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[ Index ]

Developing rural services

Part 2
Implementing local services in rural areas

 



2.3 The role of LEADER groups

 

Due to their specific nature, LEADER local
action groups (LAGs) can play a key role in
integrating local service provision in an area
project in the analysis, design, implementation
and evaluation phases. Through their contacts,
LAGs can also support the setting up
and organisation of inter-area networks.

Local services have, so far, not been a priority for LEADER action. Nevertheless, many local action groups have realised that their key position presents possibilities for intervening in this field. Indeed, the LAGs have played a recognisable role in rural areas with regard to the identification of community needs, the creation of social links, the search for adapted solutions and control of these by the inhabitants. By bringing together the active forces in rural areas in local partnerships and maintaining close relationships with other groups at the institutional and area level, LAGs can take action in the field of local services in several ways.

 

2.3.1 Analysing existing services and available resources


The analysis of the existing services and available resources is the first stage of a facilitator’s work with regard to services at local level. This approach can be conducted, for example, through the mapping out of the services and resources, which could serve as tools for collective reflection between the various partners concerned (see the map produced by the LEADER area Millevaches in France in the part on “tools” in this guide). This exercise helps to establish an initial picture of the area’s assets and difficulties. It can also help to ascertain the degree of service concentration in the market town centres, the situation with regard to competition or complementarity, possible agreements between suppliers for new services, etc.

This critical analysis is based on public and private services whether present in or outside the area. The historical dimension of this analysis (for instance, services that had disappeared and those that have been altered) facilitates the assessment of the changes currently taking place.

The analysis could also investigate the rate at which infrastructure and facilities in place are used, thus providing an initial reflection on possible alternative uses.

In any case, the objective is to fuel local reflection on (public or private) services that need to be enhanced, co-ordinated in a different manner, created, etc.

 

2.3.2 Identifying unmet needs and emerging demand


The identification of unsatisfied needs and emerging demand involves direct contact with the communities concerned and is part of the LAGs’ work as facilitators.

Indeed, only by listening to the inhabitants is it possible to detect their unmet needs and prioritise them with a view to maintaining the people already living in the area and attracting new families there.

Beyond this analysis, it is a question of understanding the lifestyles desired by the inhabitants of an area. For young people, for example, possible access to certain types of leisure facilities, e.g. pubs, discos, cinemas, etc. could be determining criteria for remaining in the area.

Such an analysis should also be able to take into consideration the needs expressed by the people living in relatively marginalised areas or areas unlikely to provide a profitable market. It is also worth identifying new expectations arising from sociological changes experienced by rural areas, for instance, changes in the family set up, changing lifestyles, population ageing, new residents, etc.

Dialogue can help to specify the needs and demands of various social groups. The exercise can be conducted around the question: how do we want to live in this area? It can take on more or less collective forms such as debates, role acting, etc. This type of work can play a key role in the assertion of a local identity and of a project that is common to the inhabitants in the area.

 

2.3.3 Participating in the definition and sharing of new criteria and objectives


At this stage of analysis, differences appear between the existing services and what the inhabitants desire in terms of priority, distance, accessibility, adaptability, quality and price.

These differences lead to the definition of certain criteria and objectives, both for the evolution of existing services and for the creation of new services that are likely to serve as a reference for the different actors concerned. For instance, in terms of adaptability and quality, if having quality child-minding services after school is an important condition for families, a criterion could be the capacity of the schools to propose extra-curricular activities such as sports, recreation, etc.

LAGs can play an important role in this respect, not only in the definition of adaptability and quality criteria but also ownership of these by service suppliers by carrying out awareness raising and capacity building work with the people involved and/or likely to respond to the exercise.

 

2.3.4 Supporting the design of innovative solutions


This first phase of awareness raising and capacity building can lead to the design of solutions aimed at responding to identified objectives and criteria either by improving existing services or by creating new ones. Design work often involves the mobilisation of people and the creation of links between the public, private and not- for-profit sectors.

Closing gaps in terms of distance can mean setting up a new service. In this respect, the action of the local authorities could be decisive.

In order to respond to the demand of young people wanting to have access to different types of leisure facilities, e.g. cinemas, swimming pools, skating rinks, night clubs, etc., that were concentrated in the nearest town (Metz, 40 km away), the district of La Chasse (250 inhabitants, situated in Lorraine, France) organised a bus for young people from the area who came together to form an association. The young people use this service on a shared basis. They manage the time use of the bus up to a fixed number of kilometres granted each month.

In order to close the gaps in terms of adaptability and quality, putting new players and new references in contact can be particularly important: a local shop can, for example, through contacts with the local producers organised with the support of a LEADER group, sell local quality products and in this way respond to the demand from certain categories of the population such as newcomers, tourists, etc.

Finally, gaps in terms of price also lead to the need for innovative solutions in order to reduce costs. These solutions may be found in the utilisation of new technologies or in the exploitation of a more judicious combination of existing resources and structures. For instance, different types of services could be concentrated in one place or new contractual links between public services and private businesses could be created. Also, a service using a relatively high level of voluntary work could be put in place.

At this stage also, the LAGs’ role as facilitators could prove decisive. This could be achieved by introducing a new idea in the area e.g. a mobile service, by bringing together the people likely to play a complementary role, by organising the necessary technical support, or by providing assistance in securing funding, etc. LAGs can also play a determining role in the mobilisation of voluntary work.

 

2.3.5 Evaluating the feasibility of envisaged solutions


The design of innovative responses is obviously accompanied by an analysis of the feasibility and viability of the envisaged solutions before they are implemented.

Apart from carrying out feasibility studies, the role of the LAGs at this stage can also be to assist the individuals concerned in the evaluation of risks, to find risk-reducing solutions and to find forms of compensation, especially of the financial type.

This feasibility and risk evaluation exercise goes beyond the strictly economic and financial aspects of the service concerned, e.g. solvency of the market, investment costs, possibilities of funding the running costs of the service, long-term prospects, capacity to mobilise start-up capital, etc. The exercise also concerns issues of a legal nature, e.g. status of the envisaged structure, status of the service providers, respect for competition rules, etc. The exercise also looks into the local situation, for instance, does the project in question not risk clashing with certain local interests and, in this way, provoke reactions of rejection?

 

2.3.6 Supporting the setting up of new services


Introducing new services is always a delicate phase. Quite often, the initial project does not work according to plan due to, for example, withdrawal from the project by certain partners, unexpected problems, etc. As such, it is important to find replacement solutions, because some problems may require rapid responses. This is a time when those carrying out the project need to be supported and to create a network of relations to consolidate their project.

LEADER groups, being part of a diversified network at a local level and also at a more global level, can facilitate the networking process and the forging of new relationships. Furthermore, support from LEADER groups can take on various forms, e.g. assistance in the preparation of information dossiers for the public on the new service, fund raising or appraisal of certain technical points, etc...

 

2.3.7 Supporting project continuity

Once the take-off phase has been accomplished, projects often experience difficulty in carrying on. The critical phase may occur within the first three years, at a time when initial enthusiasm starts falling off, when volunteer workers start losing their motivation, when the initiative no longer benefits from the type of financial support enjoyed in the early days, etc. This is a time when those carrying out the project need a certain amount of autonomy, and yet at this stage the project will not have fully established itself on the market.

It is, therefore, important to find solutions that can enable the project to regain its momentum and to surmount the obstacles in this difficult phase. This can be achieved through a combination with other services.

In Alentejo Centro (Portugal), the Terras Dentro LEADER group had supported the launch of a certain number of restaurants to respond to a growing demand for quality restaurant services from tourists. A year later, in the small relatively isolated village town of Moura, one of the restaurant owners concerned explained to the LAG that, due to a lack of clients, he was going to have to close down his restaurant. In order to avoid this eventuality, however, he thought of organising on a weekly basis in the restaurant, a debate around a dinner on a theme linked to local development for a period of three months. The LEADER programme organised the invitations and financed the meal on the days the debate took place. This cultural activity, which has also played an important role in bringing people together in the area, gave the restaurant the added exposure which enabled it to attract a number of new clients that was sufficient to make it viable at the end of the operation.

As the example above shows, an efficient way of supporting the continuity of projects is to assist them in their integration in the local market through promotion. This can be organised for a particular service, or for the local services as a whole, for instance, by producing a guide on the existing services in the area, targeting the local population and those passing through the area such as tourists.

 

2.3.8 Evaluation with a view to moving on


Evaluating the services put in place is a key to success. It makes it possible to:

  • identify the weaknesses, difficulties and other elements relative to success and on which improvement of the viability and quality of the service can be based;

  • anticipate the measures to be taken on the basis of the evaluation;

  • draw lessons from the success or failure of a project and use them in the launch of other services.

Often, evaluations are either non-existent or carried out sporadically, empirically and unsystematically. LEADER groups can, therefore, play an important role here by mobilising the various individuals concerned around a joint evaluation.

For an evaluation to be fruitful, it needs to be shared by the persons and groups concerned e.g. service suppliers, funding agencies users, etc. In this way, a joint evaluation can play a particularly interesting facilitation role by enabling those concerned to re-think their position. This would mean that users specify their demand, suppliers their difficulties and opportunities, and possible funders their expectations and commitments, thus creating a consensus (by overcoming the misunderstandings or latent conflicts) and giving the service a new élan.

 

2.3.9 Training professionals and volunteers to carry out the new services

Training is a fundamental element in improving and rendering a service viable. The need for training may appear at the moment of launching the project but also at a later stage, notably during evaluation.

Analysing training needs is important and can play a decisive role in the success of the initiative. If these needs have been discussed between service suppliers, users and trainers, the objectives of the training are shared, making the training more relevant.

Training needs can be related to many questions such as savoir-faire and “savoir-être” (e.g. empowering those involved).

The training can be taken in many different forms. Providing part- time training, for example, is particularly interesting because the teaching provided can be verified and corrected, as the course proceeds, in relation to the needs, and a certain amount of support in the improvement of targeted services can be ensured. Further education is a tool for updating knowledge that is essential for good management in service delivery.

 

2.3.10 Organising inter-area networks


Thanks to their contacts and participation in several networks (starting with the LEADER network itself), LEADER groups can give an inter-area dimension to local services. This dimension is necessary for facilitating the viability of services or for improving their quality. LAGs can, for instance:

  • establish relations with urban services, in order to supplement or adapt the viability threshold or improve the quality of a local service. A local health centre can, for example, be twinned with a large hospital situated in town;

  • set up a joint service with several rural areas, making it possible to reach a critical mass that would otherwise be impossible.


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