Faced with dwindling financial resources and the new and increasing demands created by climate change and demographic trends, politicians and government authorities are having to be more effective and efficient in how they use funds. At the same time, they need to improve the quality of services and enhance citizen satisfaction with delivery. To achieve this, many cities are undertaking reforms in organisation and management, human resources development and cooperation with civil society and business.
The understanding of urban management has changed radically over the last few decades, both in Germany and in other western European states. We have seen traditional government authorities transform into modern service providers. Strongly hierarchical, rigid administrations are giving way to transparent administrative processes and improved quality in public services. The citizen has become a ‘customer’ who is entitled to effective, high-quality services. Policy-makers and government departments are taking their lead from market standards and the principles of business management. For the public, this modernisation has meant one-stop shops, extended opening hours of municipal offices and online access to selected services.
But cities in developing countries and emerging economies are also taking this path. In particular by using information technology, local authorities can do much to enhance the transparency and efficiency of their work. The city state of Singapore and the city of Sragen in Central Java, Indonesia are leading the way internationally in this respect. But even poorer developing countries offer opportunities. On behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), GIZ has supported Jamalpur Pourashava, Bangladesh in setting up a one-stop service centre. The centre offers citizens a single window for all their dealings with the authorities. This means, for instance, that even people who cannot read can always get the help they need, which helps foster inclusion of otherwise marginalised groups. Computerising administrative procedures has also made for huge efficiency gains and significantly reduced processing time.
Modern management methods are also playing an increasing role in the maintenance of municipal infrastructure and real estate. Such methods include agreeing on staff objectives, decentralised responsibility for resources and transferring tasks to public and private businesses.
One good example here is the German city of Freiburg’s efficient and sustainable facility management. Rather than leaving responsibility for the operation and maintenance of public buildings in the hands of the authorities using them, in 2006 Freiburg founded the special facility management body Gebäudemanagement Freiburg. The body is responsible for the operation, energy supply, cleaning and renting of all city-owned properties. Thanks to the eradication of non-transparent and parallel structures, the central facility management body now works much more efficiently, in both economic and environmental terms. It uses environmentally friendly materials and alternative energy sources, making a significant contribution to achieving Freiburg’s sustainability objectives.
It is now widely accepted that city governments must be service-oriented. The new paradigm is ‘local government for citizens’, which sees the member of the public as an active force in helping design and create public services. In many cities this approach has produced impressive results: citizens are involved in developing guiding principles for local government, establishing and running pre-school facilities and swimming pools, and participatory development planning in urban districts. German cities face the challenge of creating an enabling environment for civic engagement and developing a new self-understanding of politics and government.
The crucial factor in all efforts to modernise city governments is a results-based approach aimed at contributing to the common good. This requires political management capacities and authorities that are willing and able to perform and that are open to actively involving civil society in their work. As well as ensuring appropriate training for staff, a suitable incentives system must be put in place and opportunities for codetermination introduced.
Cities in developing countries face particular challenges here. Lower wages and changes at political level mean high staff turnover rates, making it more difficult to establish efficient managerial and administrative capacities and resulting in the loss of institutional knowledge. Steps that can be taken to counter these effects include drawing up career models, standardising contracts and processes, and appointing two members of staff in key positions.