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[ Contents ]

Organising local partnerships

Introduction

 

To be a partner is:
to take part in (involvement),
to be a part of (choice),
to side with (commitment),
to impart (communication).

 

The partnership approach, which compels a person or an organisation to become involved and to take risks, marks a qualitative difference with the attitude of the mere actor who, by definition, "has a role" and "plays a character": he is elected, is a professional representative, an entrepreneur, etc.

Local partnerships involve the formation of a network of relationships and solidarity at the level of an area whose aim is to better develop the area's potential and enrich the sectoral actions with a "transverse", intersectoral debate.

More than joint economic actions, local partnerships represent a will to build or rebuild a social link or even a search for identity.

The formation of a local partnership can take very different forms, depending on:

  • the nature and number of partners;

  • the context in which the partnership has been created, the natural or legal persons who are behind it;

  • the objectives that have been set;

  • the socio-economic "culture" of the area concerned (legal-administrative system, regulations in force, role of public authorities, institutional practices, exercise of citizenship, etc.).

This document is concerned with the formation and implementation of the partnership and therefore with the method that makes this approach both feasible and sustainable Partnerships have indeed become a key element of innovation processes in rural areas.

At the very heart of the thinking behind LEADER is the expression of a new way of viewing development through a multi-sectoral approach, the result of negotiations and dialogue between the various actors concerned.

The transfer from actor to partner is becoming more and more essential for arousing an innovative dynamic in rural areas in the face of outside changes. However, a partnership is something that can only be built over time.

In the case of LEADER, "partnership" is not synonymous with participation of all the actors from an area but rather the expression of a group of actors who, through their legitimacy or knowledge of the area, find themselves in a position to organise and assume the responsibility of a joint commitment. At first, a LEADER partnership is sometimes only the "embryo" of a structuring of local actors around the management of a programme which gradually evolves by integrating other actors or giving rise to other forms of partnership at area level.

In addition to the practices of dialogue and consultation, partnerships enable a better understanding of the area and its living strength.

Nor is "partnership" synonymous with a lack of hierarchical structure: in almost all LEADER partnerships, a distinction is made between the methods of hierarchical organisation and a division of responsibilities; at first this is not always clearly defined but tends to become clearer as the local development project progresses.

Finally, the LEADER partnership does not, in general, concern all aspects of local development: depending on how well represented it is, the local partnership will either be able to play a "catalyst" role or not and have a strong influence at local level or not, going beyond the context of LEADER alone.

Apart from the fact that it is a condition for acces to funding from the LEADER programme, the formation of a partnership is increasingly becoming the necessary and almost inevitable prerequisite for bringing about processes of change and development at local level which are not within the means of one actor alone, even an institutional one. In this way, a partnership is both an innovation and a lever of innovation.

Although in some areas the practice of setting up partnerships was introduced by LEADER, constituting an innovation in itself, elsewhere it was in existence long before the implementation of the Initiative. The partnership created was in that case above all a way to coordinate and integrate a greater number of actors in actions analysing local needs and implementing projects to respond to these needs.

The partnership developed at Collombey-les-Belles (France) is a case in point. In order to create partnerships, methods have been devised outside the context of LEADER in countries such as Sweden and Austria. Initially this involved a national coordination campaign ("The whole of Sweden must live") funded by the government, with the aim of introducing and/or reviving collective practices and of mobilising local skills for the implementation of certain services, some of which previously came under responsibility of the local authorities. In some Austrian areas, the lever used to create partnerships was to disseminate a certain concept of development, "sustainable development". The partnership is then based on sharing an idea that is gradually incorporated in development policies and practices at all levels.

In those areas where partnership practices already existed, the arrival of the LEADER Initiative enabled the function of "programme management" to be consolidated in addition to the coordination or social structuring functions which were the main aim of the partnership. This, for example, was the case of Rota do Guadiana in Portugal.

In many LEADER areas, partnerships, which at first had a role of concerted management, expanded and evolved towards a more global role of coordinating and taking responsibility for increasingly diversified aspects of local development policy.

Although the expression "partner" incorporates the notion of "being part of", the practice of partnership is becoming an anchoring point of development in rural areas: "being part of", both actively and jointly, leads to the recognition of a common identity and the devising of a shared strategy which first takes into account man and his environment.


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