Give administration a human face
BASIC CITY DATA
- Population size: 3750000
- Population Growth Rate(%): 4.70
- Surface Area (sq.km): 892
- Population Density (people/sq.km): 4210
- GDP Per Capita (U.S.$): 48000
- GINI Index: 0.3
- Main Source of Prosperity: creative industry, digital industry (including start-ups), services, tourism
The state of Berlin is currently facing more than 1,500 asylum seekers monthly wishing to be registered at its arrival center. Those numbers have been constantly rising over the last years which has led to increasing bureaucratic challenges for its employees and also to longer waiting times. Countries of origin include Turkey, Georgia, Moldova, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine and others. Many refugees who arrive in Berlin for the first time are facing anxiety, trauma, depression or a general sense of helplessness due to language barriers. In order to deal with these challenges, the State Office for Refugee Affairs Berlin came up with the idea of establishing multilingual digital information videos for refugees that are accessible in the waiting rooms of Berlin’s arrival center. In those videos, refugees get information about all the important steps of their arrival process, about their rights in Germany and about the services. This digital one-to-many communication strategy optimizes information stability for asylum seekers, strengthening their feeling of safety, and lowering the average processing time for the employees since asylum seekers already have an understanding of the following process.
The German federal asylum seekers benefit law mandates that all asylum seekers must be housed and provided for while their asylum application is being processed. The State Office for Refugee Affairs is in charge of ensuring that asylum seekers are not only provided with material goods but also with immaterial qualities such as information in order to ensure their physical and mental well-being.
A significant challenge that the office is facing when it comes to processing asylum seekers is the average processing time for each client which leads to a constantly high workload for its employees. Part of this high workload occurs because asylum seekers usually ask many questions regarding their process. In order to answer those, it is necessary to ask for an interpreter whose arrival often leads to long waiting times. With the information videos the office tries to overcome this time-based issue since asylum seekers’ frequently asked questions are already answered before getting in first contact with its employees.
The office’s goal is to create a new paradigm in the arrival process for asylum seekers: it wants to rethink the safe space conditions for refugees, providing them with empowering knowledge on their processes. Furthermore, the office is aiming towards a more personal way of processing its clients since all speakers in the videos work at the office. The office wants to strengthen its identity as a state authority and emphasize the importance of interpersonal relations. Since there are constantly new refugee arrivals there is no time frame for the project and the expected change. And: The people who appear in the videos work within its administration and often have transnational backgrounds. They speak and explain the process in their mother tongue.
The initiative is completely digital and multilingual. Asylum seekers can access different QR Codes in thewaiting rooms. Each QR Code is titled in a different language and leads to a video in that language. All video-speakers work at the office and many of them are native speakers. The office was not only able to ensure a high degree of ethnic and cultural diversity, but also managed to establish new forms of inter-departmental cooperation since colleagues from different departments with knowledge of rare languages (i.e. Azerbaijan language, Kurmandschi from Kurdistan) participated to contribute to the unity with which its office operates.
There is no partnership involved, however, there are many beneficiaries outside of the office: in its information videos, the office precisely explains and differentiates the responsibilities of Berlin and other state and federal authorities. Since its arrival center is the first of many following process stations for asylum seekers in Germany, the office manages to give important information at an early stage which can also lead to work reliefs in other offices later.
One of the key aspects of the initiative is that no external workforce was required. No budget was needed in order to film, edit or involve professional speakers etc. The footage was shot and edited by employees of the press department. Cost efficiency is of course always important for administration, but even more vital for its initiative is the fact that it wanted to establish faces of actual employees–and not actors or AI-created videos–to strengthen the office identity and to demonstrate how important personal and authentic communication with its clients is.
On the one hand, the initiative is evolutionary in the sense that it is built on important lessons from previous digital information campaigns that were established in order to inform refugees about COVID-19 safety measures. This previous initiative – which the office presented in the Guangzhou Award 2020 – was widely regarded as a successful and innovative way to communicate safely and without human contact. The office’s current initiative benefits from the knowledge on how to ensure reach the maximum amount of asylum seekers with one communication tool as well as experiences when it comes to transculturally understandable wording. On the other hand, the initiative is revolutionary in the sense that the aspect of shaping a ‘state office identity’ is a relatively new concept in the State of Berlin and Germany: while the term ‘corporate identity’ is well-known and an important aspect of corporate culture these days, borrowing this concept and implementing it into the public administration sector is – at least in Germany – quite unique. Having actual employees who are visible and audible, the office presented itself with a face and a voice in order to overcome the cliché-image of an anonymous administration.
DESIRED CHANGE OR OUTCOME
The office would like to achieve a new paradigm regarding the arrival process for asylum seekers in Berlin. It hopes that asylum seekers will have an improved feeling of safety in Germany in general and in Berlin in particular. Simultaneously, it wishes to bolster the efficiency with which its office operates and that it can reduce the average processing time for its clients. Since the office only finished the project in July 2023, there is no in-depth evaluation of the changes that it is aiming for, yet.
With regard to quantitative methods, the office is able to track downloads from the server on which it uploaded the videos. In terms of qualitative methods, the office plans on conducting evaluation interviews with its employees who are in contact with refugees daily and who can therefore assess the improvement regarding their level of information on the arrival process. This measuring is conducted by the press department of the office and the data is exclusively focused on asylum seekers (and not refugees from Ukraine for example).
The initiative is focused on asylum seekers who arrive in the State of Berlin. The videos are available in the waiting rooms of its arrival center for asylum seekers since that is the place where asylum seekers spend several hours and hence have time to watch the videos. Furthermore, the waiting room functions as a valuable space from a strategic standpoint since it is the last space entered before getting in contact with its employees.
Over 1,000 asylum seekers benefit from this initiative monthly. Since the number of arrivals is projected to be this high or higher for the next months as well, it is safe to say that the number of beneficiaries will stay steady in the future. The most common countries of origin currently are Turkey, Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Georgia and Moldova. The largest group is formed by adult men who are traveling alone.
RELEVANCE TO SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS
Goal 3: Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages