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Social competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 3:
Improving social competitiveness


3.2 Advice regarding methodology


3.2.1 Choosing an overall approach: defining objectives in terms of social competitiveness

First and foremost this means identifying the social, cultural and institutional elements that are standing in the way of the area’s development, and analysing them in order to ascertain what economic opportunities could be exploited and what local organisation conditions must be met in order to achieve this.


    The Serrania de Ronda LEADER group (Andalusia, Spain) realised that the area’s natural attractions (mountains, beautiful scenery, historical heritage), its proximity to the coast (beach tourism) and the presence of the town of Ronda - celebrated by great writers and visited by thousands of visitors each year - in the centre of the area, give it great potential for rural tourism. However, the lack of local consultation structures and organisations to bring players together meant that it was not possible to envisage taking advantage of this opportunity in the short term. The LAG therefore set itself the objective of structuring the local community. This was its guiding theme throughout the LEADER I period from 1991 to 1995 (see above).


3.2.2 Establishing a scale of priorities

Since it involves interpersonal, social, cultural and exclusion issues, improving an area’s social competitiveness is a long-term process.

Some objectives may be achieved more easily than others which require more time or depend on further conditions being met. Quite apart from this, there is sometimes very little room for manoeuvre.

In some cases, subjects have become taboo and cannot be talked about. In order to resolve problems like this, it is necessary to take an oblique approach.

In certain rural areas, for historical reasons the inhabitants are wary of anything collective. Under circumstances like these, launching a collective action straight away is doomed to failure. However, organising collective training for individual projects may be a means of gradually introducing the idea of working together.


    In the Vinschgau/Val Venosta area (Trentino-Alto-Adige, Italy), where economic development has already been well consolidated but is hampered by the traditional limited cooperation between players, the LEADER group has broken the deadlock by adopting the following methodology:

    • making use of informal partnerships that are more likely to be accepted by the local players (partnerships which can be formalised once the players are ready);

    • proposing partnerships for projects that produce effective and tangible added value in the short term, through access to new markets for example;

    • launching a project only after having ascertained its chances of success, especially by means of preliminary training courses that are initially designed for individual projects but where the need for a collective approach gradually becomes evident.


3.2.3 Choosing a point of departure: finding the right players to launch projects

Having defined the general objectives and the short, medium and long-term priorities, the next step is to identify the most suitable players with whom to start the process, so as to reduce the risks to the minimum.

These may be:

  • the players with the broadest scope of reference (young people, newcomers, emigrants returning home, etc.) or players who are able to act as an interface between the area and the outside world (emigrants, tourists, second-home owners or political leaders who hail from the area);

  • players who are able to play a key role in mediating between diverging interests;

  • people with a spirit of initiative and a willingness to take financial and social risks;

  • groups that have engaged in a collective approach;

  • people involved in projects of innovation or change.

In order to overcome the inertia apparent in certain situations, it is sometimes desirable to find out exactly what the players stand to gain from the status quo. Only once such benefits become clear is it possible to envisage alternative solutions.

In some cases the intervention of new players makes it possible to break the deadlock. In fact, for a whole host of reasons, it is often the same people who express their opinions, ideas and wishes. The arrival of new participants can therefore broaden the range of ideas and promote the flow of information.


3.2.4 Implementing the strategy: achieving the right scale

Rural areas, which often have low population density and/or small- scale businesses, have to achieve a certain critical mass in terms of skills, financing, suitability of offerings for external markets, etc.

There is a critical mass for each type of measure, i.e. a certain size (volume, turnover, number of people involved) and a certain level of organisation required for achieving it. For example, in order to receive a label of origin for a local product, all of the producers in the area concerned have to be organised around a set of specifications; in order to awaken an awareness of the need to fight to prevent environmental deterioration, it is necessary to secure the participation of the area’s farmers, livestock producers and fishermen, the local authorities, etc.

Actions that require groupings of players and an exchange of ideas lead to consultation or new configurations of players and resources. Renovating a village, creating a quality label, setting up a multi-service centre and so on are all strategies for boosting social competitiveness.

Collective action is learned through activities such as these. Formal or informal links and networks are gradually constructed to pass on information, knowledge, responsibilities and know-how, to break into new markets, etc.

Achieving the right scale therefore calls for:

  • diversifying the links between players (economic players, social workers, ecologists, public and private institutions, etc.);

  • improving the quality of exchanges, embodied in consensual regulations (quality charters, exchange contracts, etc.);

  • linking together internal and external networks to create “new sources of skills” and to obtain the critical mass needed for sectorial or cross-sectorial innovations.


3.2.5 Involving local players in the follow-up and evaluation process

Follow-up and evaluation is an essential element of the strategy for acquiring social competitiveness because of the large measure of uncertainty that it entails. Direct or indirect observation can be decisive in avoiding reaching a stalemate or making irreparable errors. However, any player who participates in the consultations and discussions is sometimes able to make a decisive contribution to this follow-up and evaluation phase. Participation in the consultation is of course facilitated and encouraged by the existence of fully exploited collective forums in which to meet and exchange views. Special emphasis must be placed on:

  • Encouraging collective thinking about measures
    Measures that require a collective effort, such as the creation of a meeting place or the revival of the village bistro or traditional festival, provide opportunities to meet which can be turned into forums for debate. Study visits and training programmes, among other activities, can also achieve the same effect.

  • Capitalising on the social skills acquired by local players
    By helping to learn lessons from past mistakes, acquired social skills can become resources.

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