Local Government Technical Twinning: It Really CAN Work

Lauren Oakey

The technical twinning model for capacity building has had much success in developing local governments in the Pacific Region, and is championed by Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA) and its partner organisations such as the Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) and the International City/County Management Association (ICMA – United States). LGMA began its international development and assistance program in Papua New Guinea in 1964, and in 2007 became a technical advisor to the Commonwealth Local Government Forum Pacific’s (CLGF Pacific) Good Practice Scheme in Papua New Guinea (PNG GPS), a flagship program of CLGF that centred on the technical twinning model.

This paper offers a look at the use of the technical twinning partnership model as a mechanism for increasing the capacity of local governments with a focus on Papua New Guinea as a case study.

The technical twinning partnership model: Overview

An effective technical twinning partnership seeks to create a strong institutional partnership through which technical support can be administered. A strong element of a technical twinning partnership is, indeed, the partnership component whereby its benefits are enjoyed by both the technical advisor and beneficiary to the program. Based on the experience of the PNG GPS, technical twinning as an implementation model is characterised by activities that typically include:

  • Annual priority setting and work plans mutually agreed upon between parties
  • Exchange visits between twinning partners
  • Job shadowing
  • Direct material assistance – for example the purchase of consumerables and minor capital works
  • Training and other short courses
  • Information dissemination

The technical twinning structure used in the LGMA model brings Australian local government officials to PNG. The Australian local council continues to cover the costs of the salaries of these officials, while travel, accommodation, living allowances and other expenses are paid by the technical twinning program funding. Exchange visits are generally for up to two weeks, with one week preparation and one week of follow up post visit.

There is never a shortage of Australian local government practitioners eager to support the capacity development of public institutions in the region. In the model used by LGMA, technical partners are Australian local governments chosen based on:

  1. Relevant expertise and technical skills
  2. Institutional commitment to become a technical partner

LGMA’s affiliate organisation in the United States, the International City/County Management Association (ICMA), employs a similar model for their international development program, called CityLinks.[1] With development programs focused primarily in the Middle East, North Africa and Latin America, the philosophy of technical twinning for development is nonetheless a core mechanism for this organisation.

Technical Twinning Model and Process: The case of the CLGF Good Practice Scheme – Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea has 22 provinces, 89 districts and 318 local level governments established under the country’s organic law. The local governments in particular face challenges such as a lack of adequate funding for basic service delivery, lack of capacity for service delivery, and an inadequate enabling environment (such as the availability and presence of core staff, availability of appropriately skilled or trained staff as well as effective organisational policies and procedures) for service delivery leading to deteriorating services.[2]

The PNG GPS was launched in 1998 to address capacity needs of local-level governments. It involved six peer-to-peer capacity building partnerships between local governments in PNG with their counterparts in Australia[3]. Each of these six partnerships worked on their own annual work plans and priorities however, like any local government regardless of location, face similar challenges to address. Combined, the PNG GPS partnerships selected a broad range of areas for capacity improvements, including:[4]

  • waste management and community health
  • litter control, street beautification and the environment
  • financial management and property rating
  • town planning and urban development planning
  • administrative systems, procedures and regulation
  • technology and information management
  • social equity for women

There is much that can be written about this one program, so this paper will highlight some aspects of a couple of the partnerships:

Case Study: National Capital District Commission (NCDC) (Port Moresby)/Townsville City Council Partnership (Queensland)

The aim of this partnership was to improve governance by building sustainable capacity in planning and management practices within NCDC.

Named Project Hetura, this twinning partnership focused on improvements to the management processes and governance within the Regulatory Services Unit of NCDC to ensure the organisation can deliver efficient and timely services to the community. It also focused on capacity building across the organization in the use of ICT, human resource management, environmental sustainability, asset management, waste management and communications.

Some key achievements included:

  • Development and implementation of a performance appraisal policy and procedure
  • Development of a Code of Conduct
  • Revised customer service counter and processes for regulatory services
  • Adoption and implementation of the waste policy
  • Conduct of an energy management workshop
  • Extensive training and development across the ULLG

Case Study: Kokopo Urban Local Level Government/District of Mt Barker (South Australia)

The focus of this partnership was on improving the financial management and revenue generating capacity of Kokopo urban local-level government to meet its ongoing expenditure obligations. While one of the newest partnerships in the program, Kokopo and Mt Barker achieved significant results in a short space of time. These achievements included improvement to accounting practices and revenue generation achieved by strengthening accounting and IT systems.

Another important outcome of this twinning was the installation of Telstra’s Microsoft Office 365 Cloud technology, which enabled regular communication between the twinning partners. This provided the ability to share and synchronize all files and documents between Kokopo’s desktop and the Cloud and enabled remote support, training, auditing and back-up from Mt Barker for Kokopo’s systems.

Manual property data was also converted to an electronic database in MYOB (Mind Your Own Business) and, as a result, land rate notices were issued electronically. Outstanding rates payments decreased by 20% within three months of implementing this practice, resulting in a revenue increase for Kokopo local level government.

Benefits to Australian technical partners

Experience shows that a technical twinning program holds significant benefit for the participating Australian Councils, because it exposes them to new cultures, increases their community pride, and develops the professional skills of their own staff to become more creative in their technical expertise.

When talking to donors and to recipients, or partner countries, one of the most common questions asked is why we do this work? Not just LGMA, but why would an Australian local government contribute the time of their staff to offer assistance to local governments in the region?

The response to that generally starts with “The Australian partner gets just as much out of the twinning arrangement as their peer [the beneficiary]”.

One of the biggest issues facing Australian local governments today is workforce. One aspect of which is addressing how it, as a sector, can attract and retain critical and skilled staff to replace the baby boomers set to retire within the next decade.[5] One solution is to become an employer of choice by offering international opportunities.

In the case of the PNG GPS, some partners indicated that participation in this program was often a critical strategy for staff retention for their council.[6] This was particularly the case for councils among those councils who, as a collective are referred to the ‘Hunter Group of Councils’ that compete for staff with the mining sector.

What was also demonstrated in PNG is that a technical twinning partnership can act as a catalyst to help facilitate broader community involvement. An economic cooperation agreement was signed between Mt. Hagen and Orange City Council as part of their partnership, and in 2012, this received formal support from the PNG Prime Minister. Similarly, as a result of the NCDC/Townsville partnership, economic links were established with Port Moresby involving local Technical and Further Education institutes (TAFEs), universities and local chambers of commerce.


Knowing the context

Whether it is in the Australia, the Pacific, Asia or Latin America, the challenges facing local governments are more similar than they are different. In countries such as Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste, which, by way of public sector reform, are at different stages on the same path towards of decentralisation, technical twinning partnerships are mechanisms that can support this process.

What this means for Australian local government practitioners is that supporting the capacity development of local governments in these countries requires an appreciation for the greater role and influence of provincial (state) and national (federal) governments on the capacity development than it does in Australia. Legislation in PNG, for example, as it relates to local government, is much more prescriptive. PNG’s Organic Law,[7] legislates for the minimum standards and model for district and local level governments.

In Australia, by contrast, the legislation pertaining to local government is often termed ‘enabling’ and characterised by provisions such as “good rule and government of the area” [8] allowing for wider scope and discretion. Australian practitioners working in regions such as the Asia-Pacific need to have an understanding for this different operating environment; an operating environment where policies and revenue are more tightly linked to higher tiers of government.

Systemic approach

Furthermore, all too often the success of a twinning partnership is influenced by the priorities and engagement, or lack thereof, of the provincial and national governments in their endeavours. Bringing the provincial and national governments along for the journey and, at the local level, ensuring priorities of the technical twinning partnership are in line with the priorities of the provincial and national governments, is critical to success. For this reason a twinning partnership cannot occur in a vacuum outside the other spheres of government from whom policy and funding is received. A successful twinning partnership looks to pursue a holistic approach. For example, in the case of the partnership between the City of Orange (Australia) and Mt Hagen Urban Local Level Government, success regarding the development of a Town Plan for Mt Hagen was achieved when the local and provincial level governments were involved in partnership with the community of Mt Hagen.


The technical twinning model continues to be revised, and, while not the panacea, continues to be one of the more sustainable development models. Based on the premise that on-the-job training, peer-to-peer learning and institutional partnerships are more meaningful than class-based learning environments, the technical twinning model continues to be sought after as the mechanism for technical capacity building for local-level government. More meaningful because the institutional twinning is a long term partnership, provides practical training and technical assistance within the context of the local government and more able to be tailored to the needs of the local government twinning partners. For both local government partners it enables an exchange that extends beyond the technical to the community and to the cultural level. Local-to-local level government partnerships are not short-term commitments on the part of either partner, as institutional change and development takes time. However, this type of capacity building is enduring, accountable and instils a sense of obligation and ownership between parties, which sees the partnerships and linkages endure long past the funding and formal program.

[1] ICMA – CityLinks: http://icma.org/en/international/citylinks/icma_citylinks

[2] PNG Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs: http://www.dplga.gov.pg/SDLLGPro.htm

[3] CLGF Pacific: http://www.pacific.clgf.org.uk/index.cfm

[4] Commonwealth Local Government Forum, 2012, “Good Practice Scheme – Papua New Guinea: Program Final Report”.

[5] ACELG Workforce strategy: http://www.lgma.org.au/national-workforce-strategy.html

[6] Commonwealth Local Government Forum, 2012, “Good Practice Scheme – Papua New Guinea: Program Final Report”.

[7] PNG Department of Provincial and Local Government Affairs: http://www.dplga.gov.pg/SDLLGPro.htm

[8] S667 (1)(9)(XVI) Local Government Act (SA) 1999.

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