Implementing LAGs and Local Strategy

How to form a Local Action Group (LAG)?
What are the basic requirements for a LAG?
The LAG structure
The tasks of the Board and staff
Implementing the strategy
Fostering cooperation
Effective project development and selection
Strategic project animation and development: Linking delivery to the strategy
The application process
Project selection
Ensuring smooth project implementation
Measuring and documenting project results

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Implementing the strategy

How to get value-adding project applications?

It is important to remember that a LAG is not just a decentralised office to deliver EU Funds, the role of the partnership is not simply to wait for applicants to come with their projects and then select those that should receive funding. One of the key roles of the LAG is to actively encourage and support beneficiaries to submit projects which drive forward its strategy, so the focus is not on selecting projects but on developing them! This ‘project animation’ is a central part of LEADER implementation, many LEADER actors assert that it is the most important one, evaluations often show that LEADER has considerable impact on local capacity building and increasing the public participation.

Animation events and the LAG staff input

Traditionally animation refers to information events, workshops and training organised within the LAG territory. This should start during the consultations in the preparation of the Local Development Strategy and then continue during its implementation to inform and engage local people and organisations. Local people may be able to bring up new ideas for implementing the Local Development Strategy. They and their local organisations may then commit themselves to implementing the ideas and seek support from the LAG.

LAG staff input here is crucial from the beginning to provide up-to-date information on what is possible and what is not and to help ensure coordination and that planned activities do not duplicate or displace each other. They may also help to ensure that transferable practices or innovations from elsewhere can be utilised.

The outputs of these events and activities should be recorded as part of the LAG reporting process.

Improving through peer learning and networking

Peer learning among LAGs within the Member States or between Member States is an essential instrument. The networking units at regional, national and European level are of great value in coordinating and stabilising the flows of knowledge creation and exchange at larger scales. LAGs have a lot to learn from each other and can only get stronger by teaming up, working together and building connections. Such exchanges can be focused on the LEADER method but can also be developed around a thematic focus e.g. on working with young people or rural entrepreneurship.

A number of NRNs have facilitated mentoring approaches between more and less experienced LAGs as a basis for transferring knowledge and experience. The Swedish NRN made extensive use of this in supporting the large number of new LAGs in Sweden (2007-2013) but the approach can equally well occur between Member States or programmes, as with LEADER LAGs and fisheries FLAGs. This type of approach can include study visits, field trips, exchanges etc. In Austria, they implemented a ‘LAG managers exchange program’, the ‘LEADER on tour’ project. This type of approach could be extended between LAGs in different countries.

Risk of dead-weight

Dead-weight is a major risk to the added value produced by implementing the Local Development Strategy. Funds should not be allocated to activities that would largely happen without LEADER funding or which could produce the same results through other means. LEADER’s added value often stems from the projects’ experimental, sustaining and innovative elements that would be impossible to implement as envisaged without LEADER support.

Fostering innovation

Innovation is both a core principle and objective of LEADER. It can be defined as the development or adoption of new concepts or ideas, and/or the new or adopted ideas themselves as well as the successful exploitation of new ideas. Creativity is having the ideas, and innovation is its application. Innovation only emerges when the creative thinker takes the idea and does something with it.

LEADER experience and that from other area-based initiatives shows that innovation is often poorly understood. In the 2007 – 2013 Rural Development Programmes (RDPs) it appeared often to have been conflated with risk of failure, and a strong risk aversion has been evident particularly amongst Managing Authorities and Paying Agencies. This trend appears to have continued in 2014 – 2020 programmes judging from ENRD supported LEADER activities.

There is no specific definition of innovation which is applicable to LEADER currently. LEADER Focus Group 2 on Innovation (2009) found that the flexibility of the regulatory framework having no strict definition of innovation allowed each LAG to define innovation in its own context (the 2017 ENRD LAG Survey indicates that a significant proportion of LAGs experience difficulty in implementing innovative approaches). The 2017 LEADER Innovation Practitioner Led Working Group found that the active promotion of and support for innovation was critical; to succeed it has to be enabled.

In setting out their approach to innovation, LAGs should seek to establish greater understanding of their innovation objectives and allow for the inevitable failure of some projects in seeking new solutions or approaches.

Examples of forms of innovation which commonly emerge include:

  • New methods for the way a project is developed or managed including the involvement of the local population in the decision-making process and in implementing the project;
  • Who is involved in the project and how they are involved e.g. combining and linking economic sectors which are traditionally separate;
  • How the project is resourced e.g. combining the area's human, natural and/or financial resources, resulting in better use of indigenous potential;
  • The emergence of new products and services which incorporate the distinctiveness of the local area;
  • How the results or lessons are identified, used, disseminated or communicated;
  • How the project becomes self-sustaining; and
  • How the project links to other initiatives.

LEADER LAGs can actively promote innovation through:

  • The use of an innovation coordinator or animateur;
  • Bringing new and surprising interest groups together;
  • Developing transnational cooperation allowing the exchange of the best practices; and
  • Implementing locally relevant and reactive Local Development Strategies offering risk-tolerant support.

An innovation coordinator

Having a staff member or sub group of the LAG dedicated to promoting innovation in the delivery of the Local Development Strategy is a successful approach used by a number of LAGs. This was highlighted as a key determinant of success in developing innovation by the LEADER innovation Practitioner Led Working Group in 2017.

Examples from 2007-2013

Interview with Petri Rinne from Finland “What is innovation?

Did you know?

The word first came into modern use in 1540 and stems from the Latin innovatus, pp. of innovare ‘to renew or change’, from in- ‘into’ + novus ‘new’.

Some examples of innovative projects in LEADER:

Bringing different actors together

Innovation in local development is often based on unexpected meetings of people or local actors with different backgrounds. A LAG is an unbiased, non-profit and non-political arena suitable for bringing these actors together:

‘It is crucial to get to know or get in touch with the innovators and visionary actors of the territory. These people are not always the noisiest or the ones in power. Success always needs a good and fruitful combination of power and innovation. This requires open minded decision makers and integrative innovators. The latter are not always the easiest to co-operate with. However, LEADER does not change anything if only those actors that have been in power for decades are the ones who are deciding upon innovation and the future of the territory.’ (Ausserfern LAG, Austria)

Promoting transnational cooperation

Transnational cooperation is another surprising arena prone to innovation. From new perspectives one can see the new opportunities better. Identification and transfer of new and innovative practices is an essential part of transnational cooperation.

‘There are lots of arguments for cooperation. Getting good ideas from other regions. Getting other people’s eyes on your development. That’s a very big thing.’ (Swedish Rural Network)

Being reactive and tolerating the risk

‘The failure of a pilot project should not be considered as a misuse of funding.’ (Ausserfern LAG, Austria)

The best innovations always have a surprise element within them, which makes them difficult to be pre-defined or included in the LEADER development strategy documents. That’s why it is important that the strategies can be flexible and reactive when new opportunities emerge bottom-up during the implementation phase. Funding such initiatives also requires risk-tolerance from the LAG decision makers and the Managing Authority.

LEADER II Dossier – Methodological guide for the analysis of local innovation actions


Innovation during LEADER+ was fostered by:

  • enabling local actors to work in new ways
  • combining existing activities in new ways
  • linking local competences to external sources of knowledge and technology

(LEADER+ evaluation findings)

Presentation on supporting innovation in Leader from Ausserfern (AT)

Case study from LAG Ausserfern (Austria)

Fostering cooperation

Types of cooperation

Cooperation is one of the fundamental specific features and sources of the innovation and added-value of the LEADER method. It encourages and supports LAGs to undertake joint actions with other LAGs, or with a group taking a similar approach, in another region, Member State, or even a third country. Two main types of cooperation are noted by the European Commission in Article 44 1(a) of the Rural Development Regulation (EU) No 1305/2013. These are Inter-territorial cooperation and Transnational cooperation (TNC). The ENRD LEADER Transnational Cooperation Guidance explains these further as:

Inter-territorial cooperation. This refers to cooperation between different rural areas within a Member State. Cooperation within a Member State concerns at least one LEADER LAG and it is open to other local groups using a similar participatory approach.

Transnational cooperation (TNC). This is defined as cooperation between different rural areas from at least two Member States or third countries. Transnational cooperation covers at least one LEADER LAG, while additional partners could include other local groups – made up of public and private partners – implementing a Local Development Strategy. Transnational cooperation can also involve a group of local public and private partners implementing a Local Development Strategy in non-rural territories within the EU.

Joint actions

Cooperation projects correspond to concrete actions with clearly identified deliverables producing benefits for each of the territories involved. These actions must be ‘joint' in the sense that they are being jointly implemented. The content of such joint actions may cover a range of different activities eligible under each RDPs' rules.

Eligible costs

Joint approaches allow LAGs from one area to contribute funding to a joint project where the activity supported may be happening in another territory. The location of the project is not a limiting factor if the LAG area benefits from the joint project actions. Examples of eligible joint actions (subject to national rules for RDP implementation) include capacity building or knowledge transfer via common publications, training seminars, twinning arrangements (exchange of LAG Managers and staff) leading to the adoption of common methodological and working methods, or to the elaboration of a joint or coordinated development work.

Adding value through cooperation

Cooperation can provide local projects with a new dimension, since these types of projects provide stakeholders with alternative and novel opportunities to look for and solve issues in innovative ways. Cooperation projects are capable of producing different types of added-value, these include:

  • Making projects more ambitious by reaching critical mass: TNC enables a project to achieve a greater critical mass, since the total benefits are much greater than the sum of individual achievements (1+1=11). Pooling resources and expertise can result in economies of scale and synergies, which are favourable to help achieving project objectives (such as costs for technical equipment/technologies, training, marketing, etc.).
  • Improving competitiveness: finding new business partners, positioning for new markets: Implementing a project with transnational partners can help the promotion of local products and the area of their origin. TNC may provide access to new business opportunities, hence generating a potential for increased product sales, new product or process design and additional know-how. In contrast to potential competition, cooperation enables the partners to take advantage of the complementarities, and to benefit from the similarities.
  • Supporting work and promoting innovation through new skills: New visions and new dimensions can support and promote new ways of working. Furthermore, exposure to transnational experiences can help broaden business horizons and encourage companies or organizations to adopt improved operational approaches. These in turn should generate knock-on socio-economic and/or environmental benefits for rural areas.
  • Developing territorial identity and raising awareness: TNC can help local people discover their area and history. By improving the understanding of their own territory, transnational interactions can lead to local actors becoming more open to represent their territory, and thereby becoming true ‘ambassadors' of their areas./li>/li>
  • Strengthening of territorial strategy and local partnerships: TNC projects are linked to the territory and the respective local development strategies of the cooperation partners. These projects help to meet the needs and challenges addressed in the strategies of the cooperating areas./li>

Start with short steps

Building up a well-grounded transnational cooperation project is a long process requiring patience. There are many organisations like the ENRD, ELARD and National Rural Networks which can help you on this road. Start with short steps so that you can keep the right direction:

‘The LAG started late 2003 with mutual visits to test cooperation possibilities with other LAGs in countries around the Baltic and the North Sea. The visits were usually followed by development workshops around agreed topics, as a first step towards a formalised cooperation project. We are now in 2007 networking with 15 LAGs in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and England, and we are participating in four different cooperation projects. Our strategy has been to develop cooperation over the long term with the expectation that the cooperation projects create an added value of 5% of our development turnover.’ (Vestsjælland LAG, Denmark).

More detailed information can be found in the new guidance on LEADER Cooperation from DG AGRI and the new guidance from ENRD on Transnational Cooperation.

The LEADER Sub-Committee Focus Group 3 on Cooperation found four main difficulties that are worth taking into consideration when implementing the cooperation measure:

  • Different timing in decision-making and different administrative rules in different Member States’
  • Different expectations towards beneficiaries in different LEADER strategy documents;
  • Variable information needs of different partners involved in cooperation; and
  • Difficulty in identification of the most relevant thematic areas where cooperation would be needed.

‘Cooperation means undertaking a joint action with at least one other area in another country, sharing and exchanging experiences and understanding it as a part of the Local Development Strategy and not as an added element to it. It can, for example, be a way of achieving the critical mass necessary for a specific project to be viable, or as a means of encouraging complementary actions e.g. joint marketing by LAGs in different regions. Mutual learning is the main expected result of cooperation.’ (ENRD)

Thomas Müller, Manager of LAG Sauwald - Austria: Transnational Cooperation and Networking under LEADER - in practice (2007-2013)

Updated EU Guidance for implementation of the LEADER cooperation activities in Rural Development Programmes 2014-2020 (updated in April 2017)

ENRD TNC Guidance, useful ‘tools’, the LEADER Cooperation ‘Landscape’ presenting RDP rules and criteria, as well as other information available from the LEADER Cooperation page of the ENRD website

FG 3 - Report on Implementation of the Measure "Cooperation"