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eNAP: An Electronic Sustainability Assessment Tool for the Ministerial Bureaucracy in Germany

28 Mar 2019 | Written by Camilla Wanckel

In the spring of 2018, the German government introduced a web-based tool called eNAP that aims to facilitate and improve the sustainability impact assessment (SIA) as conducted for new laws and regulations, and that can be used by ministry officials and policy makers to carry out the SIA. In Germany, evaluating potential environmental, economic and social consequences of legislative drafts is mandatory since 2009. The SIA is the first of several regulatory impact assessments (RIA) that are being digitalized as part of the project eLegislation and that are planned to be integrated into an overall RIA-module. Though eNAP is just at the beginning of being integrated into the legislative work of ministries, first conclusions on actors’ expectations and their first experiences can be drawn.

 

Aims and goals

eNAP seeks to increase the quality of the SIA and facilitate the assessment for ministry officials. By providing a structured yet flexible tool that guides the user through the indicators, goals and principles of the German National Sustainable Development strategy, eNAP shall make it easier for ministry officials to conduct the impact assessment of a planned regulation.

eNAP can also be understood as a mean of informing ministry officials about the national sustainability strategy and increasing their awareness. Policy formulation in ministries is most often highly specialized and thus not all ministry officials preparing legislation are aware that some goals of the strategy might concern their policy work. Accordingly, eNAP can be seen of as an opportunity for ministry officials to take a closer look at different aspects of the strategy.

 

Key ICT features

The structure of eNAP is derived from the German Sustainable Development Strategy. When conducting the SIA with eNAP, the user has to assess and explain the relevance of a legislative or regulatory proposal with regard to the areas, indicators and principles as laid down in the strategy. To that end, eNAP also contains information on the indicators such as definitions, goals as well as recent statistics, and structures the assessment by visualizing the progress made. The web-based tool is not restricted to the government IT system but freely available to other societal actors.

 

Implications and (un)intended effects

1. Legitimacy

eNAP is generally expected to strengthen the role of sustainability matters and the SIA in policy formulation both by increasing awareness of the sustainability strategy and by standardizing the impact assessment. By providing a common assessment tool, eNAP reduces uncertainty and may raise the standards put upon the SIA, thus contributing to the legitimacy of the policy making process. The tool is also hoped to increase transparency on contestations between economic, social and environmental goals. Such effects, however, presuppose that officials actually use the tool and carefully go through each of the areas and indicators. As of now, the SIA is conducted relatively late in the political process and typically thought of as a justification for the already existing policy proposal, rather than discussing the proposal’s impact on sustainability matters.

 

2. Efficiency and Effectiveness

By structuring and visualizing the contents of the sustainability strategy, eNAP is perceived as a helpful supporting tool that may have a positive effect on the assessment’s efficiency. Especially those who are already familiar with the sustainability strategy are anticipated to save time when using eNAP. On the other hand, the SIA has often been conducted by referring to a set of ‘standard SDGs’ that usually apply to the ministry's area of formal responsibility or even by using some pre-set phrases. In these cases, officials will have to invest some time to work through eNAP and the content of the sustainability strategy. Because eNAP facilitates access to information, it may increase the amount of information used, thus enhancing the SIA effectiveness. Currently, expectations on such an effect differ with some arguing that the tool encourages officials to take into account a broader range of SDGs, and others assuming to detect goal conflicts and interdependencies rather coincidentally when clicking through the indicators.


3. Politics-Administration Dichotomy

On the way from the ministerial unit in charge for the legislative draft up to the political leadership of the ministry, the impact assessment is typically characterized by a process of filtering and reducing the amount of information. Thus, political decision-makers are only provided with a summary of the assessment and therefore not involved in the SIA implementation with eNAP. State secretaries have, however, been informed about the introduction of eNAP as they are involved in the SIA procedure with the Parliamentary Advisory Council on Sustainable Development who formally reviews the SIA. Overall, the introduction of a digital tool for conducting the SIAs in the German federal bureaucracy is regarded as a rather technical improvement that is not meant to shift the balance of political and bureaucratic logics of action in legislative drafting.


Further materials

The following sources provide additional information on the German Sutainable Development Strategy in general and eNAP in particular:

  • The German Sustainable Development Strategy (2018) (in English). Available here.
  • The electronic sustainability assessment tool eNAP (in German). Available here.

About the Author

Camilla Wanckel

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