Digital Europe 2030 News June 30, 2023


Last week, Tuesday, our "Digital Europe 2030" project offered the opportunity for an exciting exchange on the topic of Democracy by Design - Digital Technologies between Regulation and Responsibility. In addition to digital experts from science, civil society and business, representatives of Berlin's Gov-Tech and IT start-up scene were invited. The discussion focused on the question of how new technologies can be designed and developed on the basis of ethical and democratic values. It became clear: It is not possible without regulation. At the same time, regulation can only ever be reactive, which is why proactive approaches are also needed to shape new technologies in the interests of society.


IT start-ups in particular are under great economic pressure and need a positive incentive structure for the implementation of democracy-friendly design criteria, as Julia Reinhardt, Senior Fellow of the Mercator Foundation at the AI Campus, explained. In her keynote speech on the topic of "Responsibility vs. Regulation", it also became clear that, in addition to the economic incentive structure, it is often a question of capacity whether ethical and democratic values are taken into account in product development. This is because the majority of AI companies in Germany have far fewer than 250 employees and, compared to large market leaders, cannot afford their own CSR department. An important key to the implementation of ethical issues can therefore lie in the financing of startups - in venture capital companies. Right from the start, they have the opportunity to request a value-sensitive design in product development and to define social standards as a product goal that is relevant to their investments, analogous to reduced CO2 emissions in the interests of climate protection.


The important role of cash flows was also emphasized by our second speaker, Faruk Tuncer, Founder and CEO of Polyteia. In his contribution on the Gov-Tech scene and its importance for technology design in democracies, he made it clear that the public sector is one of the largest clients for software solutions and IT infrastructure in Germany. Linking award criteria strictly to a sustainable infrastructure and ethical software design is therefore essential and not only has the potential to develop democracy-friendly technologies, but also to create a competitive advantage beyond Europe, through the implementation of Democracy by Design. For example, public procurement can be used as a lever to create a geopolitical diversification of software offerings via Gov-Tech initiatives and thus contribute to more strategic sovereignty - this is an important opportunity, especially for smaller AI start-ups.

In addition, both initiators agreed on the point that there is a need for even greater awareness of the topic of technology and democratic responsibility. Relevant actors must have the opportunity to break out of their everyday work and possible silo structures in order to be able to reflect on the potential risks and opportunities and the resulting requirements for their products in a dialogue-oriented manner.

The current project Digital Europe 2030: Democracy by Design was also presented at the network meeting, in the context of which we developed a toolkit that is intended to enable the needed space for reflection and at the same time define options for action to help implement Democracy by Design within companies. With this toolkit, the Alfred Herrhausen Gesellschaft and the Alliance of Democracies Foundation want to offer technology companies, IT start-ups and other digital actors the opportunity to reflect on their own responsibility and to develop new solutions, by referring to best practice examples.

The discussion showed that against the backdrop of rapid technological changes which we are experiencing, it is more important than ever for companies to assume digital responsibility for our democracy. On the one hand, this requires an expanded understanding of how democratic and ethical values can be implemented in the design of digital products and services. A concern that the AHG would like to specifically support with the Democracy by Design toolkit. At the same time, however, concrete, economic and financial incentives are needed in addition to political regulations in order to push the implementation of democratic and ethical values in new technologies.

Many thanks to Julia Reinhardt and Faruk Tuncer for the exciting contributions and all participants for the lively discussion!

You missed the discussion and want to know more about our Digital Europe 2030 project and the Democracy by Design toolkit? Click here for more information.