An accord is both a framework document and a process. As a framework, an accord cannot be understood simply as another form of a legally binding contract. The compacts that have been established to date are not based on an articulation of rights, but on the creation of a shared vision and principles and a commitment to mutual undertakings based on responsibilities of equal partners. As a process, the development of an accord is not equivalent to labour's collective bargaining in which a legally authorized agent negotiates on behalf of a membership and whose official ratification is required. Rather, the legitimacy of an accord for the voluntary sector springs from its endorsement by representatives who have credibility, not necessarily authority to act on behalf of the sector, and who are well positioned to help change cultures and practices. Experience clearly demonstrates that the process of getting to an agreement and the ongoing means for implementing good practices, monitoring and reporting are as important, if not more so, than the content of the document itself. The ultimate success of an accord is judged mainly on whether greater trust has been instilled on both sides and whether practices change to the satisfaction and mutual benefit of both partners.
In short, an accord is about relationship building: between the voluntary sector and government, and between the leadership of the voluntary sector involved in the development of the accord and the rest of the sector.
Three distinct phases are involved in development and implementation of an accord, each of which has somewhat different requirements of the two parties:
- Phase I - Development: involves drafting of the text of the framework agreement, engagement of the sector and government on its contents, redrafting as necessary, and formal agreement.
- Phase II - Development of Codes of Good Practice: involves giving substance to the framework through drafting one or more detailed guides about what constitutes good conduct for both government and the voluntary sector, engaging the sector and government in a dialogue on the acceptability of the codes, and initial implementation of them.
- Phase III - Monitoring, Reporting and Compliance: involves ongoing monitoring of both sides to ensure that the framework agreement and the codes are being followed, public reporting on the state of the relationship, and addressing complaints of non-compliance.