ICMA International / Services / Expertise & Capabilities / Association Development

Association Development

Through associations, local governments can join forces to represent their shared interests to legislative bodies. In addition, they play a critical role in professionalizing local government through targeted capacity building and specialized training. Building the capacity of local government and professional associations is one of ICMA’s most important roles in furthering the development of effective governance and management worldwide. ICMA, itself an association founded in 1914, has had years of experience serving a constituency of professional local government managers and other local government executives.

ICMA’s association development work involves both strengthening the role of associations in the local government sector and promoting their long-term viability so that they can progress toward their goal of effective governance without external assistance or funding. ICMA has published case studies describing its work with the City Managers’ Association in Gujarat, India, and the Asociación de Municipios de México to illustrate the range of issues involved in association development:

The Role of Associations in Strengthening Local Government: A Look at CMAG

The Role of Associations in Strengthening Local Government: A Look at AMMAC

Based on its experience, ICMA serves as a model, mentor, and partner for national and regional municipal associations in other countries. ICMA has provided technical assistance and training to associations worldwide, and has working relationships with national municipal associations on five continents. ICMA has helped strengthen and in some instances establish local government associations in Armenia, Bolivia, Bosnia, the Czech Republic, El Salvador, Honduras, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Montenegro, the Philippines, Poland, Slovak Republic, South Africa, Uganda, West Bank/Gaza, and Zimbabwe. 

Strengthening the Role of Associations

Advocacy, information exchange, networking, and professional development are among the activities and services provided by associations in the local government sector.

Local government and professional associations serve as advocates for local interests and to empower municipal governments with greater fiscal and policy-making autonomy. Associations research issues, develop a proactive legislative agenda, formulate policy positions on issues of concern to local governments, and lobby higher levels of government for laws that reflect their concern. Local government associations also work to improve the image of local government:

  • In Hungary, ICMA provided advocacy training to the Council of Municipal Associations, enabling the Council to successfully lobby the central government to involve local governments in the European Union accession process.
  • In Armenia, ICMA assisted the Association of Mayors and Community Chiefs, which actively lobbied the National Assembly on the need for reforms to the 1996 Law on Local Self-Government.
  • As a result of a partnership with two associations in Florida, a municipal association in El Salvador (COMURES) learned strategies for improving its capacity to advocate on behalf of municipalities and for encouraging the participation of its members in that advocacy effort.

Information Exchange
Associations provide a forum for information exchange. As clearinghouses for the collection and dissemination of best practices in local government management and service delivery, associations enable local officials and practitioners to learn about innovative approaches that their colleagues in other communities are using to solve local problems. Local governments facing similar problems, such as a lack of citizen participation, inexperience in tendering and monitoring contracts for service delivery, or mobilizing community resources for economic development, can improve their services by adapting and replicating approaches that have worked elsewhere.

  • In India, ICMA provided support to the City Managers’ Association of Gujarat to initiate a Best Practices Program that disseminates information about innovative approaches to service delivery and management problems and promotes the transfer of knowledge among local governments in Gujarat.
  • In Bolivia, ICMA established an Electronic Services Platform, Enlared Municipal, that served as a successful tool for information sharing.

Associations play an important role in creating opportunities for local government officials to network and to discuss creative solutions to challenges they have faced. Associations help identify the issues of greatest interest and concern to their members and organize conferences and workshops on these topics. ICMA has provided networking opportunities for many local government practitioners. In Bolivia, Enlared Municipal also served as a networking tool for local officials.

Professional Development
Associations support professional development opportunities—training workshops, certification programs, self-study materials, and management exchange programs—that help their members enhance their knowledge and skills. Associations also serve as centers for research supporting professional development.

  • In Indonesia, ICMA developed training materials and provided training of trainers for association staff so that they could offer training in local government budgeting and financial management.
  • For the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe, a partner organization from the United States provided advice on structuring a market-driven, self-financing member training program.

Promoting the Long-Term Viability of Associations

ICMA has helped associations ensure their sustainability by working with them to create strategic plans, implement sound human resources practices, communicate effectively with their members, and develop reliable sources of revenue.

Strategic Planning

A strategic plan guides an association toward its desired results. With a strategic plan, staff can develop annual work plans that detail what actions the association will take to achieve its desired results and identify the resources needed to carry them out. Flexible work plans allow associations to respond to emerging opportunities. Ongoing needs assessment, outreach, and two-way communication with members ensure that the association is responsive to their priorities and needs.

ICMA uses an Association Viability Index to evaluate an association’s operations and help it develop a strategic plan that will lead to long-term viability.

  • In Mexico, ICMA engaged Mexican municipal associations in the development of strategic plans.
  • In India, ICMA helped the City Managers’ Association of Gujarat carry out its first comprehensive strategic planning process.

Human Resource Management
Associations need strong and effective executive staff to lead their efforts so that they can be proactive and forward-moving. Associations also need to capitalize on their human resources. Excellent human resource management includes documented and accurate personnel procedures, job descriptions, and office procedures. Structured, annual employee performance evaluations allow employees and supervisors to provide constructive feedback on each other’s performance, identify strengths and areas for improvement, and develop performance and professional objectives for the next year. Employees and member volunteers also need regular, professional development opportunities.

In Indonesia, a state league of cities in the United States helped three associations define the roles and responsibilities of a professional board of directors in a client-driven organization. Other ICMA programs have featured study tours as a professional development opportunity for association staff to become familiar with the human resource practices of well-established associations in the United States.

Member Communication
Member communication and participation are essential to a well-functioning association. A membership organization that is driven only by its board and staff without broad member input is missing crucial information about the best use of the association’s resources. Staff and leadership of effective associations are consistently respectful of members, welcoming them into the association’s office and at all activities, and soliciting their input into the association’s decisions.

Annual award programs recognize excellence and encourage members to share their experiences. Two-way communication between association staff and members takes place regularly via many channels, and members provide input through such mechanisms as task forces and committees. To bring members together on a regular basis, a well-planned and executed annual meeting is crucial.

  • In Armenia, ICMA provided support to the Association of Mayors and Community Chiefs with communications and staffing meetings.
  • In the Philippines, ICMA provided technical assistance and training to the League of Cities and the League of Municipalities in improvement of communications infrastructure and systems.

Financial Viability
To be effective, associations must have well-developed, stable sources of revenues—both member dues and other sources, such as entrepreneurial activities, that support their mission and goals. Determining the membership structure of a municipal association and creating a dues structure that all members consider equitable requires decisions such as these:

  • Whether to have both individual and institutional members
  • Whether to limit membership to those working in the public sector or to include those working for NGOs and the private sector
  • How to structure membership fees to cover operational and programmatic costs.

To maintain the respect and goodwill of members and the integrity of the association, and to attract new resources, administration of funds must be transparent and accountable.

  • For the Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe, a partner organization from the United States provided advice on structuring a market-driven, self-financing member training program designed to provide a revenue stream to support other association activities.
  • In India, ICMA provided support to the City Managers’ Association of Gujarat to enhance the financial management capacity of the association.
  • In Honduras, ICMA implemented a program to assist the Association of Honduran Municipalities, which resulted in a dramatic increase in revenue from member municipalities.

Examples of Association Building

ICMA has helped build and strengthen local government associations worldwide. Here are some examples.

A Network of Associations Focused on Violence Prevention

ICMA facilitated the creation of Red de Asociaciones Municipales de Centroamérica y República Dominicana para la Prevención de la Violencia, the Network of Municipal Associations to Prevent Violence in Central America and the Dominican Republic (known as Red AMUPREV), to ensure that the work of ICMA’s AMUPREV program will be sustained after the program ends. Participants are the municipal associations of Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Their goal is to promote legislation, norms, and strategies in their countries to improve citizen co-existence and promote municipal-led prevention initiatives.

Strengthening the Urban Authorities Association of Uganda

The Urban Authorities Association of Uganda (UAAU) was one of ICMA’s partners in assisting the government of Uganda to manage rapid urbanization and improve living conditions for the urban poor. Through this project, ICMA helped five municipalities improve their management and planning systems and provided leadership training to help strengthen UAAU as a sustainable municipal organization representing the interests of urban local governments in the country.

Strengthening the Palestinian Contractors Union

ICMA shared its expertise with the Palestinian Contractors Union (PCU), an association of 400 construction contractors. Program activities included an assessment of PCU's capabilities as a membership organization, using ICMA's Association Viability Index; training for the new PCU board of directors; and a study tour for PCU representatives to learn from several established associations in the United States.

Association Capacity Building in the Philippines

Under the International Union of Local Authorities’ Association Capacity Building Programme, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, ICMA provided technical expertise and grant funds to the League of Cities and the League of Municipalities of the Philippines. For the pilot project, ICMA coordinated a multinational pool of experts, managed the budget allocation, and monitored the project’s development. ICMA organized the delivery of training and technical assistance around six major issues: (1) institutional strengthening; (2) improvement of communications infrastructure and systems; (3) opportunities for information exchange; (4) entrepreneurship and income generation; (5) training, education, and research; and (6) improved gender representation in local government.

City Managers’ Associations in India

ICMA provided expert technical assistance that contributed to the creation of the USAID-funded City Managers’ Association of Gujarat (CMAG) in India, described in the case study The Role of Associations in Strengthening Local Government: A Look at CMAG. Subsequently, USAID contracted with ICMA to further assist in strengthening CMAG as part of a four-phase partnership:

  • Developing a best practices program for CMAG
  • Carrying out an assessment of potential partner states for replicating the experience elsewhere in India
  • Providing support for the newly formed city managers’ associations in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Maharashtra, and support to form four additional associations in the states of Orissa, Uttarachal, Rajasthan, and Madya Pradesh
  • Providing support for follow-on activities in the new participant states that resulted in the launching of four new associations and the creation of a local coordinating body.

Local Government Support and Partnership Program (LGSPP) in Indonesia

Under LGSPP, ICMA developed the capacity of decentralized and participatory local governments and the organizations that support them. ICMA provided support to strengthen organizations that represent local governments at the city, county, and provincial level. By strengthening organizations that advocate at the national level on their behalf, LGSPP provided a voice to Indonesian local governments. The project also provided training and technical assistance for local staff who worked for the Indonesian local government associations: the Indonesian Association of Cities (APEKSI), Association of Counties (APKASI), and Association of Provinces (APPSI).

U.S.–Mexico Partnership for Municipal Development

ICMA, through its affiliations with U.S. state associations, has engaged Mexican municipal associations in various capacity-building activities. These activities include the development of strategic plans, organization of annual conferences, and improved member services. In 1999 ICMA and the Association of Mexican Municipalities (AMMAC) signed a formal affiliation agreement, committing to share information and work together on programs that are mutually beneficial, to support the mission of each organization, and to encourage exchanges among local governments in the United States and Mexico. In collaboration with AMMAC, the U.S.–Mexico Partnership also initiated work on a Mexican Performance Measurement Consortium, patterned after the ICMA performance measurement program, which allows municipalities to compare their performance on key indicators. The partnership is described in the case study The Role of Associations in Strengthening Local Government: A Look at AMMAC.

U.S.–Montenegrin Partnership for Municipal Development

ICMA, in collaboration with USAID, worked with the government of Montenegro to draft key legislation designed to establish a new legal framework for fiscal and democratic decentralization and devolution of authority and resources. ICMA’s activities included a partnership between the Union of Municipalities (UoM) in Montenegro and the Massachusetts Municipal Association that strengthened the capacity of UoM to serve as an advocate within the political system for increased local autonomy, promote professionalism in local government, and nurture the municipal management capacity required by a democratic system.

As a result of the partnership efforts, a majority of municipalities reached consensus to lobby for direct election of mayors and to eliminate the influence of political parties in local governance. The Ministry of Finance requested regular ongoing roundtable discussions and workshops between the ministry and all municipal finance directors with the aim of achieving improved budgeting practices and necessary reform legislation, and the Ministry of Justice invited UoM to appoint members to review and recommend policy changes in 16 key areas of local governance.

Information and Communication Technology Applications

ICMA set up an Electronic Services Platform (ESP), launched in August 2001, under its USAID/Bolivia-funded project, Using Information and Communications Technology Applications in Support of Municipal and Local Development. The ESP, Enlared Municipal, disseminated information resources and tools that promoted more transparent and effective local governments in Bolivia. The ESP was developed under the institutional umbrella of the FAM (National Federation of Municipal Associations) and in collaboration with departmental municipal associations and ACOBOL (Association of Councilwomen). Services offered by Enlared included:

  • A virtual information agency with correspondents in each department providing news articles on issues related to municipal governance
  • A municipal database of information on local governments, their budgets, annual operating plans and resources
  • Training of trainers to increase the pool of local government actors who could use and benefit from Enlared services and technology in general
  • A virtual reference service (in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme) for legal, financial, and other questions.

A successful tool for networking and information sharing, Enlared also proved to be a vehicle for promoting cutting-edge initiatives such as e-procurement and online permitting, which demonstrated to local as well as national government entities, business leaders, and cooperation agencies the ESP’s benefits in terms of local economic development and transparency.

Training in Municipal Management and Governance in the Slovak Republic

ICMA provided technical assistance to ZMOS, the largest association of municipalities in Slovakia, to strengthen and increase the effectiveness of local government professionals and municipal associations. ZMOS became a leading partner of the national government in strengthening local government structures and reforming public administration policy. ICMA assisted ZMOS and its local partners in establishing a sustainable information database on local government issues by developing three important research and advocacy tools and a variety of training manuals focused on municipal finance and budgeting.

Public Administration Program in Hungary

In Hungary, ICMA provided assistance to local government associations and local governments. The technical assistance increased local government associations’ capacity to function effectively while providing better service to their members and increasing their lobbying capacity. ICMA also provided advocacy training to the Council of Municipal Associations, an umbrella organization for the seven main municipal associations in Hungary, which helped the Council successfully lobby the central government to involve local governments in the European Union accession process.

Creation of a Professional Finance Officers’ Association in Bosnia

To institutionalize the finance reforms achieved under USAID’s Financial Management Capacity Building program, ICMA helped create a professional finance officers’ association in Bosnia and Herzegovina, among the stakeholders in the program. ICMA helped arrange two initial organizational meetings at which a Decree and Statute of Association was adopted, and an interim Management Committee of 13 members from all ten cantons and a president of the association were elected. The primary formal objective of the association, known as UG JAFIS, is “to strengthen democracy and improve professionalism in public expenditure management at all levels where public expenditures and taxes emerge.” As part of the association development work, ICMA assisted UG JAFIS to establish an electronic e-mail network for its membership. This network is used to communicate financial data to ascending levels of government and also serves as a forum to discuss upcoming legislation and finance reforms.

Association Development in Armenia

ICMA helped establish the Association of Mayors and Community Chiefs (AMCC) and the Association of Finance Officers (AFO) in Armenia. ICMA assisted the AMCC in drafting its bylaws and a code of ethics for its members and helped organize its first national conference, which was attended by 38 of Armenia’s 48 mayors and a similar number of community chiefs. Until the close of its program, ICMA provided continuing support to the AMCC with communications and staffing meetings. AMCC has been active in lobbying the National Assembly on the need for reforms to the 1996 Law on Local Self-Government.

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