The internet-community in Teufen (AR)

01. August 2003

The example of Teufen local authority demonstrates how the heterogeneous needs and knowledge of the population and the administration of a small local authority can be handled. The people in charge at the local authority included the residents in their e-Government endeavours at an early stage and carried out usability tests. In addition, Teufen kicked off the launch of the internet community with a PR campaign. These measures, combined with the right technical implementation, have brought success.

1. Teufen local authority

The geographical location of Teufen local authority is excellent. There are good transport connections to St. Gallen, so that the town is within easy reach for commuters. In addition, Teufen has a highly desirable south-facing residential area with a view of the Säntis-Massiv.

“If we could process secure transactions via the internet, there would be a lot more possibilities for cutting costs and increasing benefits than is the case at present.”
(Barbara Rusch, e-Government manager in the local council)

With 5,700 inhabitants, Teufen is the second-largest local authority in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, although the lives of many of its citizens tend to revolve around St. Gallen. The local authority is therefore on the one hand the centre of the Apenzell midlands and, on the other hand, an agglomeration of the town of St. Gallen.

Jobs in the local authority are provided by trade, tourism and, as a special feature, a number of clinics specialising in rehabilitation. “Clinic tourism” is one of the main pillars of Teufen’s economy.

The tax base in Teufen is lower than in other local authorities in the region. Building land and real estate are somewhat more expensive, but are still available in sufficient quantities. This influences the population struction. Teufen has an above-average number of older residents. There are still a large number of families, but those with a low income are disadvantaged.

The local authority’s annual budget comes to CHF 38 million. This is used to finance administration and all funded establishments, such as schools. 20 people work in the administration department and around 170 jobs in total are funded via the local authority’s budget. The nine local councillors work on a voluntary basis and only the president of the local authority receives a 50% salary.

The following case study reports on the e-Government system in Teufen local authority and how it has succeeded in networking its citizens. [1]

2. Small but impressive

Teufen is small enough to offer its citizens and entrepreneurs a very personal service. Nevertheless, new technologies play an important role in the field of administration. The local council authorised the development and operation of e-Government solutions in a resolution. Since then, the responsible local councillor (Barbara Rusch) and two colleagues (Urs Wieland and Evi Frischknecht) have been working as the e-Government project group on the project and a contractor as been acting as technology supplier. In addition to Urs Wieland, other employees in the administration department are also responsible for maintaining the contents.

Teufen can be seen as a committed local authority in terms of its use of information and communication technology. Its success so far is mainly due to the commitment of the people in charge of e-Government:

  • Initially employees at the local council took some convincing when it came to the merits of the internet. Now, though, resources are allocated, e-Government can be developed, and the subject does not feature strongly on the agenda at meetings.
  • Employees in the administration department are constantly involved in deliberations. Their willingness to change with the aid of e-Government is considerable.
  • The citizens also started to use the website very quickly. To achieve this, the people in charge of e-government resorted to innovative communication measures. In Teuren the URL address was part of the street scene during a wide-ranging PR campaign. The railway stations Teufen, Niederteufen and LustmĂĽhle and the local signs were covered over with the URL addresses.
  • The residents were included in the e-Government scheme. Usage and needs could be identified by means of a survey amongst all the town’s inhabitants, which was carried out by the independent company ergonomie & technologie (e&t) GmbH. This reliable data can be used for optimising and further developing e-Government services.

Success was achieved promptly. The majority of the users of are satisfied with the quality and scope of the local authority’s homepage. The over sixties were especially “responsive”. Admittedly, they prefer personal contact and the telephone, but Teufen can also count this age group amongst its E-Community.

3. Linking up people to the E-Community

e-Government comprises partly internet pages and partly transactions. Surveys, the inclusion of users in the planning process and usability tests help to make internet appearances understandable to and useful for the citizens of Teufen.

Special importance is attached to transactions. The local authority uses standard software for this. It allows the imaging of processes such as moving notifications and the ordering of legal capacity certificates. The local authority’s administration department also supports the services of funded establishments, such as the forestry commission and schools. For example, halls can be reserved in public buildings on the homepage.

This service is targeted at citizens, companies, tourists and the sick. The latter target group takes into account the region’s economic strength in the healthcare market.

Substitute solutions now have to be found for many transactions, as definite identification is still not possible. Many processes are therefore semi-automated. Media breaks therefore occur on the part of administration and on the part of customers.

“If we could process secure transactions via the internet without media breaks, there would be a lot more possibilities for cutting costs and increasing benefits than is the case at present. At the moment, our hands are tied by the government in this respect.” (Barbara Rusch)

As a small local authority with a correspondingly low budget for IT and telecommunications, Barbara Rusch thinks it is especially important to proceed in collaboration with third parties. On the internet pages there are also a lot of links to partner organisations, such as the Tourist Board.

When it comes to integration in the applications of the local govenment, cooperation is not quite as efficient, although discussion are in progress at many levels. Residents’ control data could, for example, be managed in conjunction with other local authorities. Standard software exists for this. To integrate the internet applications with administration solutions, it also appears to make sense to jointly invest in the required middle ware. Teufen planned this integration, but has now withdrawn its plans, as the project would be too expense for Teufen to implement on its own. Cooperation partners have pulled out due to the negative financial situation. A similar picture applies to integration solutions with the cantonal administration department. Teufen offers target groups a one-stop solution. As soon as a transaction has to be carried out by the canton rather than by the local authority, links are provided to the relevant body. The technologies for providing external applications on its own pages (e.g. web services) are still too expensive at the moment.

The central government has also carried out investments in recent years to facilitate the reusability of applications. Guichet virtuel offers citizens the opportunity to use the internet with respect to all administrative questions. Teufen provides information and transactions in Guichet on a virtual basis. Typically, this is dependent on harmonisation. At present, harmonisation applies to data structures. Teufen had to make some adjustments to the current system in order to gain a virtual benefit from Guichet.

4. Efficiency and identification thanks to the internet

In Teufen everyone belongs to the internet community. In this respect, organisation is extremely complex, although where the local authority’s administration department is concerned it is extremely simple. Barbara Rusch represents the interests of the local council in the e-Government project and those of the citizens of Teufen in the local council with respect to internet use.

The e-Government project group plans and operates solutions. In doing so, it is supported by all employees. They are relying on e-Government solutions more and more to carry out tasks.

For technical operation and software adjustments, Teufen works with an external internet service provider.

Decisions regarding funds for construction and for maintaining e-Government applications are made by the local council. The Project Manager puts forward a budget proposal, the opportunities and dangers are discussed and a final decision is made. A good CHF 35,000 were available for the construction of e-Government applications. Less than CHF 4,000 suffice each year for minor improvements and operation. In addition, staff expenses for maintaining the project’s contents have to be allowed for – and as far as the total costs are concerned, the time expenditure of the local council also has to be taken into account of course.

In the estimation of those in charge, Teufen local authority is achieving a result on two levels with the internet:

  1. The administrative work can be carried out with higher quality for the same money.
  2. The citizens of Teufen and interested third parties are informed more quickly and precisely and in more depth and save time dealing with the increasing number of administrative tasks.

In the medium term, the goals are of a more economic and social nature. On the one hand, administrative costs should not increase and on the other hand the web presence of Teufen has an identity-forming effect.

5. Networking means cooperation

On the subject of e-Government, Barbara Rusch familiarised a community with the internet thanks to the support of the authorities and the administration department and citizens. She sees her challenges continuing to be in the field of communication with the citizens of Teufen:

  • She considers her biggest challenge to be the task of continuously giving people new ideas and to show them how life can be made simpler with technology.
  • To ensure that this is achieved, the applications must also be usable. The local authority’s pages are geared to all kinds to needs. Users have very different experiences with technology in general and with the internet in particular. The challenge is to find the right simplifications between knowledge and needs.
  • Another constant task is to keep the information up to date. In Teufen, a pull effect has already become evident. When elections or ballots take place Teufen, citizens get in touch if the results are not posted on the internet immediately. After the landslide in August 2002, for example, the Teufen internet page contained more up-to-date information about the state of drinking water than was reported on the radio.
  • Barbara also wants to promote cooperation with other local authorities, the canton and central government. This cooperation will open up important savings potential and may increase benefits for target groups. As far as the initiation of cooperations is concerned, it is always important to stress that only the utilisation of background synergies is at stake and not mergers between local authorities.

6. Conclusion

The example of Teufen local authority demonstrates how the heterogeneous needs and knowledge of the population and the administration of a small local authority can be handled. The people in charge at the local authority included the residents in their e-Government endeavours at an early stage and carried out usability tests. In addition, Teufen kicked off the launch of the internet community with a PR campaign. These measures, combined with the right technical implementation, have brought success.

Other forms of internet use are very often linked to cooperations. Cooperations with other local authorities, with the canton and central government. To ensure that benefits are achieved for customers and the local authority’s administration department, agreements have to be reached within the network of public administration about functionalilties and data structures. Negotiations have to be carried out to ensure that investments are made in the network at the same time if possible. This takes time and has to be organised.

[1] This case study is based on interviews with Barbara Rusch and Urs Wieland between 10 February and 10 August 2003.

Owner/s of the solution

Gemeinde Teufen
Barbara Rusch, e-Government Manager
Urs Wieland, e-Government project group
Evi Frischknecht, e-Government project group
Industry: Public authorities/Social insurance/Police/Armed forces, local government
Company size: Small enterpriseGemeinde Teufen

Solution partner/s

Christopher H. Müller, Geschäftsführer
ergonomie & technologie

Case study author/s

Pascal Sieber, Nicole Scheidegger
Sieber & Partners
Gerrit Taaks
Unic AG

01. August 2003
Scheidegger; N.; Sieber; P.: The organisation of E-Business III; Verlag Paul Haupt; Bern; Stuttgart; Vienna 2003.

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