Conference on Creativity and Innovative Approaches inTown Twinning Cooperation

The Conference on Creativity and Innovative Approaches in Town Twinning Cooperation was held in the attractive environment of the Štrbské Pleso Lake in the Vysoké Tatry Mountains (Slovakia) on 15-16 March 2012.

The Conference was the consummation of the year-long project of the Union of Towns and Municipalities CR and the Association of Towns and Communities of the Slovak Republic ZMOS, aimed at supporting town-twinning programmes in the two countries. The project was supported by a grant from the Europe for Citizens Programme. Spring sunshine welcomed the more than 100 participants, among whom were the mayors of Czech and Slovak towns, their elected representatives and municipality officials in charge of international cooperation.

The Conference was opened in the early evening of the first day. After the formal opening the participants were acquainted with the projects realised in the course of the past year. One of the most appreciated achievements was the launching of new websites, www.partnerskamesta.cz, the ambition of which is to become the main source of information in the area of town twinning. On these websites the Union of Towns and Municipalities CR will regularly publish new information concerning the financing of town-twinning projects, the mediation of new partnerships, etc. A new feature is the launching of an interactive map of twinned communities, where each community or town, which joined our research, can find or update its partner towns.

Another project of the two national associations of towns and municipalities was their joint survey of partnership cooperation in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia. Maybe last year your community was also one of those, which completed the questionnaire concerning the international cooperation programme you have joined. The outcome of the survey is the updated database of twinned towns and many other interesting data, which presents an outline of the current situation and reveals the twinning trends. We have found that the situation in the Czech Republic and in Slovakia has much in common as regards the areas of cooperation, the geographical distribution of twinned towns in foreign countries, as well as the benefits and obstacles. The results of the survey, together with inspiring examples of good practice in the area of town twinning, will be published soon in a publication we are currently preparing.

On the second day of the Conference, the participants were acquainted with examples of specific projects, which Czech and Slovak communities and towns had realised with their twinned towns in other countries. The motto of the conference, “creativity and innovative approaches to town twinning”, permeated the atmosphere of the Conference. We became acquainted with projects, which, although covering very traditional areas of town twinning, such as the revival of cultural and historical traditions, came forward with very inspiring approaches and creativity in dealing with the current situation. For example the Valašská Bystřice municipality presented a joint project with its twinned municipality of Vavrišovo in Slovakia focusing on the revival of cultural and historical traditions in the region. As part of the project, small structures, such as an open-air amphitheatre, were built. The Mayor, Mr. Martínek, shared with the participants his experiences in coping with the administration of the project financed from the Cross-Border Cooperation Operational Programme, which was very demanding for such a small community in terms of administration, all the more so as the payment of the grant was delayed by more than a year.

The Deputy Mayor of Prachatice, Mr. Zeman, in turn drew attention to another dimension, which even traditional town twinning can involve, namely the dimension of developmental help or charity and the potential of economic cooperation development. The town of Prachatice organised a collection of toys, supported by nursery schools and citizens of the town. The toys they collected were sent to children of the Georgian town of Kashuri. Under preparation is a project for the creation of a Shared Experience Centre concerned with local self government. The task of the centre will be to pass on experience in the democratic functioning of municipalities in the Czech Republic to transforming and developing countries in East and South-East Europe. According to Deputy Mayor Mr Zeman, partnership and the international cooperation of towns may become an “important tool of local diplomacy and local economic development”.

A frequent subject raised at the Conference was the financing of town-twinning projects, specifically the lack of potential resources. In the final part of the Conference, the participants were addressed by the national coordinators of the Europe for Citizens Programme, who drew attention to this community programme, which supports directly small, as well as larger town-twinning projects. Thanks to the absolutely non-complicated administration even small communities will be able to cope with it easily, without having to fear any complications.

The Conference and its results have confirmed that creativity and innovation have their place in every type of cooperation, promising a useful and lasting benefit. Creativity and innovation can be found in student exchanges, or in traditional cultural festivals. It goes without saying that all activities, where experience is exchanged, whether in areas such as town development, social affairs, education, the environment, tourism and the functioning of self-government, are very useful and innovative. Creativity must be present in everything that is to be alive, interesting and successful. Innovation rests in trying new ways of making international cooperation and town twinning more useful for the communities and their citizens. The favourable response of the participants and the conference hall filled to capacity make us confident that the final Conference on our project has brought inspiration and a useful experience to all those present. The presentations made in the course of the proceedings can be found annexed to this article.