If you don’t already know Andrea Römmele, you’re likely to encounter her on one of Germany’s public affairs talk shows as the country gears up for its September 2021 general election. An expert in political communications, Römmele is a familiar voice – weighing in on campaign strategies and political party participation, which are the subject of her research and teaching at the Hertie School.
The Professor of Communication in Politics and Civil Society and Dean of Executive Education at the Hertie School is also host of the series “Understanding Democracy”, being broadcast on German public TV’s ARD-alpha this election season. The series aims to increase awareness and understanding of Germany’s democratic institutions during this “super election year” – a string of local, state and federal election – culminating in the replacement of 16-year Chancellor Angela Merkel. The topic is especially important in view of growing far-right political activity in Germany and elsewhere, Römmele says.
Originally from Stuttgart, Römmele spent her early years in London, returning to Germany to finish school. She studied in the US before attending the University of Heidelberg and the Freie Universität Berlin for her PhD. Joining the Hertie School as a faculty member in 2010 after two years as a lecturer, she has held a number of roles – the latest since 2018, helping shape the future of Executive Education at the School.
Römmele’s approach to developing offerings for public managers is “to bring an entrepreneurial, collaborative spirit to work with our partners around the world – international organisations, NGOs, major foundations,” she says. “Also with our alumni, who understand what we can offer to their organisations and are starting to reach out to us to explore executive trainings.”
Creatively managing the challenges of the pandemic opened up new vistas for Executive Education, Römmele says. The School’s expansion in online offerings took its programmes in a new direction, focusing, for example, on projects in Africa, and working with organisations like the German development agency GIZ to train public administrators in countries including Tunisia, Egypt and Nigeria on innovative practices.
The Executive Education team developed new Certificates, both customised for specific partners and open programmes for professionals from government, politics and civil society. They teamed up with the NGO República.org in Brazil for human resources training for public administrators, offered a two-year capacity- and alliance-building programme for top Human Rights Defenders around Europe, and held trainings in Political Communication in Times of Disinformation, which Römmele taught.
“I was astonished at how open all of our clients were to switching online – and I think we did as many – if not more – courses online than we could have travelling to those countries,” she says. “But still, nothing compares to the classroom experience, or conversations you have over coffee or just meeting people in the corridor. We've all missed that a lot.” She expects some certificate courses may be offered as hybrid online and in-person classes in the future.
At the Hertie School, Römmele also teaches the popular course for Master of Public Policy students, Political communication in the digital age, which she’ll be offering in the Fall Semester 2021. “That course is always very interesting when there is a high-level campaign and election – like during the US presidential campaign last year, and the German campaign this fall,” she says.
An exciting feature of the course are the practitioners she brings in for conversations with the students: campaign consultants, digital experts. pollsters, etc. During the pandemic, Römmele made sure to meet with a small group of students once a week, following the hygiene rules, to discuss class material, but also to help students maintain social contact and community ties, as many of them were far from home and isolated in Berlin.
Tied to that topic is her current research on “Digital Campaigning and Electoral Democracy”, a European Research Council (ERC) Advanced Grant project led by Rachel Gibson, politics professor at the University of Manchester. As part of a team of researchers examining the use of digital technologies in political campaigns, Römmele is contributing research on the German landscape.
Against the backdrop of elections in five major democracies between 2020 and 2023, the research aims to shed light on the consequences of these new political practices for both voters and parties.
Since Römmele joined the Hertie School, much has changed, she notes: the faculty has tripled, the School has added research centres focusing on policy issues related to major global concerns, like digitalisation, sustainability, fundamental rights, security and the future of European integration. It has also added new master’s programmes in International Affairs and Data Science for Public Policy, as well as a Data Science Lab.
“Looking back, I can really see the place go through different phases. When I came 13 years ago, we still had the feel of a startup. Then there was a phase of consolidation and growing and now we really have professionalization. I think we are now on equal footing with the other great policy schools in Europe,” Römmele says. “Moving into the landmark building of the Robert Koch Forum in the coming years will also make a change – having this iconic building, close to the Bundestag, will put the School on a different level again.
“I still think this is the most fantastic place I could imagine working at,” Römmele says.
Watch Professor Römmele speak about her experience at the Hertie School in this video
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Views expressed by the author/interviewee may not necessarily reflect the views and values of the Hertie School.