Improving administrative quality: Merging of the districts Judenburg and Knittelfeld
district authority office

A. Problem Analysis

 1. What was the problem before the implementation of the initiative?
Austria is a federal republic divided in 9 federal states. The federal state Steiermark was divided in 16 administrative units – political districts – until 2011. The central administration authority of a district is the district commission. This authority has to implement some 800 regional and federal laws in numerous fields of administration, including authorizing businesses, ensuring the security during events, public health, environmental safety, animal welfare, disaster control, etc. All 16 district commissions have the same tasks in Steiermark. They are points of contact for the public and contribute to regional development, mainly in the rural areas. Each district has similar sociopolitical structures: each district has its own district court, police force, special interest groups in economy / workforce / agriculture and many associations maintaining traditions. This administrative organization is present throughout Austria and is rooted in the 19th century and thus a part of Austrian history. Matters of fact: • We live in a globalized world, in which entities divided into small structures are disadvantaged; • Infrastructure as well as mobility has increased; • Many districts are confronted with a decrease in population (rural areas especially). Forecasts say that – especially rural - districts will have to face decline in population by up to 20 %. This is due to the fact that many people settle in urban centers. • E-government is increasingly used and thus a face-to-face-contact with authorities is getting less important. • The federal state Steiermark is under financial pressure. The federal budget therefore has to be readjusted in order to be able to provide services (e.g. social services) for its citizens at an equal rate in the future. • Administrative services can be offered at lower costs for our citizens if we deliver them through bigger organizational entities. The main task of the project, therefore, was to adapt existing administrative structures to the modern environment and to reduce administrative costs, while maintaining a stable range of services for our citizens. In a pilot project, two political districts –Judenburg and Knittelfeld - were merged for the first time (!) in Austria. Their resources were consolidated and thus a new, bigger, and more powerful district was established.

B. Strategic Approach

 2. What was the solution?
The solution was worked out exclusively by staff members of the regional government – no exterior experts were consulted. What did we do? (see link 1 – film describing the project, English and german version.) Above all, the existing administrative framework was substantially changed for the first time in Austria since the 19th century. A process model was developed on how to merge two districts, namely “Judenburg” with some 44.000 inhabitants and “Knittelfeld” with some 30.000 inhabitants and its two district commissions to form one bigger administrative unit. All administrative tasks that can be executed quickly and non-bureaucratically are offered in two locations, enabling the authorities to remain accessible to citizens. All administrative tasks that, however, require expert knowledge by the authorities, were centralized. This model was designed in just six months and was already put into practice. We therefore already have concrete results. The new district “Murtal” came into existence on 1st January 2012, having some 74.000 inhabitants and a new district commission. The project was divided into ten phases with 70 work packages and has been implemented without the help of exterior experts (see Reference Document 1 and 2 - description of work packages in English and german)

 3. How did the initiative solve the problem and improve people’s lives?
It was due to the project that an regional administrative structure that had been grown historically was substantially changed. The new district commission (130 staff members) has been providing the same range of services for its citizens and functions more efficiently at lower costs since January 2012. The first year of the new structure enabled us to save Euro 550.000,--. By the end of 2013 an annual reduction of costs by Euro 1 Million was achieved. These financial means can be used to foster innovative projects in the region (e.g to strenghten the economy or support disabled people). Our cost savings mainly result from a centralization and reduction of human resources. The reduction of staff is, however, not based on denunciations of workers. We much rather chose not to fill the posts of some staff members that went into retirement. Moreover, high-qualified staff members are now used in different positions requiring expert knowledge. The managing staff was reduced from 15 to 7 leading persons enabling us to use experts for complex administrative tasks. This results in faster and better services for our citizens. The improvement in efficiency is, however, not the only achievement of our project, The merging of two district commissions has, moreover, changed the structure of our region in many different ways, although the range of services stayed the same: - All special interest groups (for agriculture, economy…) merged - The national ministry of the interior reduced the police force from 2 stations to only 1; the number of policemen in charge of the safety of the population has not changed - Political parties merged their administrative structures In addition, the successful implementation of our project has motivated politicians to install further reorganisation processes in the federal state Steiermark. Similar to our reform six other districts were merged. So Steiermark currentlx has only 12 instead of initially 16 administartive units. The potential of financial savings due to these reforms is estimated at 10 million Euros per year.

C. Execution and Implementation

 4. In which ways is the initiative creative and innovative?
The implementation of the project was divided into 10 project phases with 70 work packages (see Reference Document 1 and 2 – description of the work packages in English and german). The development and implementation of the project had to be undertaken in 6 month (July – December 2011). The project duration was legally prescribed and could therefore not be expanded. Project phase 0: Conceptual design of the project There has not been any experience with this kind of administrative reformation process in Austria so far. A check-list with all “to-do”-items was therefore established. In total 70 work packages were designed. This list of tasks was later on used in further reform projects. In general all administrative levels were involved in the conceptual design of the project, as well as the general public and politics. Project phase 1: project management A kick-off-event was initiated with some 50 participants to inform about the content of our project as well as to reach a common understanding. Moreover, we reached a consensus on the documentation of our work phases. During the project phases, interim reports were due at regular intervals, to be able to identify possible delays in the implantation of the project. In addition, we established an “info-point” to be able to communicate with all project partners on a regular basis as well as to save important documents. Project phase 2: project communication Since our project merged two districts for the first time, the general public as well as our staff was afraid that it might not work. People mainly feared that the range of services provided would degrade. It was therefore highly important to communicate the goals of our project properly and to gain their trust. - Our staff was regularly updated about the developments of the project in general meetings. Staff members could furthermore pose questions in an online forum, which were answered immediately by the project leaders. - Politicians were updated on the proceeding of the project. - National media was highly interested in our project developments. We therefore held press conferences and we gave radio- and TV-interviews. - Many face-to-face-conversations were held with stakeholders (communities, regional politicians). - The general public was mainly informed two months ahead of the start of work of the new district commission. Each letter by the administration was accompanied by an information leaflet on the reform. Project phase 3: legal reforms Any district commission can only work based on legal norms. 8 national laws an 9 regulations had therefore to be altered. Project phase 4: organization and personnel During this project phase, we decided upon what service shall be offered where. Our main criteria were ensuring the accessibility of the authority as well as guaranteeing the best quality for our citizens at the lowest costs possible. We decided that all services that can be offered quickly and un-bureaucratically will be offered at two locations in the new district, our “citizen´s service points” Complex tasks that require high expert knowledge were centralized. The tasks of our staff had to be redefined. The main criteria in this process were their expert knowledge, their social situation as well as ensuring the continuation of work of the authority. Managing positions were reduced from 15 to 7 jobs and are now mainly connected to positions that are necessary to keep the system going. Staff members with a high level of qualification can therefore now use their skills in areas that require expert knowledge. Further reduction in staff could be undertaken regarding different positions, such as driver or computing experts that are now centrally managed. It is, however, important to mention that no one of the staff was dismissed due to the project. Project phase 5: work organisation The existing work processes in the district commissions were optimized and harmonized in standardized administrative processes. In addition, all administrative documents as well as the online service were adopted. In general, the information flow was renewed. Project phase 6: IT and material costs Computer applications had to bei reorganized on the regional as well as the national administration level. Some 170 computer applications were renewed and 3.800 access rights were allocated. The 38 local communities also hat to adapt their computer applications. Project phase 7: room concept The offices of almost all our staff members hat to be redistributed. We furthermore took care that our administration offices are easily accessible to the public. Adaptians to guarantee accessibility for handicapped persons were undertaken, where necessary. All changes were managed while our office stayed in service. Project phase 8: budget accounting Payment processes of some million euros are carried out by the district commissions. It was thus our aim to merge all bank details and accounts and to standardize accounting processes. Project phase 9: external institutions Each Austrian district has its own historically grow social structure. Many institutions are present: district courts, police force, interest groups for economy / workforce / agriculture / hunting. A change of the general administrative structures therefore has to go hand in hand with further institutional reforms. In many these institutions go hand in hand with further institutional reforms. In many of these institutions reformation processes are already ongoing, which furthers cost savings in different places.

 5. Who implemented the initiative and what is the size of the population affected by this initiative?
The project was supported by the office of the regional government of Steiermark as well as by regional politicians of all parties. The national government also accepted our project. Even on the local level, the developments of our project were welcomed. Our staff cooperated to bring our project to a successful conclusion. The media were a further backing.
 6. How was the strategy implemented and what resources were mobilized?
The project was designed by staff members of the office of the regional government and by personnel from the district commissions. No external experts were consulted during the development and implementation phases of the project. 7.900 man-days were needed. A total amount of – Euro 392.000,-- had to be invested to guarantee the functioning of computer applications. These measures have, however, built the basis for any further administrative reformation measures among the districts that were installed due to the success of this project. The material costs can therefore not solely by ascribed to the project.

 7. Who were the stakeholders involved in the design of the initiative and in its implementation?
1. The project allocates cost savings of 1 Million Euro/year. In some ten years, a total of – 10 Mio could be saved. This is also due to follow-up-projects (6 other districts have already been merged in 2013). These cost savings can be used to finance innovative projects in our new district “Murtal”. 2. Our services to the public did not only remain stable but were even upgraded. We currently have two service points for the public that offer the most frequently required administrative services quickly and un-bureaucratically. 3. Administrative processes are now quicker due to the specialization of our staff. 4. In general, the public seems more satisfied with our work, since we are now able to ensure proper service in cases of illness or vacation of our staff members due to a bigger administrative entity. 5. We designed a best-practice-model for other mergers of districts in the future.

 8. What were the most successful outputs and why was the initiative effective?
The project was audited by the Federal Court of Audit. The pattern of implementation and the results were appreciated by this external body. The project was presented as a “best practice example” during the ESF Launch Conference in Brussels.

 9. What were the main obstacles encountered and how were they overcome?
The biggest challenge was to overcome the fears of the employees and the population. The fear was that due to the new administrative structure the accomplishments of the administration would be provided in a smaller quantity and quality. The fears were overcome with intensive internal and external public relation activities. That way the employees were constantly informed about the status of the project. We established an internet platform, which gave all interested parties the opportunity to pose questions. The general public was informed within the framework of press conferences and numerous interviews in print media, on TV, and on the radio. We submitted a fact sheet of the new administrative structure to every letter of the district commission two months in advance of the new administration. The District Governour instructed about the innovations at all public appearances. The new district Murtal has existed with its new structure since January 2012 and it is fully accepted by the population.

D. Impact and Sustainability

 10. What were the key benefits resulting from this initiative?
1. We designed a best-practice-model, which can be used for any further mergers of districts in all of Austria. 2. The new district “Murtal” is highly accepted in the general public. 3. Our new administrative authority, the district commission “Murtal”, has fulfilled its administrative task to the full satisfaction of our citizens for over a year already. 4. The success of our project lead to the merging of a further six districts in Steiermark and the administrative structure of our region has therefore changed positively: instead of 16 district, we now only have 13 (see Reference Document 3 – current map of districts of the Federal State Steiermark).

 11. Did the initiative improve integrity and/or accountability in public service? (If applicable)
Yes, it is. The successful implementation of the project was taken as an occasion for politics to merge six further districts.

 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)
- Administrative innovation „from within“ - carried by administrative experts themselves – is possible - The most important constituent of an efficient administrative reform is the existence of a good communication - Proposed projects of the administrative reform do not have to be cost-intensive

Contact Information

Institution Name:   district authority office
Institution Type:   Government Department  
Contact Person:   Ulrike Buchacher
Title:   chief district officer  
Telephone/ Fax:   +43 3572 83021
Institution's / Project's Website:  
E-mail:   ulrike.buchacher@stmk.gv.at  
Address:   Kapellenweg 11
Postal Code:   A-8750
City:   Judenburg
State/Province:   Styria
Country:  

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