, and Daniela Zryd, Communications Specialist at the City of Bern, provide an overview of the current projects with which the City of Bern wants to use digitalisation for more efficient collaboration and increased public discourse – and the extent to which Bern University of Applied Sciences is supporting them with topics such as “Open Government Data”, “once-only” and “Augmented Intelligence”

Equal opportunities thanks to low-threshold access: Under the motto “Simple for everyone”, Digital Stadt Bern aims to expand its digital public services over the next few years and make them user-centric in order to reach people more easily and promote dialogue. To this end, the city’s services will be developed step by step in line with digital primacy. The principle of “digital first” applies to dialogue with the population, while the city administration itself is largely “digital only”. The focus remains on an inclusive society: people who are not digitally mobile receive the best possible personal service. At the same time, everyone in Bern should be able to benefit from digitalisation. For example, important political issues are supported with digital impulses such as e-participation, open government data and digitally sustainable innovations

In collaboration with the Public Sector Transformation Institute, the City of Bern will be implementing various projects and initiatives over the coming months and years in order to integrate digitalisation into the everyday lives of administrative staff and city residents in a profitable way. A selection of these projects is presented below

Internal digitalisation: New working environments and cloud-based data utilisation

The municipal council has decided to introduce Microsoft 365 with cloud usage in the city administration. In future, all office communication data (including telephony and messenger services) will be encrypted using systematic data classification, both during transmission (on the internet) and when stored in cloud storage. Particularly sensitive personal data in the specialist applications continues to be stored in the city’s own data centres in accordance with the recommendation of the city’s data protection and supervisory authority and is encrypted multiple times and with different security factors. This mainly involves data from the areas of social welfare and child and adult protection as well as data from the tax authorities, the health service, the AHV branch office and the police inspectorate. The hybrid solution should offer the greatest possible security that is technically feasible today with minimal user restrictions. Students at Bern University of Applied Sciences are helping with the project: They are evaluating the digital collaboration tools (e.g. MS Teams) and the data-based automations (e.g. chatbots), thereby contributing to qualitative further development

External digitalisation: Data Excellence, BernPortal and public discourse

The “Data Excellence” programme creates the conditions for expanding the digital public service. One example: the same information currently has to be provided by the population several times, e.g. when changing residence, registering for school or applying for a parking permit. In future, administrative services will be provided on a “once-only” basis: This means that the population and businesses will only have to provide information once. This requires an intelligent data architecture and processes for secure cross-authority data exchange. “Data excellence” defines the framework conditions for data management along the entire data life cycle – from creation to archiving or deletion. The new digital cloud infrastructure creates the opportunity for integral digital collaboration; within and between all organisational units of the city administration as well as between the city of Bern and third parties. An administration-wide migration project is integrated into the programme so that data originals are only kept in one place. At the same time, the City of Bern’s digital services are being fundamentally restructured with the “Bern Portal” programme in order to make services centrally accessible via a low-threshold portal. The Public Sector Transformation Institute is supporting both projects in an advisory capacity: like Digital Stadt Bern, it is represented in the cantonal interest group on artificial intelligence and is preparing a collaboration on the city’s strategy for augmented intelligence and the organisation of the Ethics Board

Bern University of Applied Sciences is not the only organisation involved in shaping digital services: The population and employees are also to be more involved in the discourse on the opportunities and challenges of digitalisation in the future. In addition to internal formats such as virtual talks on “Digital Leadership” and “Heartbeat” events, a new website including a participation platform and a new public discussion format on digitalisation are planned. This means that the former “Digital Day” will take place all year round at different locations and on different topics

What will change for the public?

A digital service portal offers the entire population easy and convenient access to information on municipal activities, laws, ordinances and projects. Digitalised processes (e.g. submitting documents, making appointments or submitting applications) make a physical presence at government counters superfluous. Citizens can express their opinions, make suggestions and take part in consultations – and thus participate in urban decision-making processes. The aim is to offer a wide range of services while protecting the privacy of users

What will change for the economy?

The city’s digital service portal helps to make business processes more efficient. Companies can apply for and track municipal services and authorisation procedures online – this saves time, costs and resources for companies.

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AUTHOR: Jasmine Streich

Jasmine Streich is a research associate at the Institute Public Sector Transformation of the Business School at Bern University of Applied Sciences. Her research work focuses on digital accessibility and the transformation of the public sector.

AUTHOR: Daniela Zryd

Daniela Zryd is a communications specialist at the City of Bern PRD.

AUTHOR: Jonathan Gimmel

Jonathan Gimmel is Head of Human Resources, Finance & Digital Development at the City of Bern.

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