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[ Contents ]

Organising local partnerships

Chapter 4
The partnership matures

 



4.1 Durability of partnerships and the point of no return

 

Local partnerships are not an end in themselves; their raison d'être lies in their capacity to transform social relations, ways of thinking and behaviour and to be an instrument of innovation and development. The durability of local partnerships depends first and foremost on their capacity to produce tangible results for actors in the area. This calls for a degree of continuity in their strategy.

Analysis of local partnership practice under LEADER shows that, despite the relative "youth" of the Community Initiative, many LAGs have already had to tackle the problem of keeping their local partnership going, especially during the transition from LEADER I to LEADER II (1995). At the time, they devised and implented a varietes of solutions to deal with the problem.


    4.1.1 The prerequisites of durability

The durability of local partnerships depends firstly on their capacity to secure the support of local actors and create social cohesion.

Durability depends on the capacity to bring together and secure the support and active participation - or at least the recognition - of the area's various social groups and forces, whether these be elected representatives or other manifestations of authority/interests, not to mention the most disadvantaged elements of society. In the case of Rota do Guadiana, for instance, special working committees, including young people, women and the poorest families, were set up within the local partnership.

Durability lies also in the capacity to bridge socio-political, personal, etc. divides and find common ground for action.

If local forces, representatives of social groups, and institutions in general are to bring real cohesion and durability, each one of them must be able to play a full part within the local partnership.

In many cases this results in specific organisational arrangements:

  • in Cavan-Monaghan (Ireland), a Strategy Group has been set up which comprises the various agencies operating in the area. The Group meets once a month;

  • in Alentejo Centro (Portugal), a similar structure (Strategic Discussion Council) has been set up which comprises representatives of the development coordination partnership and of the local 'authorities'. The Council meets regularly to air points of view and determine strategy (see the Innovative Actions of Rural Development Directory);

  • in Eisenwurzen (Austria), alongside the coordination partnership proper, run by a lightweight structure of motivated actors trained for the task, a representational partnership has been set up which includes various forms of local 'authority' (elected representatives, local chambers, unions, etc.).

Durability also means knowing how to manage divergent interests positively and to find common points and new areas of solidarity which can beturned to practical use.

There are many difficulties in mobilising local forces: conflicts, tensions and divergent interests will all have to be dealt with. What matters, then, is to open up new prospects leading to concrete projects in which everyone can find a place on the basis of shared or complementary interests. New forms of solidarity will then arise which will bring durability to the partnership. In all the cases studied, it was truly through planning and implementing concrete projects that the partners gradually saw the value of working together. From this discovery stems the desire to carry on, to perpetuate the local partnership.

Durability then involves the capacity to mobilise local actors around new objectives.

It is often difficult to mobilise over a long period; a certain fatigue eventually tends to set in. Motivation has to be sustained by expanding and replenishing the pool of actors actively involved in the partnership. Some local partnerships manage to mobilise a large number of actors even after many years, as in Collombey-les-Belles where 500 people are still mobilised after 15 to 20 years of local participation. A certain mass has to be achieved which creates its own momentum.

Such expansion and/or ongoing replenishment relies on actors deriving some personal satisfaction or enrichment from their involvement in the local partnership. This calls for a genuine sharing of responsibility and participation in decision-making - key elements of any partnership.

Durability is the capacity to reach out, not to create a vacuum.

Another pitfall is the temptation to centralise all activity within the coordinating partnership itself. The result may then be that coordination has quite the opposite effect to that intended: instead of acting as a catalyst, the partnership ends up absorbing everything and existing in a vacuum.

This will weaken a local partnership, as only a limited number of actors will be mobilised and there will be little scope for replenishing the coordinating team.

Many local partnerships, aware of this risk, are geared resolutely towards 'reaching out' and creating new core structures:

  • the function of the SPES association in Austria is to generate partnerships;

  • in Vinschgau/Val Venosta, the local partnership set up under LEADER gears its activity towards developing a whole series of sectoral/intersectoral local groups around concrete projects.

Methods of coordinating local partnerships need to be continuously revised.

The type of local partnership and coordination best suited to an area's needs will change along with that area's particular circumstances. The functions, procedures and methods of the local partnership/coordination need to be continuously reassessed and adapted as the area enters new phases of social, economic, cultural development.

A rural area hindered by a lack of local initiatives, for instance, needs coordination geared primarily towards mobilising local actors. After a few years, however, it is often helpful to move away from this type of coordination towards one focused more on exploiting economic opportunities, failing which the mobilisation of the early years may wither on the vine.

This is without doubt one of the most delicate aspects of local partnerships. The capacity of the founders to find the right methods to build the local partnership is often as remarkable as their capacity to relativise these methods in relation to the specific situation toward which the area is evolving is in general weak, if not nonexistent: often, certain initiators of local partnerships will look upon the methods they have formulated, tested and refined over the years as universal principles to be applied in all circumstances, quite failing to see their contextual limitations.

It is important to be able to evaluate and reassess continuously. Ongoing evaluation goes a step beyond the usual approach: it is a question not of assessing results on the basis of quantitative indicators but of evaluating the quality of coordination strategy in its local context.


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