Consultation was not limited to engaging the voluntary and community sector, however. The government also consulted internally with a range of departments and agencies on the draft in order to understand existing differences in practice, coordinate responses and build commitment for a compact.
"Negotiations" took the form of meetings between the sector's Working Group and an Inter-Ministerial Working Group (representing 13 departments, chaired by the Home Office) with the two parties jointly drafting the final product which was presented to Parliament in November 1998. Once the breakthrough was made that there was, indeed, a shared vision between government and the sector, it became relatively easy to define principles and an agenda for action. The Working Group took an additional step in getting agreement from the opposition Conservative party so that the Compact is truly a bipartisan policy, not merely an agreement with the Labour Government.8
It also became apparent that, because a Compact is only a framework and has to be understood by a diversity of organizations and applicable to a variety of government departments, it could not encompass extensive and highly specific detail. Thus, the process was broken into two stages: the initial agreement on the Compact and the subsequent development of a series of codes of good practice. So far, five such codes had been developed by subgroups of the Working Group, each with government members as observers (sometimes more active) who reserved the right not to accept them. Drawing on the experience of both parties, these codes address practices related to: funding; consultation; volunteering; black and minority ethnic groups; and community action.9 In addition, the national compact has directly stimulated and guided the development of separate compacts between the community sector and local governments.
A key aspect of the implementation phase has focussed on making the sector aware of the compact and training them to use and comply with it effectively. To this end, NCVO has disseminated the codes widely, provided training seminars, and hired a full-time Compact Development Officer to work with community organizations in ensuring that they know what to expect.
Monitoring and reporting have been vitally important to making this non-legal document durable and transparent, although some of these processes are still unfolding. Monitoring is built around an annual report to Parliament which is preceded by an annual meeting involving members of the sector Working Group and key ministers (additional meetings with officials are held as required). The meeting is neither merely ceremonial nor a time for "naming and shaming." Its goal is to produce an action plan with concrete steps to be taken by each side. Consequently, the process is taken seriously and attended by the important Ministers and senior officials. In preparation for this meeting, surveys are conducted of both the sector and government departments to see how well the relationship is working and what impact the compact is having. All of this takes support by both the NCVO which serves as secretariat to the Working Group and the Active Communities Unit in the Home Office which supports the government's participation. Because the emphasis in England has been on dispute avoidance, no specific dispute resolution mechanism is stipulated in the compact, although a more institutionalized process may unfold.
9. These codes lay out quite detailed guidelines for practice. For instance, the Code of Good Practice for funding states that in order to promote fair access to funding, the government should among other things, "aim to publish an annual guide to Government grant programmes;" and "consult relevant voluntary and community organisations on the development of new funding programmes." See Funding: A Code of Good Practice (London: Home Office and Working Group on Government Relations, NCVO, 2000).