Lessons from the ENRD
Future challenges for networking as a rural development policy tool
Experiences of EU level networking to-date suggest that by overcoming the following key challenges, the future use of networking as a rural development policy tool could be greatly enhanced:
- There is still a need for greater awareness of the importance of the partnership principle to improve policy governance; there is a lack of common understanding of what policy networks are for and how they can benefit stakeholders at all levels.
- There is a need to give time for networks to develop as functioning entities, even if this does not result in clear and tangible benefits in the short term (linked to the above lack of understanding and awareness).
- There is a need to develop and retain a core team of people that can support and guide the network in its development path to reach key milestones. The threat of a change in staff, management, funding and commitment can adversely affect a network and its potential to deliver measurable benefits over time.
- There is a need to establish basic minimum performance criteria for all network support units. This approach assists in guiding and prioritizing network activities and resource allocation and provides a basis to monitor progress and to justify on-going investment (particularly at a time of increased austerity in Europe).
- More direct acknowledgement of the enormous variance in the structure, capacity, resources, experience and maturity of existing networks is required, and this must be taken into account in the ENRD annual work plans and support services and products adapted accordingly (i.e. one size does not fit all).
- There is a need to establish a more flexible, integrated and technically strong network support framework at EU level (acknowledging the importance of both formal and informal frameworks), possibly through the gradual expansion of ENRD membership.
- There is a need to establish minimum levels of network capacity at national and regional levels, ideally linked more directly to the number of rural organisations and citizens in specific regions, thereby ensuring the establishment of a critical mass of network support structures that can work more directly with, and benefit from, ENRD activities.
- There is a need to link the chronology of ENRD activities more directly with the policy agenda in order to maximize the use of policy analysis findings and practical insights into rural development policy and programme design and development.
- It is important to build stronger links with other policy networks (e.g. EIP, FARNET) and ‘communities of practice’ (e.g. the rural development research community) that can both extend and share network practice, connections and information.