Creating a territorial development strategy
in light of the LEADER experience
[ Index ]
Territorial capital and territorial project
The LEADER experience has shown
that it is not possible to conceive a territorial project as either
an administrative entity stemming from an “anonymous” division of
the national territory, or as a set of geographically grouped
economic activities, but as a multi-faceted living entity (with
economic, social, institutional, cultural and other facets) that
evolves over time. This is because each territorial project is the
product of a relationship between the past, present and future. Far
from being inevitably conditioned by its past, the territorial
project is nurtured by examining the past, comparing the present
situation with what is happening elsewhere, analysing successes and
failures, and planning the future on the basis of a shared analysis
and the willingness of the players involved.
2.1 Developing a territorial project by evaluating the “territorial capital”
How can a territorial project be shaped, defined and consolidated
over the long term? How much room for manoeuvre is there? How is it
possible to extract from the area’s inherent complexity the
opportunities for action and for initiating a process that will
inject new dynamism into or consolidate activities, institutions, or
the organisational procedures of the players involved?
In other words, how is it possible to move from analysing the
situation to actually developing a territorial project (or vision of
the future) that is designed by the players themselves and not
dictated by external developments that are to a greater or lesser
extent uncontrolled? How is it possible to pinpoint the key elements
on which to focus efforts? An analysis of the “territorial capital”
can help to answer these questions.
The “territorial capital” represents all of the elements available
to the area, both tangible and intangible, which in some respects
constitute assets and in others constraints.
The concept of “territorial capital” is not static but dynamic. It
corresponds to the analytical description of how those seeking the
room to take action see the area. It is therefore related to the
territorial project concept and to the bid for territorial
competitiveness. Each area endeavours to find its place by focusing
on access to markets, its image, its potential to attract people and
businesses, its ability to renew its governance, etc.
The territorial capital refers to the things that constitute an
area’s assets (activities, landscape, heritage, know-how, etc), and
are not part of an accounting inventory exercise, but are intended
to identify the distinctive features of an area whose value can be
enhanced. In some areas, for example, this may involve the ad-hoc
restoration of elements that are falling into ruin and whose
disappearance would result in even greater anonymity for the area.
In the Sousa valley of north-east Portugal, more often than not
women have no source of income other than poorly-paid, small-scale
handicraft activities, such as embroidery. The LEADER group, which
made reviving this activity one of the linchpins of its territorial
project, has engaged in a lengthy process of professionalising the
embroidery sector, a process which has now been taken over by the
association Casa do Risco (“fabric design” centre). It has worked on
reintroducing traditional techniques, modernising patterns and
computerising processes, and has organised training and promotional
campaigns in high-quality markets. Beyond that, the very dignity of
some 600 women is at stake. Their average pay increased by 33%
between 1996 and 1999 but most importantly, the women have secured
technical support and now feel they have gained professional
Territorial capital cannot therefore be evaluated purely in terms of
the area’s history. The past sheds light on the present, just as the
present makes it possible to pinpoint elements of the past on which
it might be possible to base a strategy. There is therefore an
ongoing back and forth exercise between analysing today’s capital
and examining the past.
Similarly, the area’s capital depends on how people see their
future: what direction should it take? What strategic form can be
made of the area’s distinctive features? This gradual process of
evaluation through successive experiments makes it possible to
refine judgement. After ten years of LEADER, many areas have been
able to progress beyond the initial stages of support for scattered
projects and to gradually concentrate their support on a number of
strategic areas, or unifying themes, built around specific elements
and carefully integrating available resources.
Territorial projects encompass both an imaginary element and a bet
on the future. In many cases a project may at first seem utopian but
go on to serve as a catalyst for the future. In other cases, the
point of departure for the project is the concrete situation and
constraints, which may appear more realistic at the outset but is
doubtless more limited. Neither of the two approaches has greater
merit than the other. Both are useful and complement each other to
create a territorial project that is both ambitious and realistic.
In the Maestrazgo de Teruel area (Aragon, Spain), for example,
demographic weakness and the emigration of young people may have
implied that the area had no future. The LEADER group therefore put
together an ambitious project, built around the idea of a “cultural
park-area” and the use of advanced communication technologies,
whilst at the same time implementing support measures for new
project promoters and for businesses still in existence.
This dual approach allows the area’s capital to be viewed with new
eyes, and elements to be discovered within the area that had been
forgotten or neglected, or that had formerly seemed unimportant but
could suddenly become essential to the hoped-for project.
Another decisive factor in the area’s capital is the relationship
between the area and the outside world. A wide range of
opportunities can be identified from marketing intelligence, from
the area’s exiles, from demand from nearby city-dwellers or from
planned outside investment, which will also lead to a new look being
cast on the area and the identification of further potential
resources with promise for the future.
The territorial capital can therefore be represented by a sphere
situated at the intersection of two axes (a horizontal past/future
axis and a vertical internal/ external axis) which evolves, is
enhanced and becomes more sharply defined using elements drawn from
both the past (history) and the future (the project), from what is
internal to the area and from its relations with the outside world.
As a result, many areas have discovered that statistical, sectoral
information is not enough to describe their real situation.
Developing a territorial project prompted them to identify
relationships of interdependence between the multiple components
comprising the area’s capital and to turn these relationships of
interdependence into the linchpin of their strategy.
In Emilia-Romagna (Italy), the parmesan-cheese production area can
be described in terms of production volume, number of jobs, number
of businesses, how they are collectively organised, etc. This basis
for interpretation would lead to the conclusion that this is an area
with a strong and promising territorial capital. However, by
adopting an integrated territorial development approach, the
Apennino Parmense and Piacentino LEADER group also discovered
“losses” or loss of earnings due to the poor concentration of the
parmesan cheese business, notably, the inadequate development of
tourism, in spite of undeniable natural and cultural assets,
difficulties in transferring the know-how and knowledge amassed by
the parmesan sector to other sectors or parts of the area, etc. This
is why LEADER’s strategy has endeavoured, through coordination and
support for emerging projects, to integrate other resources more
effectively into a development dynamic. The local action group
therefore looked for alternative core structuring principles that
would foster new ideas.
By integrating data it is possible to gain a better understanding of
what are the obstacles and the room for manoeuvre, to ascertain the
feasibility of the territorial project, to decide on what strategy
to adopt, and to better evaluate how to create added value through a
territorial approach. Should an area’s potential strengths be
“enhanced”, even if this means aggravating internal imbalances or,
on the contrary, should action be taken to address its weak points
by reducing gaps? Should the emphasis be placed on a particular
unifying theme or field, or should measures instead be diversified?
This relationship between the area’s project and its capital has led
a great number of rural areas to:
- re-evaluate neglected resources and transform them into
strategic development lines;
- highlight the area’s distinctive features or create new ones
by combining different sectors;
- encourage the discovery of little-known or neglected local
resources by giving renewed value to aspects that were formerly
perceived as negative.
In most rural areas today, judgement of the area’s capital differs
markedly from that made only a few years ago. Elements that were
formerly little known, neglected or perceived as negative are now
often given a key role; it is not unusual for a former handicap to
be seen as an asset today, and vice versa.