Improving Implementation of LEADER at Programme level
7. Innovative tools and methods
Part of the understanding which underpins LEADER is that how things are done, developing and implementing locally appropriate solutions is often the critical element which contributes to the added value delivered. Innovation is one of the fundamental principles of the LEADER approach and is at least as applicable to how things are done as it is to what is done. It has been argued however that in its fourth implementation period, 2007 – 2013 LEADERS pursuit of innovation both in terms of the actions supported and how they are delivered has been constrained by the ‘mainstreaming’ process (ENRD LEADER Focus Group 2)3 In fact Focus Group 4 concluded that defining innovation was ‘difficult (and by implication risky) since every definition implies the possibility of restrictive interpretation’. Innovation is therefore often challenged by narrow interpretations of eligibility.
Focus Group 2 also found that in "mainstreaming" LEADER the Commission did not intend to limit the scope of innovative actions and projects by comparison with what was possible under Leader+. Rather ‘mainstreaming’ was intended to broaden the scope of application to the whole rural development tool-kit and so create a specific added value. Innovation and the eligibility criteria of the standard measures are in principle not incompatible but this requires that innovation be understood as eligible at the various levels.
In proposing, selecting and implementing innovative tools and methods LAGs therefore need to be aware of the varying definitions of innovation applied in the RDPs, the fit with domestic legislation and with the management and control systems of the respective RDPs. This condition applies to al the examples offered below.
Given the great wealth of experience in LEADER in developing innovative ways of doing things then potential for LAGs to exchange ideas and good practices, learning from each other within and between regions, from previous programmes or from other initiatives. This can be a particularly useful approach in demonstrating the success of an approach e.g. to an accountable body, Managing Authority or Paying Agency. There are many resources for LAGs and projects to draw on here, other LAGs, National Rural Networks, the ENRD project database, ENRD LEADER Focus Group 2, the former LEADER+ and Leader II databases and publications4 and other initiatives such as the Farnet, Jeremie and Jessica websites.
Here are a few examples of the types of innovative approaches which LAGS have used.
Umbrella projects or schemes: These are projects where the LAG allocates a block of funding to a third party organisation with which they then set up and deliver a targeted programme of support e.g. a small scale grant scheme or programme targeting a specific priority theme, target group or area. Applications to deliver and manage umbrella projects or schemes are normally submitted by public sector organisations, representative bodies or NGOs and target business and community beneficiaries. These therefore involve a degree of devolved delivery of support by an intermediary, the project holder (scheme manager) to the target group (the ultimate or scheme beneficiaries). These may be initiated by the LAG as a means of supporting a specific strategic priority.
Such schemes provide a useful means of directly engaging small scale community organisations or businesses in the work of the LAG and of coordinating their actions towards strategic objectives. They can be delivered more directly to the ultimate beneficiaries through simplified application and deliveary mechanisms, with more direct targeting and tailoring to the specific characteristics of the target group or area. The use of schemes is common in business support actions e.g. a small scale tourism quality improvement initiative, a wide range of training activities, supporting the introduction of new technologies to improve efficiency or in green business initiatives e.g. supporting measures to reduce waste. They are a useful means of grouping and managing large numbers of small scale applications efficiently and reducing the administrative burden on applicants, the LAG and its staff.
Properly managed such schemes present few additional risks to the LAG however this means that the compliance, progress, performance reporting and audit arrangements have to be very clearly established. Consequently LAG staff need to maintain a high level of overview and scrutiny of such projects.
Care is needed to ensure that the ‘scheme’ does not merely introduce a further layer of decision making, payments and administration which then needs to be signed off further up the delivery chain rather than simplifying access to support for small applicants. Care is also needed with regard to managing the delivery costs.
Financial instruments and tools: The use of innovative financial and administrative tools has been a topic of considerable discussion in LEADER particularly with economic constraints resulting in limitations on funding. In some cases they have proved effective in working within the constraints of RDP delivery. What do we mean by innovative financial tools? At the LAG level these often simply involve LAGs in finding solutions to enable specific local projects to progress when financial considerations would otherwise have prevented this. ENRD Focus Group 2 highlights a group of such initiatives, one where a project was pre-financed by the community to address cash flow issues, another where the Managing Authority found the basis for validating the financial value of voluntary community work to enable a new class of beneficiary to participate, and contribute. Current and historic project databases and LEADER publications available via the ENRD LEADER Gateway are particularly useful sources here.
The use of financial instruments and tools has also become more prevalent in the RDPs themselves and under the other ESI funds (through initiatives such as JEREMIE and JESSICA. This reflects the objective of increasing the access to finance for enterprises and industry which produce goods and services. Whilst grant funding is attractive to beneficiaries it can have downsides e.g. in distorting business behaviour to chase the funds, placing a low perceived value on ‘free money’ or through the cash flow issues associated with retrospective grant payment. Other ‘financial engineering’ approaches which involve the recycling of funds mean finite resources can be reused and thus more development activity supported. The European Commission provided Member States with the possibility to implement financial engineering actions in the form of Guarantee, Loan and Venture Capital Funds under the 2007 – 2013 RDPs. The beneficiaries of financial instruments can be SMEs, as well as other organisations such as community or social enterprises, public-private partnerships and bodies such as trusts, established to supervise specific projects. All these approaches offer scope for LEADER LAGs, a full description of the possibilities is provided in Rural Review 13 .
Small project provisions: Whilst umbrella projects or schemes offer one mechanism for dealing with small scale projects they are by no means the only solution and LAGs should consider other possibilities to reduce the administrative burden for themselves and of course for beneficiaries. Simplification is the greatest demand here and LAGs should therefore consider their processes for generating and processing small scale applications. Ideally they should make specific provisions e.g. targeted calls, through simplified procedures, on line approaches, the use of differentiated or simplified selection criteria or by giving delegated authority to specific LAG members and staff within financial decision making thresholds.
Working with young people: As a group who are often relatively unreached by LEADER strengthening their involvement may be a priority for some LAGs, particularly in reaching those less likely to participate. A number of innovative approaches were highlighted by LAGs participating in the LEADER Event 2013. As a general point the importance of involving the right individuals in the right way, through key people who can link credibly to the wider group and bring them on board is highlighted. Engaging them at the right age is thought important, at school from around age 14 upwards.
A Hungarian group demonstrated the success of linking web based approaches with the on the ground activities, an annual music event with an online community, a research game involving school pupils and the LAG website. A Spanish LAG involved young people in thinking what the future of their area offered them. Sweden highlighted the approach to special LAG umbrella projects for young people where they could make applications directly for small amounts of project funding and were then supported in the management process, see.
Improve learning: Too many LAGs are keeping their successes to themselves, successful approaches to innovation, to new tools and ways of doing things, these are not being shared and analysed. A survey conducted for the LEADER Event came up with the following examples:
- In Wallonia an ‘Interface’ team which works with the LAGs to ensure all claim information is in place prior to it being submitted for payment.
- In Denmark some municipalities are able to provide loans to NGO's to support their project cash flow.
- Four LAGs in Alsace, France benefit from credits to provide project match funding.
- Hungary completed a best practice study using experience from other Member States and making suggestions on how to work more simply during 2014-20.
- Finland and Portugal both operate shared IT systems for the joint management of project information.
Think about what you do, how you do it and how you communicate it, find ways to share the solutions. You are part of the LEADER community, contribute to it through your NRN, ENRD, your website, however!