The Strategy Design
How to build up a participatory local development strategy?
A description of the process of community involvement in the development of the strategy
What is meant by a participatory Local Development Strategy? Why is it important? How should LAGs implement this?
What is meant by a participatory Local Development Strategy?
The Rural Development and Common Provisions Regulations1 make it clear that Community Led Local Development (CLLD) is just that, Community Led by Local Action Groups, carried out through integrated and multi sectoral area based Local Development Strategies (LDS) which are designed through a bottom up process taking into consideration local needs and potential. This means that the preparation of the strategy must actively involve a representative cross-section of the local community and this process in turn must be described in the LDS itself.
Why is it important?
Local participation is one of the cornerstones of the whole CLLD approach and the community’s involvement in the preparation of the LDS is absolutely fundamental in developing this. Contributing to the horizontal priorities of ‘improving governance and mobilising the endogenous potential of rural areas’, that is to say involving people in the management of their own development, are core objectives of the LEADER approach. Even established LAGs should plan this carefully as there can be no assumption that nothing changes in a new programming period.
The preparation of the LDS and the development of the local partnership effectively go hand in hand each contributing to the other. As people are identified to contribute to the LDS the partnership is likely to evolve through their subsequent involvement2. Drawing directly on this vital resource of local knowledge and awareness and engaging local people, businesses and organisations directly in the work of the LAG helps to ensure the local relevance of the LDS and builds commitment to the CLLD process.
From the shared understanding of the areas main problems and their causes together with the assets, needs and opportunities presented a common vision and objectives can be developed strengthening in turn the community’s recognition, involvement and ownership of the LDS and LAG.
How should LAGs implement this?
Preparing an LDS will normally involve LAGs and/or other local actors in carrying out an analysis of the situation in their territory, commonly this is based on a SWOT3 analysis. This analysis will identify the development challenges and opportunities, from this the strategy and its objectives may be defined and the development priorities agreed. LAGs may be supported in this process e.g. through partner resources or by experts. The resultant output is an LDS which addresses a well defined local area, is integrated and which takes account of the range of local stakeholders concerns.
The various sections which form this module of the LEADER Toolkit provide a guide to the key steps in this process, they provide guidance for new LAGs to initiating the participative process and a reference tool for more experienced LAGs to review and update their methods in preparing a new LDS.
One of the most important recommendations from the work of the LEADER Focus Group 4 on Improving the Quality of Local Development Strategies was to stress the importance of LAGs taking the initiative and starting the process of LDS development. LAGs which wait for all the EU and national negotiations, regulations and guidance to be in place before starting the process of LDS development are restricting the time they have for an effective local process and may compromise its quality as a result. The risks of starting preparations early are small and the need for support for this activity has been recognised with the provision for Preparatory Support4 available to LAGs from the beginning of 2014
What needs to be done first and who needs to be involved?
Planning and initiating the process of LDS development is often best done by establishing a working or steering group or team. As the LDS work progresses this group will be involved in coordinating the necessary research, planning and steering the process of community engagement and establishing and securing the human and other resources required. The working group does not have to be large; it may start small with only two or three key partners5 but should progressively evolve and be broadened e.g. as a result of conducting a mapping and analysis of local stakeholders (this can be conducted in the initial phase and refined at a later stage in the LDS process6). In the case of new partnerships the working group may well evolve to form the basis of the LAG.
Those involved must be able to dedicate time to the tasks involved but often the time which can be committed to this work is finite. The LDS process will involve an intense sequence of meetings and discussions with communities and other stakeholders, this requires good quality animation and facilitation skills. The team therefore needs to have proven skills and experience in relevant research techniques, territorial development and facilitation.
A small team may not have the time, knowledge or skills required for the range of tasks, partners may not be able to commit sufficient staff resources. Additional dedicated resources e.g. from a university, a public agency or a consultancy may be necessary to support the team in specific, technical or specialised tasks. Skilled external experts may also offer benefits in their objectivity and in acting as honest brokers.
As a rule of thumb for a new LAG this development work might require as much as two full-time equivalents for six months (to cover partnership formation, situation analysis, LDS development, designing and implementation plan). A great deal of voluntary work is also likely to be needed. Greater or lesser resources of people and time may be needed depending on the areas experience of similar processes.
An immediate task for the LDS working group is the preliminary analysis of relevant data and other information sources in the development of the profile of the area and the LDS itself. At this stage the group will be primarily concerned with secondary sources, judging what is relevant and valuable and making the most of existing information rather than duplicating the effort or undertaking new research7. It is important that in doing so the team take account of the other initiatives, plans or strategies affecting the area both as potential sources of information and in terms of ensuring complementarity.
See info-sheet number 10, Integrating LDS into wider territorial planning [PDF ]
A useful approach here is to prepare a logically structured template of the information you need to help you identify any gaps you need to fill. This then forms a basis for specifying further information needed to complete your initial analysis. The template would commonly include sections on the territory, its geography and environment, resource efficiency, heritage, climate change, transport, infrastructure, population, social inclusion and poverty, the economy and labour market, governance and administration. This provides a basis around which the working groups analysis and initial thinking about possible priorities for the LDS can take place. This is an important step in informing subsequent community consultations.
This planning and structuring is particularly important where you are working with a small team where the effective use of finite and valuable resources is an absolute priority.
Approaches to consultation
In deciding how to consult locally LAGs and their working groups should consider how best to structure this.
Important considerations include how people will be involved, on what basis, at what stage, through what type of approach and how this will be resourced. In considering this the group need to think through the stages of LDS development and the objectives in involving local partners and communities. This includes the main stages of preparing the LDS, information gathering, SWOT analysis, prioritisation, setting objectives and the basic intervention logic, designing delivery, securing support and agreeing the final submission.
Starting the process
A proven approach is to initiate the participative consultation process by identifying and involving a relatively small group of key local or organisational stakeholders or informants. The purpose of these consultations is twofold. Firstly they enable the working group to test and develop their initial desk based research and analysis in the light of local knowledge and expertise and then to explore the main problems and opportunities facing the area. Secondly they inform the working group about local opinion leaders and other prominent actors who may be prepared to support or be involved in LDS development, in LAG activities or in membership of the LAG.
Broad based community participation is a priority in strengthening the relevance, appropriateness, ownership and deliverability of the LAG, LDS and the outcomes sought. How can LAGs broaden and deepen local community and sectoral involvement? How can they help to ensure an accessible process which enables wider community participation?
LAGs have to motivate and enable real participation, merely informing local people that they can contribute to the development of an LDS and a bid for funding for their area is not enough. You have to plan whose involvement you seek and how you enable this. Ensure that the process is as inclusive as is feasible, avoid excluding groups e.g. the young or elderly who may face difficulties e.g. in traveling, those with time constraints, businesses, young parents etc.
Public meetings of various forms are a common approach but planning should ensure that all parts of the area and community have the opportunity to contribute. Care therefore needs to be taken to address potential barriers e.g. in managing timing and locations, providing food and refreshments, even providing child care arrangements to ensure people can attend. Care is also needed in the design of working methods to enable even the most reticent to be comfortable in making their contribution. There are many web based resources on participative techniques, simple ones like buzz groups, prioritisation exercises and the way in which facilitators gather feedback all can help involve people.
Once this wider basis of involvement is established it is important communicate effectively, provide feedback, keep people informed and engaged throughout the processes to ensure a high level of local participation by all possible interested parties.
Thematic, sectoral or area based working groups8 are a further means of broadening, extending and deepening both the participative and consultative process and addressing specific needs or priorities. These may be established as a result of a more general meeting (e.g. in response to a specific need or the emergence of an interest group) or as a separate initiative by the group leading the LDS process.
Deepening and strengthening the analysis
An effective and well planned participative process of preparing the LDS can contribute considerably to the development of a representative, well informed and credible LAG capable of managing and delivering the LDS. The LDS working group, initial group of key local informants, consultation events and any specific working groups can all contribute to this9.
Conducting a formal stakeholder analysis is one simple way of structuring and ensuring effective wider participation in LDS development whilst also contributing to constructing a relevant and capable LAG partnership.
This involves simply mapping and analysing the people, organisations and institutions which have or can have a significant impact on the areas development and identifies the core capabilities and contributions of actual or potential partners. Stakeholder analysis may be undertaken by sector, public, private and civic, area, theme or activity type. The analysis can be structured around people or organisations official remit, interests, capacity or resources, and possible projects they may have an interest in or wish to promote. The output of this also helps to strengthen the demonstrated relevance of the partnership to the area and evidence community involvement in the LDS document. There are various techniques and computer softwares available to assist with this (matrices, relationship diagrams, organisational capacity diagrams, mind maps, etc.)
As indicated10 small working groups of a thematic, sectoral or area basis may be established, a combination of these types may also be used contributing both specialist knowledge and wider local involvement. Whatever the approach adopted it is important that these groups connect and communicate strongly with the main LDS working group11. The choice and number of themes for such groups depends on the area, the resources available and the initial territorial analysis. Groups may also form a means of involving disadvantaged or hard to reach groups or to allow the use of methods which make it easier for people to participate.
Considering the composition of these groups is important to ensure that they work effectively, the aim is to involve a broad cross-section of motivated local people who have ideas. Care should be taken to consider the relationships or dynamics within communities e.g. by selecting chairs who are trusted or respected in the community or in avoiding so called “blockers”, those whose involvement or actions may exclude others, and to involve groups that are often excluded.
Such groups bring together different stakeholder perspectives and allow the exploration and agreement of the main needs and opportunities and their relative priority12. In so doing the groups contribute to the preparation of the SWOT and further LDS development overall and in the identification of thematic or area based objectives and priorities.
Groups may conduct their own SWOT analysis of the theme, area or sector in question. Conventionally strengths and weaknesses are regarded as being internal factors i.e. things over which the LAG has some influence whilst opportunities and threats are regarded as external factors that the LAG may seek to mitigate or take advantage of. The technique can be applied at different geographical or sectoral levels and using a variety of different techniques. Developing a clear understanding here is important in ensuring that the LDS is focused on realistic and locally achievable objectives. Whatever the approach it is vital to ensure that what is produced is a real analysis based in evidence rather than merely four lists of issues.
Developing priorities and objectives
On the basis of the research and analysis undertaken the working groups (and LDS working group) should consider how to build on the strengths and mitigate the threats, address the needs and opportunities highlighted and identify the possible actions (bearing in mind what is realistically achievable). Encouraging the group to consider their ‘vision’, what the area may become or look like in future is a particularly valuable technique. This then has to be translated into something more realistic and deliverable, real SMART objectives13.
See info-sheet number 4, Making LDS goals easily measurable to capture [PDF ]
In thinking about what is achievable it is useful to consider what the potential level of available resources is likely to be and what is best addressed through this LAG and what by other programmes. This is the next level of reality checking and also contributes importantly to ‘expectation management’ and prioritisation. In general, objectives should be ranked reflecting the degree to which they contribute towards meeting the fundamental needs and opportunities identified earlier, their share of the proposed budget should reflect this priority.
Following this work the LDS and working groups will bring together a basic picture of the main problems or needs, the objectives related to these needs, their relative priority and the possible and practical means of achieving them.
See info sheet number 12, Using participatory methodologies to design quality Local Development Strategies [PDF ]
Completing the process, joining it all up
The LAG has worked its way through the various participative processes and stages of research and analysis, everyone has done their bit; how is this all now drawn together in a participative manner?
The objective here is to draw the elements together and build consensus through a process of meetings and negotiations agreeing the main principles, objectives and priorities of the LDS along with proposed budget allocation and the final composition and structure of the LAG partnership. LAGs are therefore seeking to draw together different perspectives, visions and aspirations into a single and agreed LDS.
This can be rather a delicate process and is not merely a case of bringing together the different parts from the different stages and groups; here the maxim of ‘the whole being greater than the sum of the parts’ should truly apply. The LAG or steering group need to provide strong leadership here to encourage real and constructive compromise in identifying the links (synergies or complementarity) between actions and actors and developing shared ‘win-win’ approaches. Normally this involves starting with those actions and projects where there is agreement and then building on this. LAGs are likely to have to set aside or defer those elements which represent red lines for one or more of the local partners or stakeholders.
Maintaining and building on the momentum of participation energises the implementation process. It is therefore particularly important to find projects which deliver quick results and flagship projects with strong local effects or which contribute strongly to the objectives of the LDS . High priority should be given to those projects or actions which link with and reinforce each other and in doing so mobilise different local actors, i.e. those which deliver the core LEADER ethos of Links Between Actions for the Development of the Rural Community.
There is a wide range of experience of this type of negotiation both within the LEADER community and elsewhere in conducting these types of approach and LAGs should actively seek out and implement proven effective methods.
Throughout all this work the LAG or steering group has to keep one eye on the technical part of the process, preparing the LDS in the final form which will submitted as the application for LEADER support and developing the operational plan through which it will be implemented.
1Rural Development Regulation EC 2011/0282 (COD), CSF regulation EC (2011) 615
2See LEADER Toolkit module Approaches to consultation
3Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats
4CSF regulation EC (2011) 615
5In change management theory this is known as ‘Pulling together the guiding team’ Prof John Kotter, Harvard Universtity Business School
6The LEADER Toolkit Deepening the analysis module provides more detail.
7Ref LEADER Toolkit LDS content module here
8See LEADER Toolkit module on Deepening and strengthening the analysis
9Once again the Kotter change management theory is relevant throughout this module through the key stages which it identifies, developing the change vision and strategy, communicating for understanding and buy in and empowering others to act.
10LEADER Toolkit module Approaches to consultation
11An alternative but less participative approach may see the LDS working group decide to conduct a series of themed meetings or pieces of work.
12Many different techniques and methods are possible here and there are many free web based resources which LAGs can access here.
13Objectives which are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound
14Again this is a core and proven principle of change management theory, ref Prof John Kotter, Harvard Business School