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Social competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 2:
Analysing an area’s social competitiveness


2.3 Governance and institutions


LEADER’s experience shows that the organisation of local authorities, systems of mutual aid and consultation, relationships between institutions and social groups and the ability to manage conflict are all key factors of social competitiveness.

A desire to maintain the status quo and resistance to innovation, even in the knowledge that this will inevitably lead to the area’s long-term decline, have for a long time been a key feature of rural areas. However, new forms of “governance” are gradually emerging.

Nonetheless, obstacles still persist, especially where:

  • conflict and/or a climate of mistrust prevail between the key players;
  • major players do not openly express their points of view;
  • tacit forms of exclusion prevent certain social groups from taking part in debates and actions.

In order to analyse an area’s social competitiveness, it is therefore essential to consider interest relationships, affinity relationships and hostilities, power relationships, conflict relationships and actual governance as well as the institutions in that area.

a) Interest relationships

    It is interest relationships that determine the potential support for or, by contrast, opposition to the project.


      Several LEADER areas have created thematic “routes” or “circuits” to promote a product or a specific feature of the area. Organisational models have been found in order to associate the maximum number of people or organisations, whilst compensatory solutions have been sought by those unable to participate (grouping points of sale, alternative circuits, etc.).

b) Affinities and hostilities

    More subjective considerations quite apart from common or diverging interests can sometimes arouse opposition or support, especially anything to do with culture or religion, or simply because they hark back to negative past experiences. Reconciliation is a long-term objective. LEADER groups have learned to consider social divides in their analysis and strategic planning, especially when seeking to share the benefits fairly between opposing groups.

c) Power relationships

    In rural areas, power is manifested in diverse forms and relationships.

    In certain areas, power is shared by a small number of sometimes closely related players: elected representatives, leaders of the main industrial firms or the main agricultural organisations, heads of consular offices, public officials, etc. The view such players have of the area’s future determines the way in which the principal resources are allocated. It is they, for example, who decide whether or not sectorial measures should be integrated into a territorial perspective. What is more, they might perceive the proposed innovations as a threat to their own continued individual or collective power.

    Certain rural (and sometimes even urban) communities go so far as to lose their ability to innovate altogether as a result of an all-encompassing economic or political power structure.

    Other communities are now left with only isolated individual players who have completely lost their former custom of relying on collective action. This has happened in a number of remote areas where the only form of collective expression that still remains is the election of local authorities, with no real possibility of economic intervention.

    By contrast, yet other communities have retained many different forms of organisation - formal and informal, political, civic and economic - allowing them to mobilise a variety of groups for different types of action (clusters, diversified collective players).

    Strategic projects and measures can themselves modify the relationships of power by introducing previously unknown forms of autonomy, for example.

    Power relationships are not necessarily formalised by institutional frameworks. However, whether they are or not, each member of the local partnership generally knows implicitly how power is shared in the area. It can be interesting to pool such knowledge within the LEADER partnership in order to evaluate, in an ambitious but realistic way, how much room for manoeuvre there is to implement the programme.

    It can also be useful to hold discussions between people who have lived in the area for a long time and newcomers. Those who have lived in the area for many years and know the area’s players and history, have internalised the local power structures and the local possibilities and taboos. Newcomers, who are unencumbered by all this, are able to ask questions that open up new opportunities for action.

d) Conflict relationships

    Where the parties are in open opposition, conflict relationships are the expression of relationships based on interest, rejection or power. More or less latent, they surface where one player or social group feels it has been wronged and has been offered no compensation.

    They are most likely to surface in places where businesses are in decline, or where their profitability is becoming eroded. Past experience or past failures can prompt organisations or social groups to oppose certain initiatives. Such opposition may be openly expressed, during steering committee or board of directors’ meetings, or take the form of a refusal to participate, or else be expressed outside of established consultation structures.

    Conflict can arise within the local partnership itself when it comes to supporting projects that affect the interests of certain partners. Granting aid for organic farming, for example, often attracts opposition from those representing mainstream farmers.

e) Governance of an area

    The governance of an area refers to the local players’ ability to democratically administer the local community, whether this involves a representative or participatory democracy, ensuring that all of the area’s inhabitants have access to decision-making forums.

    It is based on a strategic vision of social cohesion and on consultation, especially between the public and private sectors, between local and regional institutions, between sectorial administrations and between local development players.

    It is the key to social competitiveness, because:

    • it allows conflicts to be settled and facilitates closer relations between players, leading to great flexibility of action. Rigid relationships and ritualised interactions are replaced by a search for pragmatic solutions and the sharing of responsibilities between elected representatives, local and regional government and private and civic players. Governance makes it possible to create or revive forms of mediation between institutions and communities, in order to enable local players to make their requests and translate them into appropriate solutions;

    • it encourages the expression of the players’ diverse capabilities, a diversity that is promoted through concerted action;

    • it allows the establishment of initiatives that integrate all of the human abilities, know-how and skills available in an area, especially those of groups in difficulty.


    “Governance”, a long-term objective

    Through governance, local authorities discover a new role for themselves to complement their traditional role: that of a “catalyst” for the participation of local players. This role leads them to accept alternative decision-making procedures, whilst still retaining legally recognised responsibilities.

    By sharing responsibilities and tasks, by involving a majority of the population in implementing initiatives and by risking an open debate and confrontation, local institutions demonstrate their maturity and intelligence. The population’s support for decisions and the legitimacy thereof are strengthened as a result.

    In this way, representative democracy is enhanced through contact with participatory democracy, both of which are vital to implementing the innovations required by the local context. The players take an active part in proposing ideas and projects.


      At Collombey-les-Belles (Lorraine, France), a rural area situated close to three cities, one of which is Nancy (25,000 inhabitants), a local partnership had been set up well before LEADER. It is an inter-municipal organisation comprised of 41 district councils, organised into 33 thematic working committees, on which ordinary citizens sit alongside elected representatives. There is also an overview committee, comprised of the chairmen of the above committees. In addition there is a regional general assembly of representatives from the district councils and members of the working committees, whose power of proposal heavily influences the decisions of the elected representatives. Setting up these participatory structures has been a decisive factor of involving the community: 500 people have taken part, i.e. one household in five, whereas the first initiatives had involved very few people.

f) Institutions

    Institutions are therefore a key element of social competitiveness. They can either act as a facilitator or, on the contrary, create impediments. In certain areas there are a large number of institutions, sometimes with overlapping responsibilities, which can be a source of misunderstanding, opposition or even conflict, especially if their interventions are decided without consultation. Other areas, by contrast, have so few institutions that certain essential functions or services may no longer be provided. However, relationships based on interest, power and conflict and the “governance” mentioned above, all centre on institutions.

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