Improving Implementation of LEADER at Programme level
4. Developing local solutions
One of the major strengths of LEADER is the extent to which LAGs are able to adapt themselves to their local territory in terms of their partnership, their local development strategy and the approach to delivery. This bottom up adaption has resulted in a great diversity within the population which is a considerable strength but also reflects some of the development and delivery challenges which LAGs face. In the 2007 – 2013 period many LAGs have faced considerable challenges as a result of some of the implications of mainstreaming, increased regulation, reduced flexibility etc. The financial crisis which post-dated the preparation of many Local Development Strategies also caused difficulties.
Fortunately experience shows us that many LAGs can help themselves by doing those things which are within their local control or influence to help improve delivery or address changed circumstances. In looking ahead LAGs should not rely on perfect implementation conditions being created, the need to be flexible and able to adapt locally will remain important. With a range of approaches to CLLD being implemented and the focus on stronger coordination across the funds the ability to coordinate strategies and resources to make things work locally is essential and there are strong examples of such approaches in LEADER. LAGs involved in the LEADER Event 2013, Building Bridges for the Future concluded that collection and dissemination of multi-funded examples implemented by LAGs in the 2007 - 2013 programming period would help the future exchange of information and expertise between LAGs. The following lessons are drawn from that wider LAG experience.
The Local Development Strategy:
Developing strategies for the whole territory and making use of multiple funds is one area where LAGs can play a leading role. There is a group of more experienced LAGs which over the generations of LEADER has developed to become local development agencies delivering other strands of activity rather than just LEADER LAGs, this has happened both formally and informally. In the 2007 – 2013 programme period with the arrival of the 300+ EFF FLAGs the number of LAGs involved in wider strategies and packages of funding has increased. Around 40% of FLAGs are part of a shared organisation with a LAG and over 60% have some formal shared basis of cooperation.
Where LAGs become concerned with the wider development of the territory it is essential that they develop an overall needs based strategy for its area. Some of the clearest examples of this integrated approach occur in island communities where the interdependency between sectors is brought into sharper focus e.g. in Greece, Denmark or Wales. Although the potential availability of funding may provide the initial impetus one clear lesson from this experience is that the development of such an integrated Local Development Strategy should be independent of any intention of the central or regional government to establish a multi-funded approach. Political commitment will be necessary of course but the strategy should first and foremost be driven by needs and opportunity, not merely the availability of funding.
The most common approach is for a parent organization e.g. the Local Development Agency to prepare an overarching strategy for the territory. This may be as a single document or as an overarching strategy with specific chapters for the different types of territory, sector or activity. In order to develop and manage this there has to be a systematic consultation process established involving all important local stakeholders. In the case of Local Development Agencies these stakeholders are frequently members or shareholders of the agency who provide links to the wider community. Smaller LAGs are unlikely to have these wider networks or resources and so have to develop the means to run such a wider consultation. Conducting a search for new techniques and good practices could be very useful here, for both types of organization and can form the basis for building a new or wider partnership. The development of an integrated overall needs based strategy can be of great importance for a LAG, giving to it the opportunity to play an active role in the development process of the area and to broaden its field of activities e.g. with a LAG delivering LEADER and a variety of forms of involvement in other development programmes etc.
Many of the most adapted LAG partnerships are of long standing, some have been active since LEADER I in the early 1990’s. Commonly such LAGs have evolved to become some form of Local Development Agency which manages multiple funding streams in the delivery of their overarching strategy. This is often because the LAG is the place where the politicians, professionals and other local stakeholders can meet and exchange on the development of their territory bringing their experience and local knowledge together. Partnerships have evolved and are structured to ensure wider community engagement, their very accessibility is critical to their success. The wider application of LEADER methods is therefore a common feature in the way they work as a partnership, particularly bottom up involvement, local decision making and strengthening local links. In a number of cases this has evolved to the extent of the LDA becoming the main development agent for the territory, in effect evolutionary mainstreaming.
Such partnerships are able to employ different management approaches for the different strands they manage e.g. using thematic subgroups, LAG or FLAG partnerships, decision making groups etc. For example some Greek LDAs manage LEADER, act as accountable body for the local FLAG, deliver EAFRD Axis 3 projects and are involved in ERDF and ESF actions. The LDA board is responsible for the management of all these streams and their appropriate implementation and reporting.
In those territories where FLAGs and LAGs overlap there has often been a natural fit particularly where many of the stakeholders are the same. Their organisation structures and resources see them placed as vital hubs for development activity. Those with experience of such groups suggest that to enable the LAGs and FLAGs to work in a multi-fund context their partnerships must have a broad composition with no specifications for a minimum or maximum number of sectoral representatives e.g. from agricultural or fisheries sectors.
CLLD multi-fund approach is not considered a problem in itself for LAGs/FLAGs. In fact it is considered the right answer for designing a comprehensive territorial strategy. Participants provided some suggestions to support the implementation of CLLD and multi-fund approach, These LAGs and FLAGs have come to represent a valuable and credible body of local development experience and capability with their knowledge of the territory’s features and the ‘local recipes’ for its sustainable development.
What are the prerequisites of effective local delivery? It is often the more remote communities situated furthest from the centre and where delivery infrastructure is weak where local organisations have to take more direct responsibility, work and draw resources together and act to deliver local solutions. Where this involves working across multiple funding streams then this requires robust, well planned and well implemented management procedures.
Working at the end of a long delivery chain far from the managing authorities, the LAG and other delivery partners have to work well together to make things function properly. Clear communication up and down the delivery system is essential so that each link in the chain understands who is responsible for what. LAGs cannot assume that the Managing Authority and Paying Agency immediately understand their needs but their clarity of understanding is essential to help them to make the most of finite local resources. All involved need to communicate well to secure the necessary flexibility to operate by building the confidence, credibility and trust in managing the local links and delivery.
Managing the LAG and staffs activities and resources is a very important consideration in this. Making clear distinctions between animation and administration activities helps to ensure the effective implementation of the LDS. As animation is central to implementing the LDS LAGs should take care to ensure this is adequately resourced. A good strategy alone is not enough to obtain positive results without the participation and commitment of local actors. Too often during the 2007 - 2013 programming period LAGs managers became more and more absorbed by administrative tasks at the expense of animation at the expense of the implementation of the LDS.
Ideally, in pursuing a single strategy what is delivered should be seamless from the beneficiaries point of view but that demands much often unseen work. Where LAGs or LDA are delivering multiple funds there is the opportunity to achieve benefits of scale by being able to share specialist skills or resources between funds or programmes. There are potential difficulties however in managing and accounting for resources, the complexity results in a need for greater scrutiny. For LAGs managing a portfolio of projects and funding streams clear allocation of staff tasks and resources so that responsibilities are clearly understood is a vitally important but difficult task. Strong systems are essential to reduce the demands this could put on time for development work.
Although the use of a Lead Fund may simplify this for CLLD LAGs may deliver other forms of support each with its own requirements, resources still need to be targeted and performance reported in line with requirements.