The first partnership between Gothenburg in Sweden and Nelson Mandela Bay in South Africa was formed in 1999, since when a number of instructive projects have been conducted. In 2012, the two municipalities decided to take their partnership much further than ever before.
“We needed a new way of approaching projects to ensure that both towns reaped the maximum benefits from them,” says Dawn McCarthy, Director, Land Planning & Management, in Nelson Mandela Bay.
To achieve this objective, they chose to focus on four areas where both municipalities were keen to see development – sustainable energy, climate change, urban planning, and sustainable transport. They also added a fifth overall goal to the project: both towns had problems with getting politics and practice to go hand in hand, so the overall goal was to build a toolbox, based on the four project areas, that would enable this rift to be bridged.
“This rift, and the communication difficulties between politicians and officials, is by no means unique to our towns – it’s something that many local authorities encounter and battle,” says Dawn McCarthy.
Bo Aronsson, Principal Project Manager from Gothenburg, agrees.
“Oh yes, I’ve come up against this problem before, with politicians asking me, “Why is the distance so great between a political decision and practical implementation?”” says Bo.
Having the working groups for the four projects work together enabled them to learn from one another and identify ways for the different areas to collaborate and cooperate.
“The project made us realise that public sector operations need to change the way they work. We need to create new structures in which multiple administrative departments work together to achieve a better result,” says Dawn McCarthy.
The aftermath of the project saw both Gothenburg and Nelson Mandela Bay change the way they work in the light of lessons learned. In Nelson Mandela Bay, for example, they created a department to coordinate the strategic work, while in Gothenburg, they strengthened the strategic collaboration between a number of administrative departments.
“This way of working is, in my opinion, very definitely viable, and I’m now using it in a variety of different contexts,” says Bo Aronsson.
And it is this reciprocity that has been so important: both parties must gain from the collaboration.
The municipalities have also ensured widespread support for the project at multiple levels in both towns – something that they believe has helped ensure the project’s impressive success.
“The project management team has included representatives of both the political majority and the political opposition in both towns,” explains Dawn McCarthy.
Much of the success is, according to Bo Aronsson, due to the fact that they actually managed to bring about the meetings between the different project areas.
“We very quickly realised the importance of establishing these interdisciplinary discussions,” says Bo.
The toolbox that the project built has now been made available online and the project has attracted attention far beyond the two towns’ boundaries.