[ Summary ]
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
Nonetheless, obstacles still persist, especially where:
- conflict and/or a climate of mistrust prevail between the
- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
- 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.
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.