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Assessing the added value of the LEADER approach

Chapter 3
Questions and evaluation issues for each specific feature


3.4. The innovative character of actions


One of the most important aims of LEADER II is "to stimulate innovative measures by those, whether public or private, engaged at local level in all sectors of rural activity, to make known the results of these experiments throughout the Community and to assist rural operators in different Member States who wish to profit from the lessons learnt elsewhere and to work jointly on some projects" (Notice to Member States, 1/7/94).

Innovation is therefore closely connected with transfer and networking. The emphasis, in relation to LEADER I, has shifted from the experimentation of an innovative approach to rural development, to the experimentation of actions of an innovative nature.

Innovation and the capacity to serve as a model are part of the eligibility criteria for actions in LEADER II. The 1/7/94 Notice to Member States stipulates that by promoting innovation and demonstration criteria, the Commission does not wish "to restrict the operational scope of the initiative to a few avant-garde operations of little potential use elsewhere, but wishes to ensure that the programmes financed contribute real added value in relation to other operations financed by the EU or other forms of assistance under the Community Support Frameworks".

Each local group may have a very high number of different actions (each measure containing several sub-measures) and it would be extremely difficult to evaluate all of them. We propose that the group chooses three to five actions, which it considers the most innovative, and which comply with the innovation criteria in relation to the context or carry elements that could be transferred elsewhere.


3.4.1 Definition

Several meanings have been attributed to the innovative character that LEADER actions should have8. For example:

    a) actions seeking to add value to local resources (typical of the specific rural context, including cultural and environmental aspects, tourism and local identity, raising the capacity of the local population to take initiatives);

    b) actions which have not been considered in other development policy measures (distinct from measures supported by other EU programmes or national measures);

    c) actions which have offered new responses to the weaknesses and constraints (classical and new) of rural areas (decline in agricultural employment and activity, departure of the most educated people, rise in youth unemployment and job insecurity, growing isolation as a result of the disappearance of certain business and private services, deterioration of the environment, etc);

    d) actions which fall under the usual definition of innovation, especially technology and know how: a new product, a new process, a new form of organisation or a new market; this includes the application of new information and communication technologies in rural areas.

These criteria may be used to define and evaluate innovative actions, and account should be taken of the fact they may be complementary (adding value to a typical resource may refer to traditional know-how, for example a technique for producing cheese, which can be adapted, updated and marketed differently). The transfer of innovation should form part of the evaluation of this specific feature.


3.4.2 Motivation and expected results

The motivation for introducing the concept of innovation in LEADER is different for each of the four criteria indicated.

    a) In the case of adding value to local resources, the reasons for considering this type of measure as innovative are twofold:

    • on the one hand, globalisation is viewed as an new external constraint which could marginalise further local, rural markets with undifferentiated products (loss of competitiveness);

    • on the other hand, the decline of the agricultural sector and its traditional support measures is creating an internal constraint on diversification.

    Local resources are unique and typical to an area; they are linked to its environment, its history, its culture etc, and usually have a high quality content. They can therefore play a strategic role in rural development on two fronts:

    • they are expected to be able to find niche markets enabling local products (produce, tourism) to be marketed at lucrative prices whilst remaining competitive with industrial products targeted at the global market;

    • the diversification of the socio-economic fabric in rural areas offers an alternative to farming.

    b) In the case of actions not considered in other development policy measures, the objective is to keep LEADER as a distinct approach which operates in those domains not covered by traditional policies, for example:

    • LEADER can be complementary to other European and national programmes by establishing a "division of labour". For example, LEADER actions to animate and mobilise resources, whilst their physical realisation is financed by other (bigger) programmes;

    • LEADER concentrates on immaterial investments leaving material investments to other measures9;

    • LEADER supports the sectors which did not receive any previous support from other rural programmes, such as culture, the natural environment, rehabilitation of architecture and small heritage buildings, rural tourism, organising production chains from the producer to the consumer, organising supply and demand, creating labels and catalytic themes, etc.

    c) In the case of actions considered innovative because they provide new responses to the new or traditional problems of rural areas, the aim is to stimulate initiatives at the local level in order to find alternative solutions which are sustainable over time.

    Although they are partly based on financial transfers and grants as in the past, they are able to take advantage of the new opportunities and attractiveness of rural areas. Thus they can identify new ways of providing services and income to low density areas.

    d) In the case of actions which are classically linked to technological innovation, the objective is not so much to produce "radical" innovations but on the contrary to produce "incremental" innovations (based on imitation or adaptation)10 which create new combinations of know how between local traditional knowledge and widely available technologies (industrial, information and communication technologies). These create new products, new processes, new forms of organisation or new markets.

    The transfer of these innovations is expected to be facilitated through networking and/or transnational cooperation (see below) between rural areas.


3.4.3 Main questions

a) the initial situation

  • describe what the local action group has considered as an innovative action and how this was translated in the selection procedures used by the LAG;

  • select 3 to 5 examples of the most innovative actions and classify them under one or more of the 4 above-mentioned criteria for defining innovation. Do these actions reflect the overall strategy of the LAG.

b) the processes

  • How did the search for innovative projects influence the planning and implementation process? Were there any eligibility problems for the innovative actions?

  • Which methods were followed to identify and implement innovative actions? What were the key elements (relations with other groups, experts, universities, etc, either local or not)?

  • Could the actions considered as most innovative be realised with other measures available locally? Were they linked or complementary in any way with other national or regional programmes? In what way?

  • Were there any regulatory hindrances to innovation or procedures not adapted to innovation needs?

c) the results and impact

  • Did any innovative action linked to adding value to local resources improve the opportunities of the rural area on external markets or strengthen the diversification of the local economy? How was this achieved? (resource mobilisation effect)

  • What have been the advantages and disadvantages of any linkages or complementarities between LEADER and other national or European programmes?

  • Which typical rural problems, defined in the business plan, did innovative actions provide a new solution for? How was this achieved? (social, political, economic cohesion effect)

  • Did any of the innovative actions result in a new product, a new process, a new form of organisation or a new market? How was this achieved?

  • Have any innovative actions already been transferred to or taken/adapted by other groups or public authorities? (transferability and demonstration effect, model function), How was this achieved?

  • Have there been any spin-offs or multiplier effects (intended or unintended) which resulted from one or more innovative actions? (generating effect)

d) the lessons

  • What lessons should be drawn for future actions to facilitate the emergence of innovation?

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