Evaluation of the LEADER programme by LAGs – A critical reflection


A Local Action Group; source Matteo Metta

August 29 Matteo Metta has succesfully defended his MSc-thesis ‘From Good Will to Good Use: a critical analysis of the LEADER evaluation‘ for the Master International Master in Rural Development. Below a summary of the thesis. Continue reading

Rural regional learning in the Comarca de Verín, Galicia, Spain

Within the European research project DERREG, we are investigating how public policy can best be arranged to stimulate capacity building within development initiatives operating at grassroots level in rural areas across the European Union.

To find out how public policy interventions can best be arranged, we and our research partners have spoken to various stakeholders in different rural regions across the European Union to find out how they intend to support and facilitate learning and innovation and- most importantly- how the support and facilitation agreed upon is actually provided to the grassroots development initiatives. To find out what is working well and what isn’t working well yet, we have spoken to a number of grassroots development initiators in the participating DERREG case study areas and ask them to evaluate the current support and facilitation received.

To be able to compare the results obtained in the different case study areas, I have travelled to Alytus County, Lithuania in October and Oberlausitz, Germany in December of 2010. In January of this year, I was able to visit our colleague Lola Dominguez Garcia of  Universidade de Vigo in the Comarca de Verín in the South-West of Galicia, Spain. In this blog, we intend to share our experiences. Continue reading

Rural regional learning in ‘Upper Lusatia’ (Oberlausitz), Germany

Following my visit to Alytus County, Lithuania in October, I travelled to Leipzig, Germany to visit our DERREG project partners Michael Kriszan, Robert Nadler and Joachim Burdack (Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography) in their case study area ’Upper Lusatia’. In this blog, Michael, Robert, Joachim and I would like to share some of our experiences.

We first discovered that the case study regions Westerkwartier and Upper Lusatia are very different in their geographical and demographical characteristics. The LEADER region Westerkwartier in Groningen province comprises four municipalities on an area of 374km² and has a population density of 173.4 inhabitants/km² (as of 2007). In 2006, its GDP per capita was estimated at 55,400 Euro and the area has recently witnessed a population increase due to its popularity amongst young families who work in the city of Groningen and value the countryside as their residential area. The Southern part of the Westerkwartier is thus characterized by a high population density and a number of conflicting interests regarding the use of the countryside while the North of the Westerkwartier is primarily used for agriculture.

Upper Lusatia consists of the two Saxon districts Landkreis Görlitz and Landkreis Bautzen that have only been established in 2008 in the process of a reform of the administration units in Saxony. The case study region has an area of about 4,500 km² and has a population density of 135 inhabitants/km². It comprises 122 municipalities- of which 30 are urban centers- and had a GDP per capita of 18,329 Euro (district Görlitz) respectively 19,396 (district Bautzen) in the year 2007 . The region is divided into ten rural development areas, six ILE regions and four LEADER regions. In contrast to the Westerkwartier, the population of Upper Lusatia is shrinking rapidly. Young inhabitants are leaving the area due to a lack of employment opportunities, leaving the elder people behind. Rural development in this region is therefore not only affected by an aging population but also by a shrinking human capital available for development purposes. Through the reform of administrative units altogether four previously distinct districts (Landkreise) and two cities (kreisfreie Städte) have been incorporated into the two “new” districts of Görlitz and Bautzen. The previous Landkreise, however, are very distinct in their physical appearance. The former district Niederschlesien-Oberlausitz for example is characterized by a low population density and shaped through past and present coal mining activities while the hilly district Löbau-Zittau is recognized as a touristic area and winter sport resort. Due to the lack of a common history and the physical distinctiveness, there is no regional identity of the population within both districts.

To evaluate the support and facilitation available for learning and innovation within local grassroots development initiatives in Upper Lusatia, Robert, Michael and Joachim organized a workshop for regional stakeholders.

Workshop in Upper Lusatia, Germany

Continue reading

Rural regional learning in Alytus County, Lithuania

Last week (October 21-22, 2010), I was given the opportunity to visit our DERREG project partner Emilija Kairyte (Institute NeVork) in her case study area of Alytus County in the South of Lithuania. In this blog, Emilija and I would like to share our experiences.

Like the Dutch DERREG case study region Westerkwartier in the province of Groningen, Alytus County comprises four rural municipalities. In terms of demography and economy, both areas are very different from each other. For example, the Westerkwartier has a population density of 173.4 inhabitants/ km², whereas the population density of Alytus County is estimated as 32.6 inhabitants/ km². While the Westerkwartier has witnessed an increase in citizens over the last years, amongst them a large number of young families, rural development in Alytus County is strongly affected by an increasing out-migration and an aging population. Living standards differ considerably. In the Westerkwartier, the GDP per capita was estimated as 55.400 Euro in 2006 while the GDP in Alytus County was estimated as 19.100 Litai in 2007 (equals 5.531,74 Euro, October 2010). Also in geographical terms the two regions are very different. The Westerkwartier is characterized by open grasslands in the North and small fields with framing hedgerows in the South. Alytus County is renowned for its vast forests and lakes.

During my visit to Alytus County, I accompanied Emilija to two workshops, one for the LAG and other public administration authorities on the 21st of October and one for rural initators and actors on the 22nd of October, which she organized in order to evaluate existing arrangements for support and facilitation of joint learning-by-doing activities within rural development initiatives. At these workshops, I presented supportive arrangements and benefiting rural development initiatives that we found during our investigations in the Westerkwartier and which we evaluated together with local stakeholders at a workshop organized by the Rural Sociology Group in the Westerkwartier on the 18th of October.

Meeting with rural development initiative supporters in Alytus District LAG office, Alytus

To my surprise, both regional learning supporters (including the LAG) and rural initiators did not see striking differences between the existing arrangements and support given to rural development initiatives in Alytus County and the Westerkwartier. Emilija and I however learned that there are some basic differences in the foundation and operation of the Countryside House (Plattelandshuis) in Westerkwartier and Seniūnija (NUTS5) in Alytus County. Continue reading

Vitaal Oldambt – film over bijdrage ondernemende vrouwen aan vitaal platteland

Wiebke Wellbrock berichtte al over netwerken van ondernemende vrouwen in Groningen, die door de Vereniging Groninger Dorpen worden ondersteund met een bijdrage vanuit een LEADER-gelden (Mit mekander), en in het bijzonder over het netwerk Wichterwest in het Westerkwartier en bijeenkomst van 8 december 2009.  Harry van Schokkenbroek heeft een mooie film gemaakt over ondernemende vrouwen in Oldambt en hun bijdrage aan een vitaal platteland. De film is te bekijken op de website www.h-schokkenbroek.nl/Film.html (in de map films 2009/2009).

Manual for Cross Cultural Learning

Since 2005 I particpate in the ENDLT network with people from the area Westerkwartier in Groningen. Together we form a Dutch team and we have been visiting other teams in Ireland, Wales, Sweden and Finland trying to learn in-depth from other rural development practices in other cultures. Along the way we developed a manual for cross cultural learning which was discussed and tested this year January (see blogs 26-1 and 29-1). Our Swedish partners have taken up initiative to write the manual which is available now for all who want to set up cross cultural exchanges.

Our network, based on LEADER funding, differs in three ways from usual transnational LEADER visits:

  1. Teams involve different types of expertises, from local activists, to scientists, to local government officers and governors
  2. Visits are multi-team visits in which learning not only takes place in confrontation with the visiting area but also in the confrontation with other cultural perspectives from other visiting teams
  3. Multiple visits within the same network over the years

All three factors serve to make knowledge exchange and learning more effective. It pays off to invest in longer term relationships because for in-depth learning people need time, trust and enabling/safe interaction. We indicated this as one of our success factors in the factsheets that we produced for the ruract network. This network describes itself as:

1) A cooperation network gathering European Regions politically involved for promoting rural innovation at operational and regional level. 2) A resource centre providing methodological tools and an updated database with regional good practices for rural areas and analyzed in terms of transferability. 3) A field of experimentation for European Regions allowing them to exchange and find solutions face to global challenges of rural territories.

This French initiative links up good practices in rural development all over Europe. Our experience in the ENDLT network will be available on this website early summer.

Effect of mainstreaming LEADER in Denmark

At the IFUL institute there is a lot of research and development experience with the European LEADER approach for rural development. During the previous LEADER+ programme from 2000 to 2006, Annette Aagaard Thuesen worked in the Danish National Network Unit for LEADER+ which was hosted by the institute. She is currently finishing a report for the Danish Food Industry Agency and the National Network Unit on the composition of the Danish LAG boards within the Rural Development (RD) and Fisheries programme 2007-2013 of which an English summary will soon be available.

For the Nordic countries, one of the results of mainstreaming the LEADER approach into the current RD Programme’s (2007 – 2013) of the Common Agricultural Policy is an increase in the number of Local Action Groups (LAGs) and an increased geographical coverage of areas working with the LEADER approach. Denmark raised the number of LAG’s from 12 to 55, Sweden from 12 to 65 and Finland kept its high number of 58. In the Netherlands, this expansion took place during the previous LEADER+ period and the current programme added 3 new LAG’s to the 28 of last period.

In Denmark, interestingly, the expansion of the LEADER approach led to a change in the institutional arrangements of LAG’s to secure the input legitimacy of the Danish LAG’s. Before, LAG members were, as in the Netherlands, appointed, without clear standards of entry. In this period LAG members are chosen by election and LAG’s have to be organized as associations with open and free membership, much like the Irish model. All people over 15 years living in the LAG area can be registered a member of the association and they can participate in elections. Board members are elected for two years and are to represent four groups:
– local citizens
– local enterprises and trade organizations
– local nature- environment- culture- citizen- and leisure associations
– public authorities
Like in the Netherlands, Danish LAG’s are mainly focused on the diversification of the rural economy, the so called ‘axis 3’ objective in the Rural Development Programme.

The island of Vinön

Part of the study the ENDLT network did (see blog 26 -1) was to visit a project on outdoor education on the island of Vinön.

The island is the largest island in lake Hjalmaren, approximately 200 km from Stockholm. The island has 100 permanent inhabitants and population decreased over the past twenty years. Many commute to mainland jobs, others have small-scale enterprises, often a combination of fishing, farming, gardening and tourism. The European LEADER funding for rural development has been used to develop a framework for the development of Vinön. Continue reading