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Support systems for new activities in rural areas

Part 1 - The support system
How to design a support system

How to use this guide & Table of Contents



The only satisfactory way of developing an effective strategy for the LEADER support system in any given area is to obtain a direct understanding of two main characteristics:

  • the real needs of local firms and potential project promoters;

  • the availability and gaps in existing local support services.

This understanding requires formal enquiries and, above all, close and regular contact with project promoters (see the LEADER I dossier "Support for small and medium-sized rural enterprises", op. cit.).


Questions for LEADER managers

Before any decision is made on the creation or development of a support service or technique, LEADER managers should identify the strengths and weaknesses:

  • of their own in-house services;
  • of the services provided by other agencies.

Before moving on to recommendations for their own organisation and for joint action, they may first find it useful to obtain answers to the following mundane but vital questions:

  • what are the profiles, qualifications and experience needed by staff in order to provide a really professional service?

  • what are the investment and running costs of an efficient service?

  • how much time and resources should be devoted to each project in order to stimulate self-sustaining and durable initiatives?

  • what are the time-scales required to start achieving genuine results?

  • what quantitative and qualitative outputs and results can be expected?

Technical Factsheet 1 provides a checklist to facilitate the study of these questions.


Analysing existing services

Analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the services providing technical assistance in existence in the area will be a deciding factor in the positioning of the LAG and in the type of organisation that it decides to set up.

In most areas, a number of organisations, agencies and institutions operating in the field of activity creation already existed before LEADER. For example, employment services support the creation of independent activities for the unemployed, agricultural development services provide technical assistance for farmers, organisations such as Chambers of Commerce and Industry deal with people setting up businesses and existing businesses, local, provincial and regional development agencies assist in company start- ups, training centres, "escuela-taller" (school-workshops) help to restart traditional activities, etc.

Analysing the strengths and weaknesses of these services will also be essential for determining where the shortcomings are, and in which areas LEADER can bring an increase in value.


Staff profiles and experience

  • In the first stages of project life cycles general interpersonal skills, direct experience of the area or target group and personal commitment to local development are often more important.

  • Skill requirements tend to become more technical and specific as projects mature.

  • It is vital that first-stage animators have experience of and take into account the realities and constraints of the more specialised technicians who will intervene in the later stages.


In-house, Out-house

  • The specific nature of the skills required at each stage also affects the degree to which support services are provided in-house or out-house.

  • The core skills of most LEADER groups are generally used in the first and second stages of project life cycles. Groups should concentrate on what they do best and recognise where they need outside help.

  • The technical skills necessary for the later stages are both too specific and too costly for an agency serving an area of less than 100 000 inhabitants.

  • The LAG must decide where cut-off points are, share costs and information for the more expensive skills and, wherever necessary, mobilise partners likely to be able to provide the most suitable solution.

  • One of the main advantages of LEADER is that it provides a mechanism for stimulating coordination and cooperation between a wide range of local actors and agencies concerned with development.


The importance of public funding

  • As a general rule, the support services for the first two stages of a project require more public funding.

  • Once the project begins to generate its own resources, it is possible to ask for progressively higher private contributions.

  • The final objective of many services in the last stage of a project's life cycle, particularly in terms of collective marketing systems, is for the project to become totally self-sufficient.
    In this case, they cease to be support services as such and develop into new activities in their own right, e.g. the sale of commercial services to groups of companies.


The expected results

  • The expected results can generally be estimated with reasonable precision during the last stages of project support: e.g. achievement of the objectives of the business plan or effectiveness of a promotional campaign, their effects on employment or sales, etc.

  • However, it has traditionally been far harder to find precise measures for services such as first-stage capacity building. Nevertheless, even at this stage, there is a move towards methods which involve clearly defined time limits and targets.

  • In general, a project's life cycle varies between 3 to 5 years, with the snowball or multiplier effects of actions carried out in one LEADER programme most often not taking effect until the next programme.

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