Setting-up the Network
Structure and operational setup
Article 68 of EC Regulation 1698/2005 was very flexible and did not strictly specify the organisational setup of NRNs for the 2007-2013 programming period. Member State authorities have therefore tended to design implementation structures which are aligned to the way in which national public administrations are set up and managed in their country.
Most EU Member States chose to establish network support units (NSUs) at national level to animate their NRNs and implement their respective Annual Work Plans (AWPs). However, the operational set-up of the NSUs varies greatly across the EU-27 – see the list of NSU operating structures for 2007-2013 at the bottom of this page.
Some Member States have decided to install the NSU within National Authorities / public administration, whilst others have chosen to procure technical assistance contracts with external service providers.
In the case of NSUs situated within National Authorities, a further distinction can be made between a) those that are part of the public administration structure, and; b) those where the provision of networking services has been delegated to a public sector agency or institution affiliated to the administration (e.g. the national agricultural advisory service).
No guidance is available on which structure or model of NSU is most efficient and effective – although the question is often asked! There are clearly advantages and disadvantages to both approaches that are influenced by national context, the NSUs financial allocation and the way that public administrations are set up and managed.
In a number of cases, NRN implementation structures have been complemented by regional structures. Examples include the UK and Belgium, where national-level roles are limited to representation at EU level and coordination, while the regional networks of England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Flanders and Wallonia all fulfil animation tasks and implement their respective AWPs.
The French NSU has an extensive portfolio of networking tasks, but also cooperates continuously with the animation teams of 26 regional networks - each of which implements its own AWP.
In Latvia, responsibility for the NSU is delegated to the national agricultural advisory service which in turn has 26 regional offices. In addition to the team working in the central NSU, at least one day per week is dedicated by each regional office to supporting network activities.
In addition to a central NSU, Poland also maintains regional secretariats in each of its 16 regions. Each regional NSU has - just like the central NSU - its own budget, AWP and priority actions. The regional networks can cooperate with each other on a project-by-project basis and also with the NRNs of other EU Member States.
According to advice provided in the original 2007-2013 Technical Fiche for NRNs, the structure established to support the NRN “… must be able to perform the tasks described in the action programme”. The structure must also “…have sufficient staff with international skills to be the contact of the European Network for Rural Development and other national networks and to provide the support to transnational cooperation.”
The Technical Fiche recommends that resources essential for the good and efficient functioning of an EAFRD-financed rural network include:
- Information technologies, including a good website (multi-lingual) and on-line databases;
- Contacts with wider rural development networks, research institutes and resource centres etc. that will help develop a horizontal linkages in the network;
- Good knowledge of European languages, cultures, contexts and history are put forward as being important since only they can lead to the creation of easy, professional and long-lasting network of people at the European level and be useful in the identification of potential partners needed by local actors or when bringing support to cross-border projects.
- Expertise should be available 'inside' the network and the networking unit as well as outside to complement the internal skills
Expertise/ skills on all themes related to rural development are needed:
- for animation (of a network being both bottom-up and top-down)
- to communicate (inside the country but also outside) on editorial matters
- for marketing
- for public relations advice
- to organise events
- on cooperation,
- on evaluation
- for training
- on applicable action research, academic knowhow which is based and rooted in practical expertise at ground level
- for counselling
- on administrative matters and procedures
The staff of the network support units (NSUs) should be accessible and personable, show enthusiasm for the network and the projects developed by the actors, be service orientated, have a strong team spirit etc. A good Team Leader is essential.
Networking needs are continuously changing. The NSU should keep in mind the need for evolution, not only in terms of technical resources they use or develop, but also in terms of the human resources utilised. It is important that the competences and skills of the NSU staff are also encouraged to grow and diversify in line with the development and maturity of the network and networking processes.
With this in mind, it is important that NSUs focus upon building their own internal technical and management capacities. This should also not be overlooked when outsourcing certain functions or services, especially in cases where NSUs are delegated to external bodies. Internal learning processes, such as ‘self-assessment’, are very important and should be further encouraged within all NSUs.
List of NSU operating structures for 2007-2013
- Within National Authorities
- Delegated to public sector agency or institution
- Outsourced to external service provider