International Pilot Program Takes Off: The First Minnesota/Sweden Exchange Program for Managers
Ericson, Mike, Public Management
As local government managers, we have ample opportunities for education and professional development--classes, seminars, and conferences--but none of these has ever been as professionally and personally rewarding to me as the international exchange program arranged last year between the Minnesota City/County Management Association (MCMA) and the Association of Swedish City Managers. Eighteen city and county managers from Minnesota visited Sweden for one week in May 2002, and 10 Swedish managers spent three days in Minnesota prior to attending the September 2002 ICMA conference in Philadelphia.
The program was a first for MCMA, marking a significant step in MCMA's interest and supportive effort toward promoting an international perspective on professional local government management. It also is hoped that this exchange of trips will be seen by ICMA as a pilot program for future visits by other state associations to locations throughout the world.
Making It a Reality
Credit for coming up with the idea for the exchange program goes to Matt Fulton, city manager of New Brighton, Minnesota, and Miomir Serbinson, former city manager of Staffanstorp, Sweden. Fulton and Serbinson served together on the ICMA Task Force on International Affiliations, one of whose responsibilities is to build an international perspective on how local government is operated.
At one of the task force's meetings, held in Malmo, Sweden, Fulton and Serbinson were discussing the role that state associations could play in helping to build this international perspective. They came up with the idea of an exchange program between their respective state associations: Minnesota and Skane (the region covering the southern tip of Sweden). Given the Scandinavian-based culture of Minnesota, the choice of Sweden as an exchange partner seemed natural, but Fulton points to other reasons as well.
"Sweden has many interesting things to offer in terms of its culture, governance, and history. The people also use a lot of advanced technologies in the ways they look at energy and regionalized services." He goes on to say, "The idea was appealing to me, and I thought other Minnesota managers would benefit from being exposed to some of the things that Sweden does."
Although there was no formal marketing campaign for the exchange program, it was promoted through MCMA's e-mail communication system, in its newsletter, and personally by Fulton. "I was concerned about getting enough people to participate," explains Fulton, "so throughout the course of the year, as I was promoting it, I would take a $1 nonrefundable deposit from anyone who expressed an interest!"
As it turned out, he didn't have to worry. He was hoping for five to 12 people but ended up with a total of 27 (18 managers and nine spouses). The only real cost for each participant was his or her airfare (about $750), although, in addition, MCMA granted 12 $300 scholarships.
Travel arrangements and the schedule of activities in Sweden were set up by Stig Alund, executive director of the City Managers Association in Sweden, and his executive assistant, Lilian Persson, who also was responsible for finding home stays for the Minnesota managers. Staying in homes made the trip much more affordable, but, more important, it added a personal element that proved crucial to the program's success.
The original intent was to have participants stay only in the homes of local government managers or municipal employees, but because there were twice as many people as she had originally planned for, Persson had to call on friends and friends of friends. One couple even stayed with Fulton's cousin, whom he had only met once on a previous visit to Sweden. "Lilian did a remarkable job finding home stays for everyone," notes Fulton, "and in the end I think it was good that many of our managers were exposed to people in other occupational areas. …