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Building capacity for sustainable resource management through Sister City arrangements

Stephen Sykes

Director Enterprise Services, Orange City Council and Chairperson Regional Tourism Organisation (NSW – Central West)

Orange City Council has had a Sister City Relationship with Mount Hagen in Papua New Guinea for some 15 years. The two councils have had a strong history of working in partnership to build capacity. The relationship is founded on an intrinsic acceptance that in building better communities we need to do more than provide physical infrastructure. As the divide between rich and poor in world regions and within developed countries widens the need to build skills grows. Without capacity building Mount Hagen might be tempted to look to use non-renewable resources instead of sustainable economic futures to survive in a difficult world economy. Such skills range from building inclusive planning processes to creating environments for learning and problem solving that are self-sustaining and lead to empowerment. Mrs Tibaijuka (Executive Director, United Nations Centre for Human Settlements) encapsulated the impact of these issues on communities in an address at the Commonwealth Local Government Forum in Brisbane (4 October 2001):

The Global Campaign for Good Urban Local Governance concentrates on making cities more inclusive, in direct support of marginalised groups living in poverty who are excluded by the political process. Good urban governance entails finding ways of engaging with the urban poor so that their needs can be reflected in the policies and programmes of city governments. There is a need for a sea change … through networks of partners operating at the global, regional, national and local levels.

Networks of partners imply a relationship between groups and individuals. Figure 2 describes the foundation for such collaborative partnerships between sister cities and the impact that this process has in building capacity. The capacity that is built is complementary between the stakeholders. In a sister city partnership both parties build equally important capacity. The desire to engage in networks reflects an emerging recognition of a number of trends that underpin a collaborative response.

Local government pressures to change — trends

Australian local government can benefit from participation in programs that link to sister city relationships. Not only are there significant benefits to the international partners there are opportunities to build skills within Australian councils that assist in meeting significant changes challenging local government in Australia.

Identifiable trends impact on forms of governance increasing pressure to bring sophisticated skills and expertise to managing communities. The following trends are evident:

Figure 1

Shift from



Collaboration in loose forms

Acceptance of subservient role

Ownership and control

Ignorance of options and a sense of panic

Shared commitments and actions

Mistrust and Fear

To spiralling trust

Isolated learning

Group learning

Static social capital

Capacity building

Static structures

Flexible structures

North – south

South – south

Traditionally Australian local government has operated in isolation and in an introspective way targeting the use of resources in a narrow way (LGM, 2002:18). This led to a high degree of competition between councils with a focus on secrecy and suspicion. Opportunities for councils to broaden skills through loose forms of collaboration have led to very non-traditional responses. There are a number of documented case studies from the NetWaste waste management collaboration of 29 Councils in Central and far west NSW to the Hurstville and Manilla councils greening Australia project (Schruijer, 1999; and LGM, 2002:19) and have provided evidence of a move from competition to collaborative approaches. This case study draws upon an international example.

Don Edgar argues, ‘Government must hand more of the planning and financial control to organisations at the local and regional level’ (LGM, 2002:12). Edgar argues that governance is more about resourcing and capacity building in communities rather than servicing them. Since local government is a creation of the States in Australia councils and their communities have seen themselves as subservient to other spheres of government. However, communities now demand and seeking control over local issues. Implied in these expectations is an up-skilling of all community members, including local government staff.

Such capacity building leads to a greater ability to take control and have ownership such that forms of governance become less critical than the capacity to provide skilled resources to communities to facilitate this trend to community sponsored outcomes. Collaborative processes build skills through inter community discussion and learning. Small council areas are able to better use skills available in larger areas and by working on regional problems together fears are reduced and the sense of panic evident in the increasingly complex demands on government are reduced with a greater community support across boundaries. From shared commitments comes a better sense of regional identity and capacity, demanding governance forms that build shared commitments and actions across local government boundaries (LGM, 2002:18; Sproats 2001:6).

Evidence abounds that councils across regions hold ongoing fears of amalgamation and this can translate into a fear of working together at all levels (Sproats 2001:7;Schruijer, 1999). Collaborative approaches are viable and useful in resourcing communities and there is no evidence that such collaboration hastens imposed structures (LGRT, 1997:5). Research in the private sector on collaboration in the ‘supply chain’ for industry indicates that collaboration ‘requires people to look at the good of the whole rather than individual departments or functional areas’ (Quinn in Ascet 2001). Quinn further argues that the team approach provides competitive advantage over other structures.

This team approach also generates learning outside of the functional areas. Again Quinn argues that increased sharing of information and technology improves learning. Londe argues that in industry collaboration increases the capacity of the organisation in the process of sharing benefits and burdens (Londe in Ascert 2001). These actions build the social capital of organisations, and linked with community partnership they also increase social capital of communities in capacity building. The process is of critical importance in generating a sense of ownership.

Supply chain theory has emerged in response to contracting out of services. In the early days of company downsizing and contracting out price was often the only driver. Many companies were damaged when poor quality or unreliable supply was factored in with ‘just in time’ production. The companies then looked to develop long-term relationships with suppliers. Companies had replaced static structures in one form with a different form of structure that was fixed to the contractual relationship. The response: to look at building supply chains based on relationship building in flexible structures that could respond to changing market and production needs (see Londe, Quinn and Shapiro, Ascert 2001). This is also reflected in governance structures with a number of case studies and reports documenting increasing numbers of flexible, non-contractual collaborations that meet community needs in partnership with community (Sykes and Fulop, 1999; Sproats 2001).

The final significant trend is the move from the developed world providing answers to the undeveloped world (north/south) to collaboration between people in regions with two-way skills development and capacity building (south/south). This is the primary subject of the following case study.

Figure 2 The dynamics of collaborative planning

In referencing a case study this paper discusses collaborative approaches that support empowerment, inter-organisational learning, and building social capital and capacity. These outcomes provide tools to respond to emerging environmental, social and economic demands within complex intercultural political tensions. In Mount Hagen the focus is on building skills through a process that engenders ownership, commitment and empowerment in planning a sustainable community. In this context sustainable means that jobs have a better chance of developing and surviving if they use the existing beauty of the area and are consistent with the local culture.

The case study

Mount Hagen is located in the highlands of Papua New Guinea situated to the north of Australia and has a population of 27,000 people swelling to over 100,000 in the dry season. Orange City Council (Facilitation Team) was funded by AusAID to conduct a scoping study with a view to building skills (capacity) of staff at Hagen Council. A number of key areas were identified in a Strategic Plan led by: City Planning and Improvement, Health and Environment, Infrastructure, Local Economic Development (tourism), Education and Training, and Administration.

Throughout the development of the Mount Hagen project, stakeholders had talked about the need to collaborate or work together. Weick (1995:181) provides some insight into what this talk might have represented arguing that sensemaking is a way of describing the process by which people in organisations ‘…use words to construct settings and structures that have real consequences’. Weick further describes this sensemaking as ‘…developing sets of ideas with explanatory possibilities’ (1995:xi; also Fox and Miller, 1995:116). A Strategic Plan emerged from the process of stakeholders constructing settings and structures that sought to address the macro issues to achieve outcomes of efficient planning for Hagen City into the future. This was important to gaining acceptance that better planning would facilitate an improved city image consistent with traditional culture. The scoping exercise created a non-judgmental, non-threatening environment for thinking and talking about alternative approaches to a raft of significant issues. Comments such as those of Wa Kewa – Senior Health Environmentalist, ‘Poor coordination creates problems, water/sewer, building boards, (we) need a better team approach’ (Sykes, Diary 20 June 2000) emerged from across the organisational power base. Such comments support talk on the need to have better planning base through team action among all key stakeholders.

By empowering the stakeholders and recognising independence of traditional owners, levels of government and the players coming to understand the need for interdependence the local community have generated strong support for the proposed project, with scant opposition. The commitment and ownership, which cradles this support, grew from the ongoing discourse. Those stakeholders represented at the first meetings had strong commitment to finding a way of improving the future of Hagen. The emissary role played by the Facilitation Team engendered a negotiated commitment for the engineering project. This role led to capacity building in a family sense where the sister city of Orange was an equal player. Liaison between the stakeholders led to agreement to fund the capital costs across three spheres of government beginning with the almost simultaneous agreement of the Hagen City Council and the Rural Council to fund part of the cost of the project. The following Diary extracts informs the level of commitment.

Meeting held with Kewa, Mogo (Rural Council), Pim (General Manager – Mount Hagen City Authority). This meeting drew the players together to try and establish agreement with them on the specific recommendations. This involved gaining commitment for joint funding of the pedestrian and bus area project near the market. This discussion raised residual tensions on the transfer of the Sister City relationship from the old town council to the Authority. This happened when the Town Council was split into the City Authority and the Rural Council, (and);

Joe Mogo (Deputy President) from the Rural Council gave commitment to working with the three governments on the project (Sykes, Diary 23 June 2000).

While Hardy et al. argue that ‘…trust between organisations relies on the institutional and presentational aspects of systems trust, rather than the emotional bonds between individuals that characterise personal trust’ (Hardy, Phillips and Lawrence, 1996:9), the Mount Hagen discourse challenged this view. In the Mount Hagen example, it was precisely the pre-existing personal trust that facilitated discourse and increased understanding among powerful stakeholders through the social context. Schuman identifies the role of personal trust by referring to the social context of trust and characterises the collaborative strategy formulation as ‘…involving social, cognitive and political processes’ (Schuman 1996:130; Ring, 1997:138). Elements relating to the possibilities of local enterprise development (LED) indicated similar tensions. The existence of parks in the City needed to be protected from pressures to develop for the private advantage of local business interests at the expense of future tourism industry. The role of personal trust is critical to the future success of planning, fundamental to future development of tourism product based on market segmentation research outcomes embracing the natural beauty of the landscape and the people.

The success in gaining a broad range of support for the identified projects, including by the National Government local member at a meeting at Parliament House, gave increased credibility to the proposed projects and the process of the scoping study. Stakeholders at a number of forums, including the National Local Authority Administrator, identified significant funds to support the project. Weick argues that commitment:

…highlights the importance of action, visibility, volition and irrevocability in the formation and persistence of meaning…Commitment focuses the social construction of reality on those actions that are high in choice, visibility and irrevocability (1995:162; see also Finn, 1996:154).

Fox and Miller contend that discourse requires a number of pre-conditions including those that ‘…people are aroused, alert and attentive [in]…playing the field of social discourse’, such that discussion at traditional mumu functions at stakeholders villages intensified interest and commitment (1995:10; see also Weick, 1995). The diverse range of interests and competing factions also assisted in generating a sense of competition in accommodating the emerging project objectives. Fox and Miller further argue that the development of policy is not a rational but a political discourse where ‘…discourse participants try to persuade each other that some problem or solution is like one thing rather than another’ (1995:112; see also Weick, 1995:178). This led to a move from vested and traditional wariness through initial commitment and then to a broad agreement with the Mayor Peter Kewa representing the interests to the National Government and the Local Authority Administrator (Sykes, Diary 26 June 2000).

The development of the Strategic Plan emerged within an environment of discovering and developing new approaches to addressing the needs of the local community as determined by the stakeholders. The stakeholders responded by embracing an approach, which by fostering difference, came to accommodate diversity and multiple meanings (Rifkin and Fulop, 1996, Sykes and Fulop, 1999). The elections due in 2002 will test the resolve of the stakeholders in achieving stage two of the process. The possibility of changing dynamics due to individual political needs will need to be talked through and resolved to ensure a successful outcome during the implementation phase.

Through the collaborative process a type of collective learning — with the stakeholders discovering, reflecting, redefining and rediscovering the meanings of the labels on an inter-organisational plane — arose (Weick, 1995:192 see also Sykes and Fulop, 1999). This occurred between the Facilitation Team, Hagen councillors and local government professionals. While ‘…learning in an organisation is complex and multifaceted’ (Rifkin and Fulop, 1996:21), the complexity is multiplied by stakeholders operating from a differing perspective in an inter-organisational and inter-cultural context. Importantly the Facilitation Team came to understand the need to build capacity within the resources of the Mount Hagen community. This process built social capital on the part of both the Facilitation Team as well as the Hagen partners. Bourdieu contests that ‘(S)ocial capital refers to the resources that accrue to individuals because of their relationship in a durable network’ (Schruijer in Gray 1999:10). The capacity building exercise included providing opportunities for the officers of Orange City Council to undertake complex inter-organisational and inter-cultural learning and project management. This approach required a management style that created ownership and partnership in a sophisticated model founded on empowerment of the stakeholders. Gray argues that the process of collaboration builds social capital ‘…building relationships among unlikely partners and creating new norms to govern their interaction’ (Schruijer in Gray 1999:10). This skills base is advantageous to not only the Hagen partnership but transferable to the community networking and empowerment demands in Orange City.

The role of talking and discourse is pivotal to the success of the project. Emanating from the discourse has been spiralling commitment and goodwill as well as extensive inter-organisational learning and development of social capital. Power has been exercised with a view to harnessing a win/win outcome between the stakeholders. This has included skill development for the Orange City Council staff. Collaboration must be developed from a voluntary basis and is organic — ie, it grows to meet the needs of the stakeholders. Imposed structures, either from government or statute, will not engender true ownership and will fail. Options for meeting community need that facilitate empowerment, ownership trust, goodwill and commitment is in the hands of communities since it is not government that empowers people, people empower each other.

The Hagen case study demonstrates a drift from north/south capacity building from developed to undeveloped countries to regional south/south networking between neighbours and increasingly those neighbours with similar challenges. The new relationships are seen as having benefits beyond capacity, with new learning across culture — whether that is religious, cross cultural or simple city country divide. Key collaborative elements require structures that are flexible, responsive and open. Imposed structures work less well (through collaborative approaches agreed structures will emerge) provided the players embrace facilitation, emissary and almost diplomatic values in managing outcomes. In some cases using existing structures may work best or if pressured to look perhaps stakeholders will discover better approaches that are innovative and relevant to meeting the needs of the organisation. Collaborative approaches facilitate flexible responses through learning, capacity building and

We need a revolution in local government attitudes so that they become demand driven and flexible — as opposed to bureaucratic and unresponsive. To make local government matter there needs to be fundamental change in governance style amongst both political representatives and city officials alike (Mrs Tibaijuka, 2001)

This is the challenge for practitioners and politicians alike.

Mt Hagen research methodology — undertaking scoping assessment

This methodology refers to processes underpinning a project undertaken between the Orange City Council in NSW Australia and Government bodies and service authorities affecting the quality of life of the people of the Mount Hagen area. Orange City Council, a sister city to Mount Hagen City Authority, was represented by Stephen Sykes MBA, BSocSc, Andrew Wannan MBA, BTP (Hons), and Marc Kiho BTech (Civil), Dip, EH&BS (Assessment Team).

An action research method was utilised with a view to continual review, reflection, evaluation and new action. This approach borrows from an intuitive approach where assessments are made through a process of dialogue as to cultural acceptance of matters raised by the partners and subsequent articulation into an action research model. This process included a series of interviews at the local level between Mount Hagen administrators and politicians. This has formed the basis for a Strategic Action Plan (Wadsworth, 1991:63). The Hagen scoping exercise was undertaken in an environment in which continual reflection and evaluation led to a review of base proposals put together by the Mount Hagen City Authority and Western Highlands Provincial Government (Moge and Gimai, 1999). Each emerging direction was then discussed with the stakeholders, verified and agreed. This is the nature of action research.

The role of the Assessment Team (Team) as a participant in the process borrows from the ethnographic style of research (Bell, 1993:10). This ‘working in close rather than from the arm chair’ carried with it some constraints in that the Team brought values learnt from endless previous research and learning (Weick, 1995:172; Boje, 1991:111). A diary (Sykes, 2000) containing information on the values, attitudes, political differences and comments of the stakeholders was kept during the action research project (Weick, 1995:172). In this sense, the research relies upon what people say rather than ‘research specified measures’ (Weick, 1995: 173; Boje, 1991:111). This diary detailed the changes in the project as each phase was evaluated and provides the basis for explanation of what occurred (see Attachment One). A chronology of events Kiho, 2000) was also kept and chronicled the events with little comment or evaluation of the Project development. This Chronology provides an history of events which are independent of the Diary and therefore verify the veracity of the events as an independent control on the development of the Strategic Action Plan. Some interviews were undertaken with a group and others in one to one situations. Other discussion took place in an informal situation generally as a precursor to formal interviews. This was done to assist in building trust. The interviews allowed testing or verification of the patterns of organisational interaction that emerged in the documentation that supports the Strategic Action Plan.


Ascet, Vol 3 2001

Fox, C.J. and Miller, H.T. (1995), Post Modern Public Administration—Toward Discourse, Sage, California.

Fulop, L., Frith, F. and Hayward, H. (1992), Management for Australian Business, Macmillan, Melbourne.

Gray, B. (1996), ‘Cross sectoral partners: collaborative alliances among business, government and communities’, Creating Collaborative Advantage, (ed. C. Huxham), Sage Publications, London, 57–79.

Hardy, C., Phillips, N. and Lawrence, T. (1996), ‘Forms and Facades of Trust: Distinguishing Trust and Power in Interorganisational Relations’, unpublished, West Montreal, Quebec.

Himmelman, A. T. (1996), ‘On the theory and practice of transformational collaboration: from social service to social justice’, in Creating Collaborative Advantage, (C. Huxham ed.), Sage Publications, London.

Ring, P. (1997), ‘Processes Facilitating Reliance on Trust in Interorganizational Networks’, in The Formation of Interorganisational Networks, (M. Ebers ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Schruijer, S. article by Sykes, S. and Fulop, L. (1999), Multi Organisational Partnership and Strategy ‘Collaboration — a case study’ 209–217 Dutch University Press.

Spraots, K. (April 2001) New South Wales Commission of Inquiry, Inquiry into the structure of local government in eight council areas in the inner city and eastern suburbs of Sydney.

Sykes, S. and Fulop, L. (1999), Local Government Collaboration in Solid Waste Management in Country New South Wales and the Formation of NetWaste, Regional Policy and Practice, v8.2, pp 41–45, November.

Sykes, S. and Davies, B. (2001) ‘Partnerships and Strategic Alliances’ — a Central Ranges Food and Wine Case Study, Unpublished, CED Conference Workshop, Lismore NSW Australia.

Sykes, S. (2001) Intercultural Partnership, A Case study of a capacity building exercise between Orange City Council and Mount Hagen Council PNG, Presented at the Commonwealth Local Government Forum, Brisbane, Australia.

Weick, K. (1995), Sensemaking in Organisations, Sage, California.

About the author

Stephen Sykes is Director of Enterprise Services at Orange City Council. He has a degree in Social Science, a Master in Business Administration and lectures in environmental policy at Charles Sturt University. He has represented Australia at a United Nations Conference in Beijing China, participated in a Trade goodwill mission to Japan as a guest of the Japanese Prime Minister’s office and, undertaken consulting in various overseas locations. He has presented a number of papers to a variety of conferences on diverse topics ranging from regional culture to life cycle costing for landfill. Notably he presented a paper on the NetWaste (regional collaboration on resource recovery) story to an International Forum in the Netherlands in 2000 and was speaker at the recent Commonwealth Local Government Forum meeting in Brisbane on inter cultural collaboration. In academic circles his work has been widely published. He is a Vigneron, a State Hockey Coach and a partner in a rural tourism venture.

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