Improving Implementation of LEADER at Programme level
3. Using a Coordination Group
LEADER as an approach is dependent on two main types of partnership, the local LAG partnership and the partnership inherent in the multi-level governance structure (within which roles and responsibilities are defined). The specific multi level arrangements vary between Member States but the need for effective working partnerships between the different actors involved in the associated multi level delivery system is fundamental to all.
Since ‘mainstreaming’ in 2007 this has had even greater importance with LEADER’s entry into the wider RDP delivery and administrative arrangements whilst retaining its distinctive approach. This significant change has involved new arrangements, unfamiliar approaches, different conventions and cultures and new requirements for all concerned. The challenges this has posed for all have been well rehearsed in RDP and LEADER evaluations, working groups and committees to name but a few. The whole LEADER approach is based on establishing links and making these work for rural communities. The need and opportunity for all concerned to do so has never been greater than it is now, the arrival of CLLD will further strengthen this priority. The use of a LEADER coordination group can provide a simple yet effective basis on which to develop essential communications, working links and relationships.
What is it and what are the benefits?
The importance of using coordination groups as a participative tool to improve the management and delivery of LEADER is increasingly recognised by all types of LEADER delivery stakeholders. Such groups are a natural extension of the LEADER approach improving both what is done and how; through improved knowledge, developing mutual understanding and strong working relationships. The whole purpose of such groups is to help make the system function better by providing a space and platform where the different actors can work together reviewing progress, developing shared and agreed solutions, improving the whole and creating the conditions for success. One of the greatest benefits of this is the mutual trust which can be engendered between the various actors.
Normally such groups involve Managing Authorities, Paying Agencies, LAGs (presidents or staff), and National Rural Networks, other rural development actors or representatives from other funds may also be involved. In some respects they may be seen to replace elements of the former LEADER Programme Monitoring Committees and national LEADER Networks involving stakeholders in effective programme delivery. Their origins can differ; starting off as ad hoc, issue based or one off groups which evolve or be a planned part of the overall process, they can be driven by LAGs, MAs or NRNs.
No two coordination groups will be the same but commonly they will have similar functions helping help to coordinate, refine and streamline activities and providing a forum for technical assistance and joint working. They can function as a single group or may employ topic or task based working groups, many different formats are possible. Coordination groups provide a dedicated space and place to strengthen the links and communications between actors, build working relationships and shared understanding. They help define roles and responsibilities and in doing so coordinate the various delivery functions. They can also provide a useful mechanism for external coordination with other funds, interests or networks.
Ideally forming a LEADER coordination group should be a proactive step taken early in the programme process. Whilst they are a useful tool in problem resolution it clearly makes sense to employ this approach to inform the development of working arrangements and systems from the outset. Many of the examples active today are performing a bridging role between programmes enabling learning and improvement, together with continuity and organisational memory.
National Rural Networks are involved in LEADER coordination groups in different ways; this in parts depends on their own structure. As an existing tool it can provide the essential basis of working links. In some cases the NRN is the instigator of such activities, in others it may be tasked by the MA to develop such a group or work stream. It may have a specific LEADER working group, may act mainly with LAGs or fulfil an important brokerage role between the different actors. NRNs coordination role can be particularly important in Member States with Regional RDPs.
The use and success of these types of groups is clearly evident almost every time LEADER practitioners come together to consider different elements of the delivery system. People really recognise the value and examples of its success are regularly quoted. In fact many of those involved now consider this to be an essential part of the approach particularly in learning lessons for the future. Delegates at the 2013 LEADER event highlighted a number of successful examples particularly in relation to RDP design and the involvement of LAGs.
- In many countries coordination groups and ad hoc working groups are being employed to draw lessons from this programme period to inform 2014 – 2020 arrangements.
- The Greek NRN showcased the thematic LEADER working group involving the MA, PA, LAGs and other stakeholders (Regions, Universities, Chambers, Young Farmers) which has been working on the strategic options for local development.
- In Spain coordination groups involving Regional MAs, LAGs, LAGs networks, NRN and PA are analysing management and delivery problems and developing solutions as a basis for common agreed guidelines for LEADER 2014-2020.
- Use different tools, Sweden has extensive experience in using virtual think tanks, you don’t need to bring people together physically to work together effectively.
- Practical examples such as project visits and field trips which bring people together in a new environment can broaden and deepen mutual understanding.
- You may not have all the solutions within LEADER, why not widen your coordination group and its experience?