“The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences combine […], I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century.” 1
Given the reputation of Germany in the fields of religion, philosophy and culture, as well as the United States strength in disruption and entrepreneurship, technological partnering between transatlantic municipalities in the Sister Cities framework can be a fruitful form to explore how we can embrace the innovative economy and stay human at the same time, with established philosophical ideals that ground us during the immense technological changes that are in store for us.
Sister City cooperations not only have to proof benefits through technology for the communities involved. Exceptional regulations facilitating transatlantic cooperation to tackle challenges with the help of digitalization and technology development and deployment in the sister cities have to be made in a transparent, participative fashion and include all stakeholders from the very beginning. In order to avoid pushback and professional organized campaigning against new policies as seen in TTIP negotiations, the regulations enabling the cooperative Sister Cities framework need to be consensual.
For example, the imbalance between capital backed big players in tech from the United States, which are often perceived as frightening and dominating can be counterbalanced with involvement of German Mittelstand that is rooted deeply in the regions and relishs the trust of the communities. This way, the Sister City framework also helps small and medium sized companies to tackle digitalization, the single biggest challenge these important players that are so important for the successful German economy are facing.
Big, aggressively expanding companies that disrupt markets but disregard the German achievements in labor rights and social security systems already created court cases leading to the stop of technological progress, for example in the case of the ride sharing platforms of UBER and Lyft. To avoid push back against a relaxation of current law to facilitate transatlantic cooperation in the Sister Cities, we have to view our existing regulatory framework as the great achievement that it is rather than as an obstacle. This way, technological progress is embedded into the existing frameworks of workers’ and privacy rights that are highly valued in Germany and part of the German identity.
Transparent data protection, education about usage of data collected and clear rules about the ownership of data, sometimes also called the oil of the 21st century, is key to acceptance and adaption of new, useful technologies. One way to activate and involve communities for Sister City technologies is to make all data collected publicly available. Citizen scientists can try their hands to benefit the local communities and entrepreneurs can find new ways for their ventures. A successful story of open data provided by municipalities can be found in Stockholm. The city provides public data to encourage businesses and the public to create new services from it.
With a common goal in mind, to establish the SisterCity framework, we set sail towards a new transatlantic technology cooperation that isn’t stuck in nostalgia. On the contrary, it is aware of its past achievements and incorporates them into technological progress to solve todays exciting challenges. We should convince policy makers to build the technological future around strong, humanities based values to create a high acceptance within the affected communities.
1 Walter Isaacson, biography of Steve Jobs (2011). Full quote: “The creativity that can occur when a feel for both the humanities and the sciences combine in one strong personality was the topic that most interested me in my biographies of Franklin and Einstein, and I believe that it will be a key to creating innovative economies in the twenty-first century.”