The Initiative to Restructure Community Service Centers as Welfare Hubs
Seodaemun-gu Office

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
In Korea, growth-centered economic policies implemented for the past few decades have been unresponsive to the welfare needs of the poor. Through economic policies, Korea has become a G-20 country a few decades after it was totally ruined during the Korean War (1950~1953). Still, its income disparity is the second most serious in the OECD countries. The income of the top 1% highest earning population accounts for 16.6% of the GDP, and bipolarization in income distribution continues to worsen. The quality of life of the poor is on the decline. To address this issue, The Korean Central Government prepared various new welfare plans and implemented them thorough local governments. For the implementation of welfare plans, in particular, community service centers directly contact welfare benefit recipients on behalf of a Gu (district) office. There are 14 dongs (neighbourhood) in Seodaemun-gu. Each dong has a population of 10,000 ~ 40,000 and has a community service center with a staff of about 15 public officials. Around 30% of them are engaged in the welfare business. In Korea, various welfare programs have been introduced by the government within a relatively short period of time, leading to welfare officials being overburdened with heavy workloads. The personalized delivery of welfare services to recipients has become almost impossible. Welfare supply and demand has increased, while the manpower connecting the two has not. Thus, low-income people have more difficulties accessing welfare services than before. An obvious solution would be to hire more welfare officials. However, this has to be approved by the central government. Implementation of additional employment is estimated to take years, even if approved by the government. Hiring additional manpower by local governments is not possible, not just because of financial constraints, but also due to restrictions imposed by the central government on the total number of government employees assigned to each district. Moreover, some of the country’s increased welfare programs do not exactly reflect the reality of the low-income population. For instance, some old people with no income at all are disqualified from Basic Livelihood Protection, because of the income of their offspring; who live in other areas and do not support them. Furthermore, although housing costs much more in the capital than in rural areas - 3~4 times in some areas - the government housing subsidy for the lowest-income class applies unilaterally nationwide. Meanwhile, people in the lowest income bracket hardly have access to the latest information on welfare services, and there are quite a number of people who do not know what welfare services they are entitled to in the first place. Thus, there are some “blind spots” in the delivery of welfare services where the most vulnerable in society are completely or partially excluded from welfare benefits designed to aid them.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
Mun Seok-jin, Mayor of Seodaemun-gu, proposed transforming community service centers in the district from administrative centers to welfare service hubs. He proposed this change after consulting with citizens, scholars, and experts. He advocated providing client-customized welfare services. <1. System Upgrade> Seodaemun-gu launched the initiative to transform community service centers into welfare hubs for local communities to deal with the increasing demand for welfare services, and thus enabling the staff to concentrate on welfare services. 1) Job Reassignment The Gu office closely reviewed the tasks carried out by their community service centers. As a result, some of them were transferred to the Gu office. Others that actually became irrelevant due to changes in society were abolished or integrated into different jobs. Furthermore, the Gu office increased the number of automatic certificate-issuing machines installed in community service centers to reduce the routine workloads of the officials. 2) Organizational Restructuring Through reorganization at the level of community service centers, the district of Seodaemun was able to increase the number of welfare officials in community service centers by 26.7% from 66 to 90. The Gu office also increased the number of visiting nurses from 2 to 12 to enhance its “on-site welfare services.” Additionally, a “welfare coordinator” has been appointed for each community service center to provide residents with one-stop welfare information and consulting services. <2. Contents Upgrade> Seodaemun-gu also promoted “welfare services offered through public-private joint governance.” A majority of the country’s policies are still formulated by the government without private sector participation. Thus, some of them, including welfare policies, are unrealistic. Thus, Seodaemun-gu set up diverse forms of governance, which allow and encourage residents to actively participate. 1) Establishing the Seodaemun Council on Social Welfare Seodaemun-gu set up the Seodaemun Council on Social Welfare to support the overall planning and implementation of welfare services in the district. Composed of 27 people, the council reviews the district’s annual plan for welfare services, develops joint public-private welfare projects, and mobilizes additional welfare resources to support those in welfare blind spots. The private sector-led council enhances the district’s ability to address the increasing demand for welfare services through a community-wide network and social safety net. 2) Embrace Additional 100 Households Project The Gu office launched the Embrace Additional 100 Households Project to help those in welfare blind spots. Due to limited government budget, Seodaemun-gu works hard to find potential supporters for people in need. The Gu office tries to identify those in welfare blind spots in cooperation with citizens and private welfare facilities and arranges one-on-one support between the supporters and the needy. It also provides financial support. 3) Free Funeral Service to Deal with Lonely Deaths Each year, more than 1,000 people die without families or friends to take care of them. The Gu office launched Dure (a type of collective labor group within small farming communities of Korea), a free funeral service corps to deal with lonely deaths in the district. It consists of people wishing to donate talent at the municipal crematory facility in the district.

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
Korea began to implement local governance fully in 1991, just 22 years ago. The country’s taxation concentrates heavily on national taxes. Most local governments suffer from fairly low financial self-sufficiency rates and consequently depend heavily on the central government for finances. Furthermore, major policies of local government welfare included are made by the central government and funded by government subsidies. Restructuring any part of local government is hampered by the central government guidelines, specifically on aggregate manpower expenditures at each level of local government. Despite all odds, Seodaemun managed to restructure its community service centers welfare delivery system. The initiative of the district significantly reduced the administrative burdens of the public officials in community service centers through the automation and the transferring of certain administrative responsibilities to the Gu office allowing community service centers to function as hubs for the effective delivery of welfare services. Through the initiative, Seodaemun-gu presented a new community service center model to the rest of the nation. Additionally, Seodaemun-gu had its residents and welfare facilities participate in the district’s welfare decision-making processes through joint governance.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
A community service centers nationwide focus on general administrative tasks including the issuance of various certificates. Thus, Seodaemun restructuring its community service centers and rewriting their mission came as a surprise. The Gu office reiterated that an increasing number of automatic certificate-issuing machines will be installed in community service centers, and that people could use the expanding services of Minwon 24, which issues various certificates online 24/7 by the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration. The Gu office selected Chunghyeon-dong and Namgajwa 2-dong in January 2012 and Sinchon-dong, Yeonhui-dong, and Bukgajwa 1-dong in October 2012 as pilot project sites. Improvements were made through discussions, especially Seodaemun Talk, where representatives from both public and private sectors participated. Additionally, for those who could not participate directly surveys were conducted among the residents. In January 2013, the Gu office officially launched the initiative throughout the district. In February 2013, the Gu office was asked to introduce its initiative to the president’s office, Ministry of Health and Welfare, and Ministry of Safety and Public Administration, among others. That same month, the central government designated “the transformation of community service centers into welfare hubs” by Seodaemun-gu as a national project to disseminate to all other smallest administrative units of the country, while also awarding the initiative with the President’s Award for Improvements in Public Administration. As of October 2013, the Gu office is working with the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs to publish a national manual for reforms in the delivery of social welfare services in the country. The manual is scheduled to be distributed nationwide by the end of 2014. -January 2012: Seodaemun-gu completed a plan to build its community service centers into welfare hubs and selected two community service centers for pilot projects. -February 2012: The district changed the name of “head of dong” into “welfare head of dong.” It obligated the head of each “dong” to visit welfare service recipients regularly. -April 2012: The district established “Seodaemun Council on Social Welfare” and installed additional automatic certificate-issuing machines in community service centers. -October 2012: The district expanded its pilot projects to a total of 5 community service centers. -January 2013: After checking and analyzing the results of the pilot projects, the district spread the initiative to all of its 14 community service centers for more than 310,000 people. -February 2013: Following several visits to the district by high-level officials from the central government, the initiative of the district was designated as a national project. -April 2013: The district launched a project to find residents in welfare blind spots. Following a three-month on-site investigation, it found 1,565 needy households. During the first-phase of action, the Gu office arranged for 833 households to receive welfare benefits immediately. -October 2013: The Gu office began to compile a manual for fundamental reforms in the delivery of welfare services in the country with the Ministry of Health and Welfare, etc.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
A community service center carries out a total of 292 different welfare tasks under the auspices of 17 agencies of the central government. Apart from such complex welfare business, a dong office is busy dealing with residents wanting a whole host of certificates from resident registration to one’s seal of authentication. It is also responsible for health, employment, cleaning, and parking enforcement in its respective community. Therefore, the reforms in community service centers were directly related to the interests of a large number of people. Prior to the implementation of the initiative, the Gu office had numerous internal meetings to make all the necessary arrangements. It also contacted the central government including the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration for matters subject to the approval of the central government. The Seodaemun-gu conducted a number of on/offline surveys among its residents on the initiative and collected their opinions. In addition, a number of welfare-related institutions and organizations took part in the preparation of the initiative. Therefore, the success of the initiative is attributable to the input of its stakeholders’ diverse opinions. The central government has paid keen attention to the initiative as indicated by the fact that, quite extraordinarily, very high-ranking government officials including the prime minister, Minister of Health and Welfare, Vice Minister of Safety and Public Administration, and presidential secretary for employment and welfare - visited the district seeking to disseminate the reforms to the entire country.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The initiative to develop a dong office into a welfare hub involved the restructuring of the community service center without any additional financial burden. Korea is one of the global leaders in information technology. Community service centers in Seodaemun-gu are now equipped with automatic certificate-issuing machines connecting all government agencies to community service centers so that citizens may receive various certificates at community service centers. As a result, quite a number of public officials in charge of certificate issuance were able to refocus their energy on welfare tasks. Through the restructuring of community service centers, the district was able to improve the delivery of its diverse welfare services. In addition, community service centers could carry out a full investigation about the people in welfare blind spots. The community service centers in the district were also able to launch “the Dure Project,” which offers free funeral services to those without families and friends in collaboration with the relevant facilities and many volunteer residents of the district. Fanally, quite a number of residents in the district have participated in efforts to discover those in welfare blind spots, and some of them volunteered to help them through a form of talent donation. Seodaemun-gu has developed a governance-type welfare community in the district.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
The number of welfare programs that a community service center must handle has increased to a total of 292. Many potential benefit recipients are just confused, and they do not know what benefits they can apply for and where they should make applications. The initiative of Seodaemun-gu is significant since each of its 14 community service centers throughout the area has changed into a one-stop welfare service provider. Seodaemun-gu has reorganized its community service centers so that they can play the role of hubs for the delivery of various welfare services. The reform is so successful that the central government has adopted it as a national project. So far, residents’ response to the restructuring has been quite positive. In a survey conducted in August 2013, residents showed a satisfaction rate of 60.8% (and a dissatisfaction rate of 8.4%) with regard to the transformation of community service centers into hubs for the delivery of welfare services. To transform community service centers in the district into welfare hubs, they needed more welfare manpower. Seodaemun-gu secured more welfare personnel through the reorganization of community service centers instead of additional employment of public officials. Overall, the number of public officials in 14 community service centers of the district declined 11.6% to 206 in the first half of 2013 from 233 a year earlier. However during the same period, welfare personnel increased 26.7% from 66 to 90. The number rose to 116 when temporary welfare assistants were added to the list as of the end of June 2013. Launched in 2011, the Embrace Additional 100 Households project in the district coincided with the progress of reforms in community service centers. As a result of combined efforts by the Gu office, residents, and welfare facilities, they were able to identify those in welfare blind spots and connect them to voluntary supporters. Resulting in the people in need receiving 300,000 ~ 500,000 KRW(1USD=1,050KRW) per person per month until they can stand on their own. Seodaemun-gu has checked each and every one of its 55,510 households classified as vulnerable and categorized 1,565 of these as those in need. So far, the Gu office has linked 833 to private supporters for immediate help.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
Changes in welfare policies are meaningful only when recipients actually feel them. The Gu office conducted a survey among district residents on the transformation of the functions of community service centers in July 2012 while running pilot projects in two community service centers. It carried out another survey the following month - August 2012 - among the recipients of welfare benefits. In July 2013 when the initiative was being implemented throughout the district, the Gu office launched yet another survey among residents and welfare officials. The results reflected the improvements of the policy. Currently, the Seodaemun-gu office is participating in research projects being implemented by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Ministry of Health and Welfare, respectively, in the hopes that its reforms in welfare delivery systems would expand to the entire city of Seoul and to the whole country.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
A community service center undertakes a whole series of tasks for its 30,000 ~ 50,000 residents including issuance of various certificates, cleaning, parking enforcement, welfare, etc. To place particular emphasis on any one of the tasks, Seodaemun-gu office had to obtain approval from the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration, which is in charge of the overall control of tasks carried out by community service centers. It was just extraordinary for a Gu office to propose making a fundamental overhaul in the functions of community service centers. The Gu office did its best to convince the central government of the need to refocus the functions of its community service centers. It made a presentation on the topic before the president. It fully explained the benefits of the reforms to the prime minister during his visit to the Gu office. As a result, the Ministry of Safety and Public Administration is preparing guidelines for the restructuring of community service centers nationwide. Seodaemun-gu has offered the nation a chance to make significant changes in the operation of the smallest unit of public administration in the country.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
The biggest significance of refocusing the functions of community service centers is that the focus of the welfare service delivery system has shifted from the provider to the beneficiary. Public services in the country are largely top-down. Previously, customized public services had yet to be realized in the country. Generally, uniform services are designed by the central government and implemented nationally. Seodaemun-gu has succeeded in changing its welfare services to bottom-up services through the restructuring of its community service centers. The district has turned its community service centers into welfare hubs through changes in perspectives combined with actions on restructuring and subsequent increased welfare personnel manpower. Previously, community service centers just waited for potential beneficiaries. Now, their welfare personnel and visiting nurses go to the doors of the needy and guide them to a diverse set of welfare benefits. Seodaemun-gu is realizing client-oriented welfare services. The community service centers in the district provide one-stop services to those who visit and inquire about various welfare services for which they may qualify. Between the first half of 2012 and the same period in 2013, the district increased visits to the needy by 213%, linking of the needy to public welfare services by 102%, and arrangement of fringe benefits or support from the private sector by 205%. Overall, welfare services almost doubled in just one year between 2012 and 2013, largely due to the reorganization of community service centers in the district. Local communities are weaker in Korea than in the western hemisphere due to the country’s devastating war in the middle of the 20th century and one of the fastest industrializations in the world for the past several decades. Residents’ participation is critical to the success of welfare programs in local communities. Therefore, Seodaemun-gu office has continued to encourage local communities to participate actively in all welfare-related matters. It has collected residents’ opinions on the delivery of its welfare services through the Welfare Council, arranged for those in welfare blind spots to get financial aid from voluntary supporters, and offered humanitarian help to the neediest by offering Dure funeral services to those without families or friends. In Seodaemun, joint public-private governance is set up for welfare services in particular through the active participation of both public and private sectors in such matters. Through the governance network, the district has discovered 220 households in need and provided them with personal supporters. The link to welfare services through local communities has sharply increased from 18 to 55 cases each month.

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
The core of the initiative is the shift of focus of community service centers from the issuance of various certificates to the delivery of welfare services in line with national economic development. The initiative will become a new model for a total of 3,800 smallest administrative units in the country. The initiative is highly sustainable; it does not involve any significant financial burden. Restructuring of the administrative units is all that is required. It is applicable to other countries as well. Recognized for such creativeness and innovations, the head of the district was invited by the country’s presidential office to make a presentation before the president. The president’s office has paid keen attention to the initiative. In Korea, the initiative of Seodaemun-gu for reforms in the organization of community service centers has already been selected as a national project by the central government and is being promoted nationwide as of 2013. The prime minister and high-level officials of the Ministry of Health and Welfare and Ministry of Safety and Public Administration have visited the Gu office for an on-site check of the initiative. Many other public agencies and regional/local governments in the country have sent representatives to the district for benchmarking purposes. In 2013 alone, more than 60 delegations have come to the Gu office and learned about the initiative. - October 2012: The initiative was selected as a model case by the Seoul Municipal Government. - November 2012: The initiative was honored with the Excellent Local Welfare Award by the Hankyoreh Institute for Social Policy and Grand Prize for Local Governments’ Creative Welfare Delivery System by the Ministry of Health and Welfare. - February 2013: Seodaemun-gu made a presentation on its new welfare delivery system at the President’s office. - March 2013: The Minister of Health and Welfare visited the Gu office to learn about the initiative. The Vice Minister of Safety and Public Administration visited the Gu office to learn about the initiative. The Presidential Secretary for Employment and Welfare visited the Gu office to learn about the initiative. The district was selected as model district in the delivery of welfare services. - April 2013: The Prime Minister visited the Gu office to learn about the initiative. (More than 60 other institutions and local governments nationwide have sent delegations to the district to learn about the initiative.) - November 2013: The initiative was awarded the President’s Award for Improvements in Public Administration.

 12. Were special measures put in place to ensure that the initiative benefits women and girls and improves the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable? (If applicable)
In Korea, most policies with the greatest impact on the residents are prepared by the central government (top-down style). Local governments execute the policies faithfully, raising no objections to them. Note, however local governments are in direct contact with citizens and they are able to measure the impact of policies on the ground. Therefore, the local governments are in a position to propose improvements to the policies allowing them to become more practical and effective. The initiative to restructure community service centers in Seodaemun-gu to deliver social services more efficiently is recognized as a very valid idea in itself. The initiative is also remarkable since it has involved bottom-up proposals advocating making reforms in the structure of the country’s delivery of welfare services to potential recipients. An important lesson is that local governments must not be complacent with their position as faithful executioners of policies crafted by the central government, and that they could view the policies from the residents’ perspectives, suggest making improvements in the policies to the central government, and wield widespread impacts on the well-being of the entire country.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Seodaemun-gu Office
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Dae-seob Lee
Title:   manager  
Telephone/ Fax:   82-2-330-1087/82-2-330-1442
Institution's / Project's Website:  
Address:   Yeonheero 248
Postal Code:   120-703
City:   Seodaemun-gu
State/Province:   Seoul

          Go Back

Print friendly Page