Improving Implementation of LEADER at Programme level
5. Learning from each other
‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.’ Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882) American essayist and poet.
Whilst Emerson of course knew nothing of LEADER in this famous quotation he clearly understood the importance of developing and capitalising on what we have, our shared learning, experience and motivation. Of course much of what lies within LEADER is based on our experiences, now and in the past. The importance of this lies in how we communicate, share and learn from this common resource, capitalising on ‘LEADER know how’. There is such a wealth and diversity of experience to draw on from four generations of LEADER and involvement has grown from a small pilot group of LAGs to over 2,400. Here are some of the lessons around how we can learn from each other from across the generations and breadth of experience.
What can we learn?
One of the most important things which those involved in LEADER can learn from each other is how to adapt the way in which we apply the method. LEADER is also about initiating and responding to innovation and change in what we do, it is vital that we act similarly in how we work. At each transition between programmes there is the need to learn from the experience gained (capitalising and consolidating this experience) and a need to adapt. The constant throughout the first four generations of LEADER is the seven core principles of the method, these have evolved and their implementation has been adapted. This ability to adapt, remain relevant and to challenge whether there are better ways of doing things reinforces LEADER’s ongoing validity and applicability across the EU. Many of the main lessons to be learned therefore relate to how all LEADER stakeholders can adapt its implementation, renewing and refreshing the principles and in doing so improving its delivery and the outcomes achieved.
There are a multitude of thematic areas in which LAGs can learn from each other and from the experience of others covering all types of project activity. The important thing is to understand the importance of transferring knowledge and experience within LEADER, search out the right sources and methods for you and make use of that shared capital.
What are the different learning tools?
LEADER is characterised by institutional learning and by collective and individual learning of local actors and network partners. Monitoring and evaluation are the main formal instruments of institutional learning at programme level, LAGs can also learn through their own monitoring and evaluation activities.
Peer learning among LAGs within the Member States or between Member States is an essential instrument. The networking units at regional, national and European level are of great value in coordinating and stabilising the flows of knowledge creation and exchangat larger scales. LAGs have a lot to learn from each other and can only get stronger by teaming up, working together and building connections. Such exchanges can be focused on the LEADER method but can also be developed around a thematic focus e.g. on working with young people or rural entrepreneurship. A number of NRNs have facilitated mentoring approaches between more and less experienced LAGs as a basis for transferring knowledge and experience. The Swedish NRN made extensive use of this in supporting the large number of new LAGs in Sweden but the approach can equally well occur between Member States or programmes as with LEADER and EFF Axis 4. This type of approach can include study visits, field trips, exchanges etc. In Austria, they implemented a LAG managers exchange program’ the ‘Leader on tour’ project. This type of approach could be extended between LAGs in different countries.
At local level local knowledge is mobilized in the process of LDS elaboration; LEADER’s added value should be evident in the collective learning, behavioural change and increased social capital: In addition to this the self-reflection and self-assessment capacity of LAGs needs to be further strengthened in the future with a view to establishing stronger LAG structures and improved performance.
In addition learning how to improve LEADER delivery and programming has seen growth in the use of participative LEADER coordination groups between the different delivery stakeholders (ref coordination module) fostering a partnership approach, working together and developing links on practical and operational implementation.
As one of the LEADER 2013 event work groups concluded:
- There are best practice examples out there being used yet no-one really knows about them.
- All stakeholders need to talk more, explain their needs in the process and learn to trust one another.
- Reinforcing existing and developing new networks will improve communication and therefore delivery.
NRN LEADER groups can provide a useful platform for pooling learning and experience, members or between different types of stakeholder. These groups can be extended to bring in external interests e.g. other rural interests or MAs of other funds to help make them familiar with the LEADER approach and help facilitate the implementation of LEADER or CLLD. Similarly external contributors may be brought in to introduce new or different experience or learning from another field or sector.
One of the underutilised external resources in LEADER is the rural research community, the links here are commonly recognised to be weak and yet both communities have an interest in rural development, learning and innovation. Links between all aspects of LEADER and researchers are not very strong, research is often not specific enough, too agricultural or too urban, funds or other resources are inadequate etc. Nevertheless research can have positive effects and can contribute additional resources e.g. by developing LAG expertise or capacity or by networking to other resources. It may well be worth exploring innovative ways to extend the involvement of researchers in LEADER at local level.
Other sources and approaches
For LAGs, MAs, network and thematic groups etc. the use of a number of different consultation methodologies is recommended, these include online fora, online conferences, questionnaires, think tanks, the use of social media, etc. Networking can play an active role in enhancing participation in this process involving as many public/private actors as possible. Networking can also provide examples of these tools and how to use them e.g. via the ENRD website and the various contacts databases. The importance of the exchange of tools as well as of information should not be overlooked.
The ENRD coordinates a range of activities which bring LAGs and other rural actors together to learn from each other and consolidate their shared learning. This involves thematic working groups e.g. on delivery mechanisms or working with young people, LEADER Focus Groups, conferences, seminars and other events.
The ENRD LEADER subcommittee in effect operates as an EU level version of national coordination committees bringing together the EC, managing authorities, paying agencies and LAGs to exchange information, coordinate and plan. The ENRD also helps support transnational cooperation projects, another source of shared learning.
Fisheries Local Action Groups are developing a new body of transferable experience much of which may be relevant to LAGs particularly when looking at more integrated area strategies or multifund approaches. They are developing strong experience in how to adapt to new scenarios and sectors, how to deal directly with industry and how to collaborate with other development actors.
Farnet, the Fisheries Areas Network provides networking support for the FLAGs, its website provides a wide range of services, information, tools and resources which may also be relevant to LAGs.