Network Definitions and Diversity
Demonstrating the added value of rural networks
National rural networks (NRNs) and the European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) has great potential to add value to implementation of the EU rural development policy by effective engagement of stakeholders.
Identifying, demonstrating and communicating this added value in a way that is clearly understandable to a wider audience is very important – but also very challenging!
One simple definition emerging from the academic literature is that the added value of networking is “…the emergence of solutions and results that would otherwise not have occurred through single hierarchical organisations”. This definition is relevant and applicable to the NRNs and ENRD since they are clearly working to produce solutions and results that go far beyond the usual mandate of the European Commission and the relevant national authorities in the EU-27 Member States.
Since 2011, the NRNs and ENRD have worked together to pool their resources to develop a unique web-based resource to demonstrate the current state of knowledge regarding the added value of networking in EU rural development policy.
This resource can be accessed here on the ENRD website. It includes:
- A review of relevant academic literature;
- A regularly updated NRN Mapping Report which explores the characteristics and activities of the different NRNs
- Common network statistics which provide a simple snapshot of the overall level of networking activity supported by the EAFRD;
- An extensive collection of practical examples of the solutions and results arising from the day-to-day work of the NRNs, including a mix of good practices, success stories, relevant experience and case studies;
- A link to the NRN Self-assessment Tool-kit which allows NRNs to present and exchange information about the range of different approaches, techniques and practical tools used to monitor progress and assess the performance of their own networking activities.
Working to identify, demonstrate and communicate the added value of rural networking is not the same as the formal monitoring and evaluation of rural networks as a tool to help achieve the current EU rural development policy objectives on competitiveness, the environment, quality of life and local governance.
For the National Rural Networks, there are monitoring and evaluation reporting obligations. These raise important questions about the precise purpose of the NRNs and whether their activities are well aligned with RDP objectives; the impact of NRN activities on rural areas and whether they are meeting objectives in an effective, efficient and sustainable manner, and; last but not least, the capacity of the NRNs to expand and create social capital.
The European Evaluation Network for Rural Development provides methodological support for the evaluation of RDPs and National Rural Networks in line with the Common Monitoring and Evaluation Framework (CMEF). There is also a growing body of knowledge about the formal monitoring and evaluation of networking amongst the independent evaluators who prepared comprehensive Mid-term Evaluation (MTE) reports in 2010 for the programmes in Germany, Italy, Portugal and Spain.