LEADER Monitoring and Evaluation
LEADER Monitoring and Evaluation: Practical Tips for LAGs, Managing Authorities and Evaluators
Why has monitoring and evaluation been included in the LEADER Toolkit?
LEADER is about effecting change, evaluation is about measuring and understanding change. If you are involved in LEADER then what LEADER changes involves you all, LAGs, Managing Authorities (MA), National Rural Networks (NRN), evaluators and project implementers!
These sections are designed to help how the overall process of monitoring and evaluation is planned, managed and delivered from the Local Development Strategies (LDS) to the RDP and EU level so that this change may be measured: they aim to help
- Improve the basic knowledge and understanding by explaining the methodological challenges of evaluating LEADER;
- LAGs to design, specify and manage the processes of evaluation;
- Highlight relevant methods and approaches to level up LEADER evaluation performance; and
- Enable LDS level evaluation to contribute more effectively to the evaluation of LEADER as a whole on national and EU level.
They are consistent with and complement the following technical guidance published by the Helpdesk of the European Evaluation Network for Rural Development:
- Working Paper on Capturing impacts of LEADER and of measures to improve Quality of life in rural areas1 [PDF ]
- Guidelines: Establishing and implementing the evaluation plan of the 2014 – 2020 RDPs [PDF ]
There are three main reasons why LEADER needs its own special evaluation section now in the toolkit. Firstly LEADER evaluation is specific, secondly it is more important than previously and finally it is often problematic.
Why is the evaluation of LEADER specific?
Experimental from its beginning LEADER is different; despite mainstreaming in Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) it remains so today, a development approach, not an RDP delivery scheme. LEADER directly involves people in their own development activities by linking actors and actions. Of course this doesn’t happen in isolation; LEADER has a special place within RDPs with devolved responsibilities, local ownership and decision making, doing things differently.
These links, interactions and differences affect the range and nature of how and what LEADER achieves. If we are going to do things differently we need to measure and understand these differences, prove the benefits of what we do and how we do it. Demonstrate the ‘added value’ of LEADER.
So, value for money, is that all? No, learning what the experiment proves and how we can do better is an integral part of LEADER’s strategic approach, perhaps the hidden 8th element it helps us grow and evolve.
Why is LEADER evaluation more important?
LEADER’s reputation as a method is strong and many people are persuaded, just look at the growth in the number of LAGs, the budget and the emergence of Community Led Local Development (CLLD) for the 2014 – 2020 ESI Programmes. But greater prominence leads to greater scrutiny; as does competition for scarce resources. Questions have been asked about how LDS are delivered and their monitoring and evaluation. Weaknesses have been highlighted and priorities for error reduction and other improvements stressed by the Court of Auditors, European level LEADER Focus Groups and others. The potential and priority of improvement is clear and is reinforced with the CPR and RDR introducing new responsibilities for beneficiaries, LAGs, NRNs and MAs.
So it’s all about these weaknesses and new obligations then? No, these are just symptoms and consequences not reasons to improve; the real reasons are about improving LEADER, capitalising on the investment, learning the lessons and strengthening our rural future.
Why is the evaluation of LEADER problematic? What are the challenges?
LEADER’s work and objectives are complex being participative, based on links, experimentation and innovation; its evaluation is therefore complex too. Many evaluations consider the effects of delivery mechanisms on achievements but here elements of ‘the approach’ contribute directly to or even form part of the outcomes achieved and as such must be assessed.
LAGs, their LDS and projects are diverse and specific to local needs. Many of the interventions are small, they may be process oriented or be qualitative rather than immediately leading to results, outcomes may take time to emerge, be diffuse, need different approaches to observation or measurement. At the same time all these interventions, even the smallest of projects contribute within common frameworks, the LDS, the RDP, the Partnership Agreement, the Rural Development Regulation (RDR), CAP and ultimately EU 2020.
This all creates multiple evaluation challenges; for the individual LDS; their consistency and comparability; the aggregated contribution of the LDS to the RDP and the demonstration of the added value of the approach (covering qualitative and quantitative aspects). The diversity in evaluation capabilities, skills and knowledge of LAGs, MAs and evaluators, the choices made and approaches employed can result in further problems.
Evaluation is for later, we don’t need to do it now, do we?
Being prepared is the most important contribution to effective monitoring and evaluation, the later you do it the harder it is, good planning is critical here. The information in the LEADER Monitoring and Evaluation Section are designed to provide practical help and advice to improve the planning, implementation and consistency of monitoring and evaluation activities by LAGs, NRNs and MAs. This information is particularly important for LAGs designing monitoring and evaluation provisions into their LDS and for MAs and NRNs in their evaluation planning and in planning their support for LAGs.
Although these modules are mainly focused on preparing the 2014 - 2020 LDS many of the lessons they contain will apply equally to preparing for the final or ex post evaluations of the 2007-2013 period.