The Strategy Implementation
How to define the project selection criteria?
Why is effective project selection such an important part of the LEADER process?
It may seem self-evident that it is through project activity the LAGs will achieve their objectives but it is only through effective project selection processes that LAGs are able to select and support those projects which contribute most to achieving the objectives of their Local Development Strategy (LDS)! The right projects are needed to deliver the desired outcomes.
The selection of projects to deliver the strategy is therefore one of the most important strategic functions which the LAG carries out and as such it is vital that this is carefully designed to align with the LDS itself. There are three main elements which need to be considered, these are:
- The assessment criteria;
- The assessment process; and
- The way in which projects are animated.
The assessment criteria criteria should be set out in the LDS implementation arrangements1 and should be consistent with and directly linked to the territorial analysis and intervention logic of the LDS, the SMART objectives and the proposed monitoring and evaluation indicators. These will include both technical and quality criteria.
The assessment process2 should be set out in the LDS management arrangements3 and should be designed to enable well informed, objective and carefully considered decision making through a robust and transparent procedure. In the interests of transparency, appraisal criteria should be available and accessible to potential applicants.
Local Development Strategies toolkit: Keep lines of communication open
Marjorie Deroi from the French Managing Authority talks about the importance for a successful LDS of maintaining an on-going dialogue between LEADER groups and funding authorities
Ensuring the transparency of the application and selection procedure is of the utmost importance in maintaining the motivation and trust of local actors. The application and decision-making procedures and criteria should be very clearly set out in the application materials and any associated publicity, where possible staff should seek to ensure that these are clearly understood. Whilst the procedures themselves are important these must be seen to be being applied, it is essential that the LAG does what it says it will do and clearly communicates that to applicants.
Project development and selection, a strategic process.
The way in which projects are developed can have a very considerable bearing on the type and quality of projects submitted and their ability to deliver against your LDS objectives. LAGs should therefore design and employ a project development process which encourages and supports the types of projects which can deliver their priorities.
Strategic project development: Linking delivery to the strategy.
Once the LAG has had its LDS approved and is moving into action, the next step in the development process is the development and selection of the projects through which the LDS will be delivered.
Local Development Strategies toolkit: Interact with the community
Jenny Nylund from the Swedish NRN provides her tips of how to involve and interact with a diverse range of people during the LDS process
How does the LAG ensure that the 'right' projects are initiated, developed and selected, the projects which are not only consistent with but which will contribute most to the achievement of the objectives of the LDS? How can the LAG develop successful projects? What are the key considerations? What tools can they use?
Clearly it makes sense for the LAG to 'steer' this development process, to encourage the right type of applications and guide project development towards successful projects which contribute to the LDS priorities.
Working with demand
The first thing the LAG will have to consider is the context within which projects are being developed; project demand will not necessarily match the objectives of the LAG and its LDS.
There may be a shortage of projects, a lack of momentum and motivation e.g. where there are economic difficulties and a shortage of match funding. Here the LAG can pump prime activity by supporting capacity building and developing some 'quick wins', small projects capable of rapidly converting into action and results.
There may be a high level of demand but this doesn't match the LDS or its objectives e.g. inappropriate or generic projects which lack strategic focus or links to the LDS. Here the LAG needs to work with applicants, inform, encourage and steer, provide incentives for the 'right' types of proposals and actively support their development.
The best ideas may be the most difficult to deliver from the LAG and the project promoters perspective, innovative projects tend to be more challenging and complex and can be uncomfortable for local stakeholders. They often involve links to other ideas or initiatives, new connections, new contexts all of which increase delivery complexity.
There are two main approaches which LAGs can employ in generating projects, they can either be proactive or reactive (although in reality many will operate somewhere in between). Actively supporting project development and development actors is one of the key factors differentiating LEADER and other territorial development initiatives from more conventional mainstream approaches. Proactivity is therefore favoured both as part of the overall approach but particularly because of the positive effects on the quality of projects it plays by improving awareness of the LDS and types of project sought and then by supporting their development and delivery.
Providing information, however good and much may not be enough, in itself, to generate strong strategic projects. This part of the LEADER process needs strong, strategic and proactive management if quality projects are to emerge. In addition to strong information and communications what are the means which LAGs can employ to support strategic project development? The range of possible tools includes:
- Targeting of sectors or area and employing working groups to address these;
- Targeting particular groups with specific needs or challenges, helping them initiate change;
- Capacity building, identifying local stakeholders needs, developing and providing training to meet these needs and to support project initiation and development;
- Capacity provision, directly or indirectly may be necessary for people to become involved in LEADER before they develop their own capabilities, working with the local community, providing advice and technical support to local people, supporting them in developing their actions on a step-by-step basis4. In the longer term this should contribute to capacity building however some on-going support may be required for elements without local community competence;
- Direct project development, the LAG itself can choose to develop strategic projects, e.g. as a flagship or demonstration project, to target a specific gap or need or to provide a basis on which other project activities may be developed.
Remember, it is vital to support the transition between project idea and project action, successful LAGS understand this and nurture these projects improving their alignment or fit with the LDS together with their realism and deliverability. All good projects need time to develop and LAGs need to build this into their animation, application and decision-making processes, if these high value projects are to succeed.
This pre-selection support is absolutely critical in making sure that it is projects which are fit for purpose that come forward for selection, after all, successful projects that help to deliver the LDS is what local development is all about.
There are two main approaches to developing and selecting project applications, either:
- an open call for submissions followed by project development and support activities leading to the actual selection process; or
- direct implementation and delivery by the LAG (or on their behalf by a third party).
Here we are dealing with the first approach, the conventional call for projects. In preparing to undertake a call for projects LAGs need to consider what method fits their LDS best, they can employ either:
- a single call at the beginning of the period;
- a rolling process with open submission of projects; or
- calls at regular intervals throughout the period.
In the first two cases the projects are normally selected against the selection criteria identified in the LDS, in the third case the criteria may be amended between calls to address evolving needs or delivery in a transparent manner.
Whichever approach is adopted a two stage application process is desirable, using an expression of interest or initial enquiry for initial information can help screen out ineligible or inappropriate proposals before valuable time and resources are wasted. Projects which are rejected at this stage can either be adapted to better fit the LDS priorities or may be redirected to other more appropriate sources of support. For successful applications these forms provide help to inform the LAG and its staff and engage them with the project promoter following which they can employ the guidance and support mentioned above in developing the full application.
In all cases the LAG may wish to introduce some element of targeting; specific targeted calls can relate to:
- a specific LDS priority or objective;
- different groups of target beneficiaries;
- themed priorities e.g. environment, tourism, diversification etc;
- collective projects;
- different levels of support; and
- different sizes of projects.
In the latter two cases it is particularly important to consider the principle of proportionality in your decision-making5.
There are two main types of project decision-making criteria which LAGs have to deal with,
- Eligibility criteria for assessing the admissibility of applications;
- Selection criteria for the qualitative assessment and ranking of applications.
Where CLLD is being implemented under the other CSF funds there is a requirement for strong coordination between the funds and LDS, this implies strong harmonisation between the eligibility criteria.
Core RDP level eligibility criteria are the essential criteria that all projects must meet in order to be admissible for a further qualitative assessment. Commonly these relate to the eligible activities, beneficiaries and expenditure. Such eligibility criteria are normally assessed through a technical assessment, there are no threshold values applied and the judgement is absolute. This assessment may be carried out either by the Managing Authority or by the LAG depending on the delivery system employed; ultimate responsibility for ensuring eligibility does however rest with the MA in all cases.
LDS-specific eligibility criteria tend to be more associated with the targeting of the strategy in terms of area, beneficiaries or types of activity supported. These have more of a link to the LDS and are normally applied by the LAG to ensure the consistency of project activity.
In all cases it is important that the eligibility criteria are applied to projects as early as possible in the application process. These criteria should be clearly communicated in publicity and application materials so that people know the rules. Projects should then be screened against them, ideally in an expression of interest or first stage application. This avoids wasted effort in project development and can provide an opportunity for project proposals to be amended if appropriate.
On-going guidance and support for project development should seek to ensure that full applications remain within agreed eligibility parameters or that elements which arise later in the development process, e.g. necessary permissions are addressed prior to formal decision-making.
Project Selection criteria
There is a clear division of tasks between the LAG and the MA. The qualitative assessment of projects is under the responsibility of LAGs; in principle LAGs apply only their LDS selection criteria6. The MA cannot impose additional RDP selection criteria otherwise there is a risk that these criteria influence the LAG final decision.
LAGs are required under the CSF Regulation7 to draw up, define and set out their LDS project selection criteria. Good practice indicates that LAGs should include selection criteria in their LDS action plan. Selection criteria should be adapted to the specificities of the area and should be designed to assess the fit and contribution of project proposals with the strategy, its target groups and its objectives. These may be further refined in calls for project proposals to include criteria which are specific to one type of activity, area or target group.
These criteria must be capable of informing the LAGs decision-making process and this implies both qualitative and quantitative judgements on the projects desirability. Such criteria might include:
- the extent to which the project contributes to the achievement of the strategy and complements activities covered by other relevant initiatives;
- the extent to which the project responds to identified need and is supported by evidence of prospective demand; and
- the degree of local appropriateness and consistency with needs.
In order that LAGs may make objective judgements using these criteria it is essential that they are measurable.
In addition to judgments on the project’s desirability in terms of its potential contribution to the LDS objectives, it is also necessary to consider whether the project can in fact deliver. This requires a further set of essential checks which all LAGs should conduct and for which criteria should be set. These relate to technical issues and could, for example, include:
- whether the applicant has the practical and financial capacity to deliver the project;
- whether the need for grant aid is clearly demonstrated; and
- whether the targets, indicators and milestones are realistic.
Designing selection criteria
This section outlines some of the key considerations for LAGs when designing their project selection criteria and process as is required under the CSF Regulation8. Whilst the inclusion of these in the LDS or implementation plan is not an absolute requirement, good practice requires that it be strongly recommended.
Eligibility criteria are not selection criteria per se, these are essential prerequisites for all projects to proceed9.
The objective of designing LDS-specific selection criteria is to optimise the decision-making process that helps LAGs select and award appropriate funding to those projects which can contribute most to the achievement of their priorities in an impartial, consistent and transparent manner.
The effective use of an expression of interest or pre-selection process significantly streamlines the decision-making process and clear criteria at this stage are essential. Normally these would represent a simplified subset of the selection criteria as a basis for screening submissions, providing feedback and informing project development and support.
LDS-specific selection criteria would normally include the following as a minimum:
- the extent to which the project contributes to the achievement of the strategy;
- the extent to which the project complements activities covered by other relevant initiatives;
- the extent to which the project responds to and is consistent with identified need;
- the extent to which the project is supported by evidence of actual or prospective demand (including an assessment of any possible displacement of existing activities);
- the degree of local appropriateness of the proposed project intervention and its delivery method;
- the additional benefits of the project outcomes i.e. the extent to which the achievement of these is dependent on LEADER support;
- the inclusion of realistic and measurable milestones and targets with associated performance indicators;
- value for money, i.e. the balance of proposed costs and LEADER support vs the outcomes sought (e.g. by comparison with other initiatives or project benchmarks);
- the realism of the proposed approach in terms of its physical and financial deliverability, viability and the applicants capability to deliver; and
- the sustainability of the proposal, what is the completion, continuation or exit strategy?
Project selection is a key tool in ensuring the delivery of the LDS objectives; it therefore follows that the process and criteria should be developed in conjunction with the LDS and implementation plan.
Local Development Strategies toolkit: Using 'needs analysis' information
Mireille Groot Koerkamp from a Dutch LAG notes the importance of using ‘needs analysis’ information in a Local Development Strategy
This is an explicit responsibility for all LAGs and as such the criteria should be agreed by the LAG prior to their submission and implementation. As the development of the criteria and process are likely to occur in conjunction with the development of the LDS and implementation plan the activities should be coordinated. One successful approach is to delegate this design activity to a sub-group of the LAG.
In designing LDS selection criteria it is important that LAGs take adequate account of the different types and scale of projects and project applicants and the levels of financial support sought. This is of considerable importance for small scale actions or beneficiaries where if a requirement is set too high this may outweigh the potential benefit and act as a deterrent. Of course this must be balanced with the rigour and accountability required.
Criteria should therefore enable LAGs to apply the principle of proportionality in their decision-making, the way in which criteria are designed and implemented can enable LAGs to fine tune the implementation of their LDS in line with priorities. For example, in the case of smaller projects LAGs may wish to consider setting a lower threshold or a modified or differentiated set of criteria. The weightings placed on different selection criteria can also be varied between different sizes or types of application, e.g. with regard to the amount of evidence required for small applications. Proportionality can also be addressed in the way in which criteria are applied, e.g. in the degree of precision or flexibility which is designed into the criteria and their application.
In designing selection criteria LAGs need to consider how these will be applied in practice, i.e. how judgements will be made in decision-making. Common approaches involve scoring of projects against checklists or within matrices; this therefore involves LAGs placing values against criteria. In order to provide a robust basis for justifying decisions the way in which applications are assessed against criteria needs careful design.
In designing criteria LAGs should therefore consider their:
- applicability, i.e. their relevance and practical application against projects;
- consistency, the criteria should enable the assessment of projects against the LDS priorities and the outcomes sought;
- repeatability, the ability to be applied and judged in the same way against multiple applications;
- links to indicators, as a basis against which to measure potential LDS achievements; and
- decision-making, the practicalities of how these will be used in practice.
Applying the criteria
Communicating the criteria
Ensuring the transparency of the application procedure is of the utmost importance in maintaining the motivation and trust of local actors. The LDS management arrangements should clearly set out both the selection criteria and the process through which these will be applied. The application and selection procedures and criteria should be very clearly set out in the application materials and any associated publicity.
Providing information, however good and however much may not be enough in itself to generate strong strategic projects. This part of the LEADER process needs strong, strategic and proactive management if quality projects are to emerge. The design of materials should guide applicants towards an understanding of the LDS objectives, the process and the criteria which will be applied. In animating and supporting project development, where possible staff should seek to ensure that these procedures and criteria are clearly understood.
Whilst the procedures themselves are important these must also be seen to be being applied; it is essential that the LAG does what it says it will do and clearly communicates this to applicants. Effective feedback is important for project promoters so that they may improve or amend their proposals or understand why another programme or approach may be more appropriate than LEADER. The application of a two-stage application process is an important approach to consider here.
When should selection criteria be used, in what way and who by?
The selection criteria are applicable at all stages in the process therefore the answers to these questions may be found throughout the other modules of this section of the toolkit. Selection criteria are a fundamental element of the project animation, pre-selection, development and selection process, they form part of the LDS design process. They are a vital link between project actions and the LDS, the needs it addresses and the outcomes sought, they provide a key management tool for the LAG to steer the delivery and achievement of its strategy. They should therefore be used not just by the LAG in making decisions but also by applicants and LAG staff throughout the whole process.
Ultimately the criteria do provide the basis for decision-making on which projects to support and, in many cases, the amount of that support. LAGs use a range of decision-making processes and criteria will therefore be applied in different ways. Some will formally score and/or collate these scores or votes in a matrix or template; others may discuss projects against the criteria and reach a consensual view. In some cases the analysis against the criteria may result in recommendations or conditions being applied to projects prior to the award of support.
Whatever the decision-making process employed it has to be recorded providing auditable evidence justifying the decision. This should show that the project selection criteria have been used in a way which is robust, repeatable and consistent and that the specified procedures, e.g. re conflicts of interest or the LAG decision-making quorum have been followed.
By designing the selection criteria into the whole LDS delivery process and linking this to the objectives and indicators the LAGs ability to monitor the progress of individual projects and their contribution to the LDS is strengthened. This provides a basis for the on-going review of the progress of the LDS and, if required may provide the justification for the modification of the criteria to address evolving needs or delivery in a transparent manner.
1CSF regulation EC (2011) 615 Article 30.3. b & d
2CSF regulation EC (2011) 615 Article 30.3. b & d
3LEADER Toolkit LDS Implementation Module
4It is worth remembering that sometimes the best support will involve changing or even abandoning a project.
5This is an important consideration in all such decision making.
6Which through the process of approval of the LDS should ensure consistency with the RDP objectives as specified by CSF regulation EC (2011) 615 Article 29.1.c)
7CSF regulation EC (2011) 615 Article 30.3. b & c
8CSF regulation EC (2011) 615 Article 30.3, b & d
9See Criteria type section of this module