Interview with Mr. Jürgen Czernohorszky

Vienna’s strategy with 193 specific measures in 9 areas for over 360,000 young Viennese

The Vienna’s Executive City Councillor for Education, Integration, Youth, and Personnel, Mr. Jürgen Czernohorszky, is the head of Werkstadt Junges Wien program with the aim is to make the youngest residents happy and satisfied, but also to make Vienna the city where they would like to live.

The city of Vienna, also known as the City of Human Rights, developed the Werkstadt Junges Wien program, the largest participation project with children and young people in Vienna’s history that involves over 22.000 young Viennese.

Our interview with Executive City Councillor for Education, Integration, Youth, and Personnel, Jürgen Czernohorszky, from the City Government Office, reveals this special relationship between Vienna and its residents under 19 years old.

Mayors of Europe: Mr Czernohorszky, how did you come up with the idea of the Werkstadt Junges Wien program?

Jürgen Czernohorszky: When it comes to shaping the future of Vienna, we have the highest expectations of ourselves, because everything we do now impacts not only us, but the lives of many generations to come.

Almost one in five Viennese was under 19 years old in 2018. That’s more than 360,000 children and young people. This makes Vienna the federal province with the youngest population in Austria. Over the past 50 years, Vienna has developed from a shrinking and aging city into a young and growing metropolis in the heart of Europe. So it was high time that we listened carefully to the children and young people in our city and learn what the city should look like from their point of view today and in 20 or 50 years.

Since 2014, Vienna has been a City of Human Rights and children rights are human rights too. 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the convention of the Rights of the Child and seemed a very good moment to implement a project that aimed at developing an all government strategy for and with children and young people.

KonferenzderKinder_8292: © PID/Wache, Conference of children and youth scrutinising the suggested measures for the Children and Youth Strategy.

MoE: Could you provide us with more information on the strategy of the program?

JC: The aim of the Werkstadt Junges Wien participation process was to develop a cross-departmental Children and Youth Strategy for Vienna. The title Werkstadt Junges Wien is wordplay on “workshop” or “repair shop” and “city for young people”. In contrast to many other strategy development projects, the process started with the consultation of the target group, i.e. children and young people as experts of their concerns, interests and needs. Only afterwards did agencies and enterprises of the city join the process to share their expertise. The consultation process was launched in February 2019 after holding extensive stakeholder interviews with agencies, associations and enterprises which work with young people in Vienna. A workshop concept was designed to ensure a child and youth-friendly approach, and a metaphor was developed to explain the purpose of the project. As the responsible Executive City Councilor I asked the young Werkstadt Junges Wien experts to perform a “service check” on the City of Vienna. All materials needed for the Werkstadt Junges Wien workshops have been compiled in a tool box which also contained a facilitator’s guide. The tool box was provided to schools, kindergartens, after-school care clubs, socio-educational group homes, adult education facilities, youth organizations and other associations working with and for children and young people in Vienna. We wanted to reach as many young residents as possible and were delighted that more than 22,500 children and young people participated. We particularly aimed at reaching out to vulnerable groups such as children in foster care, children with special needs, minor refugees, and many more to get their perspective on living in Vienna and learn about their specific needs.

The input was analyzed with the help of a social research institute. The analysis showed which issues were most important for children and young people. Then the experts of those various fields joined the process and added their specialized knowledge on the issues. Aims and measures for each of the identified nine main topics were created and discussed first in a children and youth advisory board and later in a conference with over 200 children and young people. It has been an important part of our strategy that children and young people themselves are involved in every step of the process. On the basis of these consultations, the final document of the Vienna Children and Youth Strategy was drawn up and adopted by the Vienna City Council on 24 June 2020.

Photographer: Martin Votava. Copyright: © PID/Votava. Photo of a group of children and young people and politicians holding the “Vienna children and youth Strategy” up in the arcades of Vienna City Hall.

MoE: Have you already received the ideas/suggestions from youth you would like to implement? If haven’t yet, what would you say their main focus is on?

JC: Through Werkstadt Junges Wien we have developed a strategy that has 193 specific measures in the nine areas that were most important to the children and young people and were based on their wishes and suggestions. The strategy has been adopted by the Vienna City Council and thus is a binding commitment for the whole city. The children and young people of Vienna have commissioned the city government in this unique project to further improve the city according to their needs. We are happy to accept this assignment and I look forward to implementing it in a collaborative manner.

MoE: How did pandemic affect the whole initiative? Did it slow down the ideas and suggestions or is everything going according to the initial plan?

JC: On the one hand, we were lucky that the more than 1,300 workshops with children and young people were already completed by the time the pandemic reached Vienna. But, of course, we also suffered some delays and could only present the Strategy to the City Council in June 2020 instead of the previously envisaged deadline of the first quarter of 2020. But we are looking at a long-term strategy here – we now have 5 years to implement the measures agreed upon in the strategy. So we are confident that we will be able to make up for the time lost. And in the past months, we have seen how much children and young people are affected in these times of crisis – one more reason for us to put their needs and interests in the centre of our work.

MoE: What benefits of the program are you expecting?

JC: Our aim is to make Vienna the best city in the world for children and young people. This is an ambitious goal and we are very happy that so many of them showed their interest and, above all, readiness to contribute to reaching that aim. And looking at the wishes and concerns they raised, I am deeply convinced that all residents of Vienna will benefit from the measures we are going to implement because of the Vienna Children and Youth Strategy.

We have already seen one benefit of the process – we have experienced how much we as adults can learn from the dialogue and collaboration. It did not only empower the children and young people in our city, it also empowered us as a city government and administration. At first, we wanted the children and young people to think about their city, but in the end, the city is now thinking about children and young people. There is an entirely new awareness that goes beyond the conventional ideas of democracy.

Photographer: Ismail Gökmen. Copyright: © PID/Gökmen. City Councillor Czernohorszky during a voting procedure with the participants of a Werkstadt Junges Wien Workshop.

MoE: Do you expect other European cities to follow your example?

JC: We would, of course, be delighted if other European Cities followed our example, and we are ready to share our learnings from the project and reflect on the shortcomings to support others who are interested in entering into such a dialogue with their youngest residents. Our educational material and the Strategy itself are also available in English and can be downloaded and used for free. We are currently telling our story in various settings and hope to inspire and encourage many other cities in Europe.

Download the Strategy in English: https://werkstadt.junges.wien.gv.at/site/files/2020/09/The-Vienna-Children-and-Youth-Strategy.pdf

Download the Facilitator’s Guide in English:

https://werkstadt.junges.wien.gv.at/site/files/2020/01/Facilitators-Guide.pdf