Step 11 - Establish management and/or representative structures

From Municipal Cooperation

Establishing IMC
PHASE 1: Initiating cooperation
PHASE 2: Establishing cooperation
PHASE 3: Implementing IMC
PHASE 4: Evaluating IMC

The implementation of a private law contract can usually be initiated rapidly. Implementing a public law agreement may require the endorsement of the relevant central or regional government authority. The creation of a private law legal entity can take place easily at any time. As regards public entities, it may be preferable to create them at the beginning of a new fiscal year, which is more convenient for the preparation of a budget, the allocation of state subsidies or the introduction of taxes, if appropriate. In some IMC legislation, this is in fact the only possibility.

If the establishment of an IMC council is envisaged, the municipal councils should nominate their delegates to the council before the official starting date of the IMC entity. Among the first tasks of the IMC council is to approve its statutes and to elect the president of the IMC institution, the vice president(s) and other officials.

The selection of staff to manage the IMC activities is vital. Ideally, the people chosen should have relevant skills and the ability to communicate and build trust among the partners. The recruitment of such staff may take time. If the IMC tasks are fulfilled by the employees of one of the municipalities, the transition can be very short. But even here, the partner municipalities must agree on how the arrangement will practically work and on how the costs will be shared. Time may also be needed to harmonize existing regulations, agree on common procedures, find and equip offices for the IMC administration, conceive and discuss projects, carry out technical studies or elaborate the financial planning.

Box 23: The need for clear and fair management arrangements

Agree on a management arrangement and establish a chain of authority. Outline what needs to be done in order to achieve the listed objectives. This involves identifying and recording all of the tasks, sub-tasks and other activities that must be carried out in order to fulfill the terms of the anticipated partnership, and who will be responsible for each. It is important that each partner understands their decision-making authority and that roles and responsibilities are assigned on the basis of knowledge and know-how (and not according to financial capacity or power).

The roles and responsibilities should be assigned equitably among the partners so that no one partner is, or appears to be, able to exercise control over the others. Specify the areas of autonomy and interdependence for each. This will include defining the limits of what each partner can do without the approval or knowledge of the other partners. A conscious effort will be required for mutual consultation on issues that require the agreement of all partners, such as on budget, timetable and the replacement of key personnel.

Determine the procedures for decision making. In multi-partner partnerships, it is even more important to decide in advance how decisions are to be made – by consensus, majority vote, open or secret balloting, or by another manner. Sometimes, there are different decision-making processes for different kinds of questions. For example, do financial decisions need to go back to each partner for approval? In the case of disagreement or conflict between the individual partners, it is beneficial to provide for a conciliation or conflict resolution process.

Communications are essential in any working relationship. Identify the different means that will be used for exchanging and disseminating information. A process should be established that ensures that all of the partners have prompt, efficient means of communicating among themselves. Additionally, each of the partners should have mechanisms established within their own organizations to keep decision makers internally informed of issues or developments that can have an impact on the partnership.

Determine the rights of ownership, use, distribution and visibility of any technology or services that may be delivered by means of the partnership. Depending on the type of product or service that will result from the partnership, some consideration will need to be given to who will retain ownership of each particular asset; these ownership issues should be clearly defined in the formal agreement.

Specify the conditions governing the admission or withdrawal of a partner. The procedure to be followed when a potential new partner is admitted to the arrangement or the appropriate compensation to be paid if one of the partners withdraws should be defined in the agreement so that all stakeholders are aware of the arrangements.

Source: Union of Nova Scotia Municipalities (2002)

It may take a few months before results from the IMC are visible to the population. This is why it is important to keep citizens informed on the process of establishment of the institution and the conditions for the operation of the IMC. Also, once an IMC operation has started, it will not necessarily bring immediate benefits. The building up of knowledge, skills and organizational routines of IMC staff may also require time; several years may elapse before IMC produces the expected cost savings and/or better quality services.

Box 24: How to maintain a cooperative spirit

A positive, supportive attitude toward cooperation is often a key to success.

  • Be proactive. Cooperation generally does not come to communities that are not proactive. A cooperative spirit leads municipal officials to seek out opportunities for cooperation. When potential cooperative programmes are identified, the proactive community pursues the opportunity with its neighbours and works actively to turn the programmes into success stories.
  • Be flexible. There is seldom one absolutely right way to organize a given programme for an activity. There are numerous ways to organize intergovernmental cooperation programmes. If municipalities are inflexible in this regard, a programme might not get started or may be less effective. Cooperation relies on give and take. Municipal officials should maintain openness to different solutions for different problems and may need to compromise along the way. Since the municipalities will be neighbours for many years to come, there may be numerous opportunities to gain mutual benefits if a little flexibility is invested now.
  • Be patient. Despite various pressures for prompt action, cooperative efforts usually take time and should be approached with patience. It is often best to start off with a basic activity rather than plunging directly into a major sewer plant or departmental consolidation programme. A cooperative programme often takes longer to organize than an individual municipal programme, simply because there are more people involved and more approvals required. A patient, step-by-step approach, with plenty of time for each step, should lead to more long-term success.
  • Think regionally. Municipal officials frequently face decisions about new, expanding or changing municipal services. If you ask yourself, “Is there a regional solution to this problem?” for every issue raised in municipal government, you may be surprised at the number of times the answer is “Yes”. Remember, in order to maintain a cooperative spirit, you should think regionally about the problems that your municipality faces.
  • Brief newly elected officials. The spirit of cooperation should be handed down to successor governing boards. Officials who initiate cooperative efforts are often enthusiastic supporters of regional programs and have a strong cooperative spirit. As those officials leave office, however, their replacements may have little familiarity with the cooperative programmes or with the underlying spirit needed for continuing support and participation. These newly elected officials should be briefed on the cooperative programmes and the spirit of cooperation on which they are based. These officials may bring new perspectives and questions.
Source: State of New York, Office of the State Comptroller (2003)