| News | Guest contribution | Digital transformation in dialogue: User-friendliness as a legal principle in the Bavarian Digital Act

Digital transformation in dialogue: User-friendliness as a legal principle in the Bavarian Digital Act

A look from Bavaria to Bremen: Article 12 of the Bremen Constitution is one of the jewels of German constitutional texts. It states: "Man stands higher than technology and machines". A guest article by bidt director Professor Dirk Heckmann.

This can be interpreted as a concretisation of the principle of human dignity or also as a rejection of unbridled technological development that glorifies the use of technology and uses technology for the sake of its inherent innovation – without looking at what is or can be achieved as a result.

The importance of looking at people despite all the joy of innovation is shown by the approaches of “human-centred design” or “human-centred engineering”, in which people are at the centre of technical development. Interdisciplinary research lives precisely this idea.

The following projects, among others, are concerned with this at bidt:

And so it may come as no surprise that the law on digitalisation in the Free State of Bavaria (Bavarian Digital Act – BayDiG) aims to take up precisely this principle and bring it to fruition. For example, Art. 10 para. 1 BayDiG states: “The Free State of Bavaria promotes digital self-determination and provides user-friendly and barrier-free digital services for this purpose. Users shall be involved in the development of new digital services of the Free State of Bavaria.”

In many other regulations, too, the state is obliged to develop and deploy user-friendly services and applications. Right. People are higher than technology and machines. Or, to put it another way:

Technology is there for people, not people for technology. It should therefore be a matter of course to develop technologies in such a way that they benefit people and they can cope with them.

Prof. Dr. Dirk Heckmann To the profile

As obvious as it may be to involve people in the development of digital offerings: The participation of people in this technology development is worthy of a separate provision for the legislator so that the principle of user-friendliness is fully applied. If the legislator thus even declares “user-friendliness” to be a legal principle, establishes a state duty to design user-friendly technology and grants citizens a right to participate, this achieves much more than regulating a design standard. It is about a profoundly democratic process, namely the feedback of state power to the needs of the people:

The state is "friendly" to its citizens, it takes them seriously and behaves empathetically, as it were, in an optimal application of its self-imposed task of shaping the state.

Prof. Dr. Dirk Heckmann To the profile

In doing so, he knows that the digital transformation, the transition to a fully digitalised administration, requires the acceptance of those affected. This concerns the citizens just as much as the people in the companies and the employees in the authorities. They are the ones who have to find their way in the new digital environments. Because people are higher than technology and machines.

As self-evident and easy as this sounds, the task is demanding: How do you design user-friendly applications? Who is the orientation for comprehensibility? What can be taken for granted? Does every technical process have to be explained step by step, or is it more about “plug and play”? To what extent does such a reduction of complexity succeed? Who checks whether an IT system meets all legal requirements (including non-discrimination)? Is this even possible in a black box of artificial intelligence applications?

These are interdisciplinary questions of technology design and media didactics that have not yet found their way into computer science, jurisprudence or educational science but belong there. A lot of research and development is still needed, not only but also at universities and research institutions like bidt. Interdisciplinary, practice-oriented, in dialogue with people, as citizens, users, and consumers. Empathically, as it were, as a pure form of public welfare-oriented digitalisation. With the Bavarian Digital Act, the Bavarian State Ministry for Digital Affairs has succeeded in this respect. Digitalisation close to the people.

Prof. Dr. Dirk Heckmann

Member of bidt's Board of Directors | Chair of Law and Security in Digital Transformation, Technical University of Munich