[ Index ]
Developing rural services
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
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
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-
Closing gaps in terms of distance can mean setting up a new service.
In this respect, the action of the local authorities could be
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,
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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.