Establishing a Link

There are many different types of partnership. Some are formal agreements or twinning links, involving the signing of a document, charter or memorandum of understanding, some involve time limited projects and some are informal links with no kind of written agreement or protocol.

However, whatever the nature of the link, it is important to consider the following principles:

* there should be common understanding between the partners;
* there should be effective communication;
* the aims and objectives of the partnership need to be clear and transparent; and
* mechanisms need to be in place to involve the wider community, if appropriate.

STEP ONE: Finding a partner

Finding the right partner and developing a successful link requires time and patience to get right. The LGA can help by providing a partner search service, working closely with counterpart organisations in the rest of Europe and the world. Applications may be made by local authorities or by community groups that have the approval of their local authority.

A simple questionnaire must be completed providing factual information about the applicant community and details of the type of partnership sought. This information is then compared with the list of applications from overseas communities seeking UK partners and, once a match has been made, communities are put in contact with each other.

STEP TWO: Exploratory visits

Potential partners should make contact with each other to check areas of common interest. Exploratory visits are a useful way to discuss individual aims and objectives for a partnership and to ensure there is consensus on the way forward. Before a visit, both sides should draw up a list of key questions anf queries and undertake some basic research on each other's culture. It is also important to decide whether partners can work with the individuals concerned on a detailed project. By tactfully asking searching questions and taking notes andvisual remindersof the area, the two sides should be able to decide whether they can work together.

STEP THREE: Formalise the relationship

Formalising a link is generally subject to the decision-making processes within a local authority and needs to be formally ratified. It is customary for twinned communities to have some sort of written agreement or charter, drawn up by both partners and signed by senior elected representatives from the two communities. The text of the charter may be in two languages, and each community should retain a copy. The document is not legally binding but should describe the rationale for setting up the link and reflect the interests and aspirations of both communities.

Agreements should cover a wide range of issues, in line with the philosophy that twinning should involve as many sections of the local community as possible and should not be restrictive. An agreement that relates solely to the development of educational or economic links would not be considered to be a twinning partnership.

As charters are intended to stand the test of time, they should be vague in content, rather than relate to specific projects, and should be personalised to reflect the nature of the two communities. In a formal sense, twinning links are indefinite and not bound by time. Any charter should be as relevant in 20 years' time as it is on the day it is agreed.

It is customary for charters to be formally signed at official ceremonies in both communities. While this procedure is important, in order to maximise the benefits of a visit to the partner community, the ceremony can be organised as part of a much wider programme, with a number of other activities, including future planning.

Charters may also be developed to reflect different types of links, such as informal, time limited or project specific. These are often referred to in a memorandum of understanding or cooperation.

STEP FOUR: Strategic Planning

To get the best from a partnership, it is important to make it accessible to all. Astrategic approach should be adopted to ensure this happens.

A strategic plan should consist of three sections:
* the aims and objectives of the partnership, encompassing all aspects of the local organisation and community;
* a methodology, explaining how the aims and objectives will be achieved; and
* a list of desired outcomes and benefits, providing a starting point for the projects's review and evaluation. This will enable partners to include a wide range of services and people.

STEP FIVE: Follow up

Monitor activities, review procedures and improve as necessary. Continue to communicate aims, objectives and achievements to the wider community.

This is the third of a series of articles about twinning published by the Local Government Association (LGA) on their website. The original can be found here Copyright in this article belongs to the Euoropean and International Division of the Local Government Association who have very kindly given us permission to use it, for which we thank them.