Broad participation and international engagement

Key to Mannheim’s straightforward strategy is the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They lay the foundation for the Mannheim’s seven main strategic objectives in their Mission Statement Mannheim² 2030. The consideration of the SDGs also emphasizes Mannheim’s understanding that the local level is important to solving global challenges.

Amongst the middle-sized cities in Germany, Mannheim has by far the highest level of cultural diversity. This imposes a challenge, as well as enriches the city. Furthermore, the city is characterized by its strong industrial sector and, therefore, by a constant call for innovation. This could play out well for Mannheim: according to the economist Richard Floridatalent, technology, and tolerance (3Ts approach) are key to the success of cities. As those 3Ts do not easily fall from heaven, a well-working strategy is obligatory for long-term success.

By using the 17 SDGs as guiding principles, the City of Mannheim included suggestions and opinions from more than 2,500 citizens to develop seven key objectives for the strategy  Mannheim² 2030:

  • Mannheim guarantees educational equality and prevents poverty
  • Mannheim offers an exemplary urban quality of life
  • Mannheim is characterized by a supportive community and a model for communal life in cities regardless of sex, religion, diverse identities, etc.
  • Mannheim is distinguished by a strong city community and good administrative procedures.
  • As a digital and innovative metropolis, Mannheim creates the conditions for companies, sustainable growth and attracts talents
  • Mannheim is climate-friendly – in perspective, climate-neutral
  • Mannheim is a model for the international cooperation between cities

A talk on Mannheim’s strategic approach

In a world shaped by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), strategy development is a difficult task to undertake. Focussing on the newly introduced strategy  Mannheim² 2030, I talked with Christian Hübel, Mannheim’s strategic manager about the difficulties in city strategy development and on the approach to international engagement at the local level.

Which process did you use to develop the strategy?

We knew that it was crucial for the success of the strategy, which has been developed by the use of a participation process, that results must follow expeditiously. As shown in the experiences from other cities, people get unsatisfied when prompt results are not at hand. So what we did first is to set up a process. We discussed strategic issues with employees in other cities to learn from their experiences.

We set up strategy teams with stakeholders from politics, economy, and academia. We started internal workshops for each department to define key objectives, and we determined key performance indicators which we assigned to specific targets. We installed a strategic management system, which implemented the strategy into the budget plan of the municipality and the daily businesses of the departments.

Stadthaus N1, Urban Thinker Campus Tag 2 Foto Thomas Troester
Stadthaus N1, Urban Thinker Campus Tag 2
Foto Thomas Troester

This wasn´t easy. When the departments presented their objectives to one and another, what became apparent to all is that some targets were opposing. We then were able to discuss if there existed good reasons for (partly) opposing targets, or if we could bring some of them in line with each other. This regular process of goal development and strategy conformity has been optimized in the last four double budgets.  Once the strategic management system was in place, we were able to develop the new strategy in a broad participation process that could immediately reflect it in the budget plan.

While we all want to achieve the SDGs, the cities are the crucial area to do so. More than half of the world’s population lives in cities, and about 80% of the GDP is raised in urban areas, but also about 75% of the CO2 emissions arise there. This is why we were convinced that we would need to localize the SDGs to Mannheim. Following the internal work and discussions in the strategy process, we gathered ideas from the citizens.

The 17 SDGs from the United Nations worked here as a framework that we used to give citizens modules to think in for engaging in the strategy development process. First, city-workers asked citizens about city-related issues at large regional events. After that, people were randomly selected and invited to open workshops. We achieved response rates of 6-12%; in addition, a large number of people wrote letters to explain the reason for their absence, which we did not include in the response rates.

Which feedback did your strategy get internally and externally?

Internally and externally, we first faced a lot of skepticism when we started with strategic management in 2010 and with the intent of developing a far-reaching strategy. But with time, we gained acceptance, and with acceptance came success. The plan is now widely embraced. The broad backing of the local council undoubtedly helped. And –most importantly – the Mayor was always a frontrunner. There was an overwhelming agreement that in a progressive strategy, it was important to pursue evidence-based policies instead of those which are mainly shaped by ideology.

Stadthaus N1, Urban Thinker Campus Tag 2
Foto Thomas Troester

The SDG’s work internally and externally and also as a good marketing instrument. They are easy to understand as everyone can relate the goals to their personal lives and identify with at least some of them (No Poverty, Gender Equality, Decent Work, Climate Action, etc.). Using them emphasizes the importance of involving people’s daily concerns to guarantee improvements in the 17 SDGs. This also improved the acceptance of the strategy. The difficulty in localizing global charters is adapting them to the needs of the city without losing their contribution at the global level.

Which is the biggest challenge to the implementation of the strategy?

Internal change management is always a huge challenge. As it is in the case of most larger organizations, departments tend to develop some kind of silo mentality. This can be best tackled when you explain and discuss – also controversial – the longtime need and success of the strategy. You have to convince those involved in the implementation that it will ensure the sustainable future of the city and its inhabitants. You must not give the impression that this is purely a matter of controlling or monitoring!

Moreover, in Germany, we had no impact-oriented steering for a long time. Our steering instruments were focussing on inputs. For example, the agency for regional business development counted calls instead of companies that were able to establish themselves in the market. We, therefore, introduced key performance indicators with a stronger impact-orientation.

In the long run, the challenge is to permanently reflect on your strategy and regularly rethink the objectives you agreed upon. Developing a general strategy is also about the bigger picture to maximize total utility even if that can sometimes be at the expense of specific fields.

What diplomatic relationships with other cities does Mannheim maintain?

For Peter Kurz as Mayor of Mannheim, it was very important to improve Mannheim’s international engagement. When he assumed office, partnerships with other cities were set up according to their strategic relevance and not solely because of the chance for student and cultural exchanges. Very early, we used partnerships for city-to-city learning.

Involvement in international networks was fostered as strategic partnerships can help in difficult situations. By way of illustration, we have two city partnerships with Chinese cities that provided us with masks in the wake of the corona crisis. Those international networks give us a chance to gather know-how from others, acquire funds, and set up our own topics on the agendas of international city-communities. Examples of international involvement are the UNESCO Cities of Music Network and the EUROCITIES network.

Another important network Mannheim participates in is the Global Parliament of Mayors. Initiated and in conjunction with the political scientist Benjamin R. Barber who died in 2017, Mannheim is a founding member of this network, which was established in 2016. With them, we think about how local politics, topics, and needs can be represented on the global level.

Find more about city strategies: Have a look at our talks with officials from HelsinkiEindhovenBochum, and Zürich to find out more about city strategies in the face of global competition.