Merkel’s German International Forum: Taking policy innovation to the next level
31. July 2017
Could Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s German International Forum be a model for global problem-solving? During the past six years, Germany’s Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel has curated a remarkable initiative. Labelled the German International Forum, she has personally hosted a group of around 120 experts and professionals from around the Globe to inform her and her government of how to address complex societal problems. The Forum’s approach and format could serve as a model for more ambitious, collaborative and effective policy innovation at a global scale.

Imagine this: A world leader ambitious enough to define difficult policy issues to shape a global agenda. A leader humble enough to ask for new insights from around the planet through a co-creation process. And a leader open enough to share the learnings and results with the public, real-time.

In Berlin this February, this scenario was not imagination but something very real. Germany’s Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel personally hosted the third bi-annual edition of the German International Forum, essentially a 24-hour workshop using a participatory approach to addressing a complex policy challenge. This year, the challenge was defined as a number of urgent global health issues, ranging from the fight against tropical diseases to limiting the use of antibiotics to the risks and opportunities of digital transformation of healthcare. Taking the input from the Forum, the German government intended to bring the best ideas to shape the global health agenda, amongst others through its leadership of the 2017 summit of the G20.

Bundesregierung/Sandra Steins
2017 German International Forum

A collaborative approach to rethinking public challenges
Many national and international bodies, including public institutions, universities and businesses work on such issues; however rarely are the foremost experts all assembled in the same room at the same time, and even more rarely are they professionally supported to collaborate and co-create solutions together. Finally, it is extremely rare that the kinds of insights and ideas emerging from such work are presented directly and unfiltered to a world leader with the capacity and means to bring them into action.

A simple, yet not so simple formula
The formula guiding the German International Forum is in a sense very simple. It consists of four key ingredients:

First, identify a complex policy challenge that is important for the host (Germany) but which is also an emerging global problem. The German International Forum has explored how to measure and foster more well-being; how to power innovation in business and society, and how to address the most severe global healthcare issues.

Second, invite the foremost experts in the field, with a substantial participation from the host nation, but with at least 50 percent international participants from all continents, drawn from across international institutions, governments, universities and the private sector.

Third, create a sharply curated format which ensures clear framing of the problems, systematic knowledge-sharing, and enough time allocated (around three hours) for actual collaborative brainstorming and design of new solutions across groups of experts. For instance, in the latest 2017 edition, the methods deployed included foresight and vision techniques, design thinking, and behavioural insight.

Fourth, provide an urgent demand for the work by concluding with a personal conversation between the participants and the host. At the German International Forum, the session with Ms. Merkel lasts around 90 minutes and is live-streamed online and covered by national and international media.

The fifth ingredient
While this formula might appear simple, there is a fifth ingredient which cannot be underestimated, and which is ultimately what makes the German International Forum unique: The clear feeling among all participants that this is not an event done for show or for publicity. It is an event done with the intention of truly gathering new insight, and with the desire on behalf of the Chancellor to being challenged, surprised, and inspired. Having observed two of these sessions up close, there is a remarkable focus and energy in the room as experts pitch their ideas to a world leader, and as this leader asks intelligent and nuanced questions. One gets the sense that she is honestly interested in the answers.

If only more political leaders displayed this mix of ambition and humility; and if only more global forums like this one were created – more often – to deal with the urgent and complex issues of our time. Chancellor Merkel has set the standard and created the recipe. It is hereby yours for the taking.