Keywords Search

23. Optionskommune

23.1. Short description

Traditionally, labour market and social policies are organised and allocated separately in Germany. While labour market related issues are taken care of by local branches of the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit), communities have always been in charge of the provision of social services and welfare-related financial support. Most recently, this division has partly been abolished and combining different policy fields is the innovative aspect of this new development: the Federal Government institutionalised the possibility to hand over the provision of social assistance (welfare support) and assistance related to unemployment (in particular benefits granted for long-term unemployed) to the municipalities. This new approach permits the allocation of responsibility for labour market and social policy issues to local governments and is called “Optionskommune”. However, not being an Optionskommune means that the Federal Employment Agency remains the leading institution coordinating the supply of social benefits. It relies on cooperation with the local administrations. Either way, both models contain a legal obligation to establish joint institutions called Jobcenters.

In order to become an Optionskommune local governments had to file an individual application to the State Ministry for Labour, Integration and Social Affairs. They had to show that they are capable of successfully taking over the tasks and duties of the Jobcenter. Since the programme departs from the traditional German approach regarding social and labour market policies, this has been a competitive process. At the moment, there are around 110 Optionskommunen all over Germany. In 2012, Münster was chosen to become one of them, whereas several rural districts in the surrounding Münsterland have already established the model since 2004. This allows a coherent and integrated regional approach with respect to labour market initiatives, particularly for those groups and constituencies that face significant difficulties in finding a job. Indeed, the city of Münster hopes to significantly improve job placement processes and other services offered to citizens and local companies. The change towards the Optionskommune involves an adaptation of the structures of labour market policy and is therefore a quasi-permanent innovation.

23.2. Conceptions and ways of addressing users

Being an Optionskommune is an innovative approach as it allows a different perspective on unemployed people: unemployment is not seen as individual failure, it mainly considers unemployment a structural problem. Therefore, the development towards an Optionskommune can be seen as an answer to these structural problems as it brings social policy and labour market together.

Essentially this model follows a decentralised approach: it is assumed that the Jobcenter as a local institution is better situated to take care of unemployed people than the Federal Employment Agency, since it can rely on local expertise and networks. In this way, it is possible to establish more individualised ways of addressing users and finally place more people in paid labour. In this, the Optionskommune follows an empowering approach, as the Head of the Social Department explains. As it is not possible to appoint more staff to support the unemployed, existing staff changed their ways of working. They are now using another consulting approach “away from taking care of the unemployed on the basis of software tools towards the individual and his/her history”4. He further states that the Jobcenter in general has taken on another perspective on unemployed people: from now on it considers them more as potential contributors to the local economy than as “problematic cases”.

Subsequently this approach is based on

“another perspective on the issue of unemployment. It is another way of working with the people that come to us. The consulting process […], the way in which measures of integration are conceptualised and implemented has changed. […] Not everyone has to participate in application training, not everyone has to participate in this and that…rather the focus is placed on the costumer and its chances and strengths. On that basis, integration measures are conceptualised. This offers an entirely modified approach…“5

Moreover, local authority tries to decrease bureaucracy in the Jobcenter. This decision has positive consequences for the unemployed since it improves the focus on the individual and his/her specific situation. It also supports the idea of giving the case workers enough scope for independent decisions that favour the individual unemployed. Altogether, the Optionskommune offers more room for other, more flexible and sustainable instruments in addressing users than the former model did.

23.3. Internal organisation and modes of working

Currently, it is quite difficult to evaluate the status quo of the implementation of the Optionskommune and its modes of working, because the new instruments have not been set up in detail yet. However, an advisory board, which is required by law, has been given additional weight in Münster: consisting of 16 regional representatives from the field of labour market policy from the administration, civil society and political parties, this board is becoming increasingly involved in the development of local labour market strategies in order to develop innovative approaches for the integration into the job market6.

At the moment, involved parties (administration, civil society and political parties) are working on an approach as to how to effect and modify local structures that were implemented with the Optionskommune. As this is an ongoing process the first step has been developing strategic principles for the future social- and labour market-political organisation of the Optionskommune. Therefore, tangible outcomes are not available yet (cf. focus group interview II and IV).

23.4. Interaction with the local welfare system

The Optionskommune follows the concept of subsidiarity, stating that matters should be handled by the least centralised authority. Thereby, this concept fits into the overarching structure of the German welfare state and Münster’s main paradigms. In this way, the Optionskommune is an example for a general German trend that started a couple of years ago and has brought immense changes for the local welfare system, particularly financially: a transfer of competences from the federal state or the Länder towards the local level.

Particularly concerning the provision of labour, the opting-model follows the assumption that the local authority is more appropriate than the state in providing jobs. Local authority in Münster can draw on good contacts to entrepreneurs and networks within the local economy. Thus, the Jobcenter knows the local job market and can help job seekers on their way to getting in touch with future employers. Therefore, the Optionskommune can be considered as an innovative “lighthouse project”. It is not only beneficial to the local authority of Münster, but to the entire Münsterland region.

Even though this innovation is an instrument situated on a meta level it provides the context and structural framework for strategic and sustainable social innovations within the local welfare system: it can be considered a basic precondition to pursue an integrated local social policy that enables the administration to include labour market policy into their local governance approach. By integrating various stakeholders into inter-sector networks and trying to include local entrepreneurship as partners, a “city of well-being” can be created. The most challenging, but finally successful process, was bringing together different participants:

“We spoke different languages. The people of the social policy and the labour market area – they used the same words but told different stories. That was not possible in the past, working together on labour market policy focussing on the various target groups. […] Being tied together because of the opting-model is very valuable.7

Therefore, the most innovative aspect of the Optionskommune is the “chance of social policy and labour market policy in a city melting into unity”8. The Optionskommune opens up a potentially multi-purpose scope for integrated approaches addressing social problems (cf. MAMBA). Splitting funding between several social stakeholders is another positive outcome and a reason why the model seems to be a win-win situation for both the administration and social service providers.

In terms of potential diffusion of the model, it must be noted that the Optionskommune is a specifically German model, which draws heavily on the German federal structure and the traditions of local self-government. Thus, it might be difficult to transfer it to other, more centralised states where municipalities lack the administrational capacities and experience. It would at least require stronger re-structuring and re-deployment of resources than was the case in Münster. In addition, the expected success of the Optionskommune in providing jobs more efficiently depends heavily on the availability of local networks between the administration and the local labour market.


Content keywords

Keywords: Activation | Activation policies | Case management | Child care | Child education | Citizen initiatives | Citizenship | Civil society | Co-funding | Co-production | Collaboration | Community | Community development | Democracy | Deregulation | Development | Diffusion | Disability | Employment services | Empowerment | Enabling | Entrepreneurialism | Entrepreneurship | European Social Fund | Family caregivers | Family Centres | Family needs | Family-minded | Gentrification | Governance | Grassroots initiatives | Housing corporation | Housing policy | Incubator | Integration | Labour market | Labour market integration | Local context | Local governance | Local governments | Local initiatives | Local welfare | Local welfare system | Lone mothers | Lone parent support | Micro-credit | Municipality | Neighbourhood | Neighbourhood revitalisation | Network | Networking | Participation | Partnerships | Personalising support | Political administrative system | Precarious working conditions | Preschool education | Privatisation | Public administration | Regional government | Segregation | Single mothers | Social and solidarity-based economy (SSE) | Social capital | Social cohesion | Social economy | Social enterprise | Social entrepreneurship | Social housing | Social housing policies | Social inclusion | Social investment | Social media | Subsidiarity | Sustainability | Third sector organisations | Unemployment | Urban gardening | Urban renewal | User choice | Welfare governance | Welfare mixes | Workfare | Young mothers | Youth unemployment

23. Optionskommune

Categories: Employment

23. Optionskommune