Improving Implementation of LEADER at Programme level
6. LEADER Renewed
Does LEADER really need to be renewed or re-energised? Why is it important that we all ask ourselves that question?
During the 2007 – 2013 RDP period concerns emerged that the LEADER approach was being compromised by mainstreaming. The strong focus which emerged for LEADER on the defined measures under the Rural Development Programme limited the LAGs possibilities to implement integrated and innovative projects. Elements of what made LEADER so different were being constrained or lost. There are particular constraints on innovation and small scale interventions, both key aspects of LEADERS added value.
Many experienced LAGs found these changes difficult to manage and demanding of time and resources, some found it difficult to adapt their experience, the large proportion of new LAGs had no previous experience to compare. The economic crisis may have made people more risk averse, match funding harder to secure and involvement more difficult to justify.
LEADER as an approach is adaptable, it is dynamic, a process seeking constant improvement, it is designed to deal with challenges. By refreshing and reinforcing the approach, looking forward at making the method work for change LEADER can tackle these challenges, optimise the bottom up involvement and those things which help deliver the added value. This won’t happen of its own accord, if we want LEADER to be stronger we have to work at it, just being a LAG and going through the motions isn’t enough. Managing Authorities cannot just rely on LAGs alone; they too need to help enable this renewal. If LEADER is to play the catalytic role that many identify as its core strength then clearly it needs to consider how it engages and works with the other actors. LAGs therefore need to ask themselves these questions, do the maintenance checks, take stock of our situation, analyse where we are, identify the issues, the possible solutions and plan. Whilst most of the actions suggested here are for LAGs Managing Authorities need to be prepared to listen and review how they contribute to the process. A planned approach is essential, it won’t just happen.
Here are some key points or issues you may wish to consider in looking at your LEADER approach and how it can be re-energised or renewed.
The LAG lifecycle: A LAG is a dynamic partnership and all partnerships have their own life cycle. In LEADER the partnership not only evolves over time in how it functions but also in relation to the tasks at different stages in the programme. Thinking about how to plan for and support these changes will help ensure that the LAG remains involved and committed. One long established methodological tool, the ‘Tuckman’ Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing model is worth considering here.
New LAG or refreshed LAG:
That continuity between programming periods is highly important has come to be regarded as a truism but in looking at the LAG as an entity perhaps this should be challenged? No LAG is guaranteed continuity as a LEADER LAG, in looking ahead to a new programme period why not look at this as an opportunity to refresh or renew the LAG? How does the LAG optimise the essential local experience, knowledge and analytical insight it brings. An influx of new blood or a change of focus may provide vital new energy and momentum, a more representative LAG will not only involve new people but may open new opportunities, bring new resources, ideas and innovations and by strengthening local connections may encourage others to become involved.
Renewing or reinforcing the application of the principles:
What does this mean in practice? Put simply this means looking at the seven features of the LEADER approach and the way in which the LAG is implementing them. Conduct a review, what is each feature meant to achieve, are you implementing the approach as was intended? What is the added value you are seeking to achieve through LEADER? Are you using all the features? How are you implementing them? In the way the LAG works as a group, with others, with projects? Are you doing so consistently? Are you cherry picking? Are some aspects more difficult than others, why? What is working well or less well and why? Are you able to respond locally and flexibly? Are you monitoring this? Once you have reviewed what you are doing you can identify where things may be improved, where the added value can be strengthened and develop your plan accordingly.
Designing it in:
If you are to optimise the LEADER approach it needs to be well integrated in how the LAG works, in its actions and in how it works with other actors locally and within the delivery system. A fundamental consideration here is to think from the beneficiary perspective, how are they engaged, consulted, involved, supported in helping to deliver the outcomes sought? Planning on this basis puts the LEADER approach at the heart of the LAGs Local Development Strategy and reinforces it through the implementation method, the operating plan. It is vital that this is used as a real and dynamic tool enabling and extending local participation, community endorsement and ownership and in doing so strengthening the on-going relevance of the Strategy, the approach and the outcomes achieved.
One important way of refreshing LEADER is to get new people and new ideas involved. A common criticism of the approach is that it can be a bit of a closed shop, that it is a club of those in the know. As a bottom up and participative development approach LEADER should be open to wider involvement be that through introducing new blood on the LAG or by finding new ways of doing things to enable people to get involved. An effective communications approach is a key element of this , perhaps new ways of presenting information such as local road shows or other ways of sharing real lessons and the benefits of the LEADER way of doing things. Find ways to involve potential beneficiaries who would not normally access public funding, ‘the unusual suspects’ – to come forward with their ideas. The stronger focus on animation in the 2014 – 2020 programme provides LAGs with the mandate and resources to extend LEADER’s reach with new people, ideas and resources. How is this going to be done, how can it be strengthened, an animation plan or an NRN animation support group? Don’t leave this to chance, it is too important and doing it well can improve the process so much in supporting the development of successful and strategic projects.
LAGs also have the opportunity to use specific tools such as specific eligibility criteria e.g. to encourage small scale, innovative, complex or integrated and umbrella projects. This applies not just to the EAFRD but also top the CLLD possibilities. Quotas and criteria may be used to secure the involvement of specific groups, women, young people, the private sector etc.
The consultation process in Local Development Strategy preparation provides LAGs with an ideal opportunity to reach and engage new people and organisations. It allows the exploration not only of what the development needs and opportunities are but also how people can contribute, how they can participate. If LAGs are to reach new constituencies they have to think about the way in which they reach them and animate involvement. An open door approach is not enough, there can be many barriers, distance, transport, timing, childcare, school hours, even language can discourage people. People need to be invited in, to have permission to contribute. Think it through, how can you help people to contribute, what tools, methods and mediums can you use?
These are just some of the approaches LAGs can use to help them to be as fresh and relevant as possible, seeking out and delivering added value, generating real bottom up involvement. These are not one off approaches however but as with the Local Development Strategy are dynamic approaches and tools which if properly managed feed the process of ongoing renewal.