the early 1990s, in most European countries local policy to combat social
exclusion focused primarily on the most urgent needs, such as health, housing
or subsistence. It is only recently that we have also seen economic projects
aimed at tackling root causes. Public authorities are now beginning to support
the development of new companies, individual employment initiatives and
targeted training in these less-favoured urban areas," explains Sabine Weck,
a researcher at the ILS research institute in Dortmund, which is coordinating
the EU's ELSES project.(1)
"Go!", an initiative
to promote start-ups in North Rhine-Westphalia
© Entwicklungsgesellschaft Duisburg - Photo
How are these actions being implemented? On what basis should they be
judged? How effective are they? Do they really meet the needs of those
they are designed to help? Can some of them serve as models and thus be
adopted in other situations? These are the questions being studied by
the German, British, Swedish, Italian, French and Dutch partners within
ELSES. Their aim is to analyse the different strategies of local socio-economic
development in specific neighbourhoods located in "problem" urban areas.
The method adopted is to base this work on close cooperation between researchers
unique in having involved the local players right from the outset, when
developing the project. This is an innovative approach, and not only in
Italy," explains Valeria Fascione, a researcher at the IDIS Foundation
(Naples).(2) By drawing on their day-to-day experience
these "associated partners" identified the questions to be analysed -
and sometimes the way of posing them.
with the theorists are vital for those working in the field, enabling
them to take a little distance and form a broader view. During discussions
with the researchers we were able to verify the validity of our methods
and find alternatives to improve our practices," points out Ercan Idik
of the German Duisburg-Marxloh association. "Our work with the university
shed valuable new light on our project," confirms Russell Stevenson, an
employee of Govan Initiative Ltd in Glasgow (Scotland). "We support 90
local businesses, with quite diverse activities. The researchers highlighted
the performances of the youngest companies in terms of their growth potential.
We will be taking this criterion into account." In Nancy, the involvement
of "beneficiaries" at all stages of an integration project was also seen
as a guarantee of success. This project helped set up training for a group
of women working informally in the family aid sector, with a view to access
to part-time employment with recognised employee status.
The six European towns where
local development initiatives are being assessed by the partners
in the ELSES project.
In March 1999 - the half-way point for the project - an initial seminar
was held in Naples giving the researchers and associations the chance
to compare their experiences and the different contexts. In Germany, where
the national public sector assumes the traditional role of the welfare
state, local development initiatives are managed largely by politicians
and officials, the local community not really having much say in defining
priorities and deciding on measures. In the United Kingdom, where the
welfare state was trimmed considerably during the Thatcher years, the
already well-established role of local associations has grown. As an example,
Govan Initiative employs 164 people and manages an annual budget of 6
million euros. In Italy, in the urban area of Pomigliano d'Arco (Naples)
- the scene of development schemes under European, national and regional
programmes - the local authority has a certain autonomy and plays a particularly
active role in initiatives focusing primarily on job creation.
everywhere, bureaucratic red tape can put a damper on projects - if not
on enthusiasm. "Managing a contract is such a complex and disheartening
experience, takes so much time, and involves dealing with so many different
authorities that associations give up on some projects, solely because
of the red tape involved," notes Jean-Luc Dumas of the Associations Jeunes
et Cité in the Laxou-Nancy (F) district.
and much more
"Although the initiatives studied in these European countries differ in
many respects - in terms of finance, policy and legislation - they all
come up against the difficulty of making the vital connection between
the world of business and the survival of populations in difficulty,"
believes David Chevalier, sociologist at the University of Nancy 2. This
was why, at the Naples meeting, the partners decided to concentrate on
three subjects: social integration through work (placements, training,
etc.), the social economy (based on services generated by and for the
community) and support for entrepreneurial initiatives (help with enterprise
creation, financial advice and services, development of infrastructures
permitting network activities). Although jobs are the common ingredient,
the scope of all three is wider than jobs alone. "We are used to measuring
these actions in terms of concrete results, such as how many jobs they
generate, without giving them the time they need to develop. The number
of jobs created is bound to be low in a regional environment with rising
unemployment among the unskilled and a stagnant overall employment situation,"
points out Sabine Weck. "But apart from this aspect, very-small-scale
local regeneration actions serve to restore social links, create new networks,
introduce factors which improve the quality of life and living conditions
in a neighbourhood, and open up new opportunities for participating in
social life. These are all very real elements, even if they cannot be
measured in the same way. There is a need to go beyond one-dimensional
strategies if we are to solve issues that are not at all one dimensional."
decision-makers to beneficiaries
The ELSES partners held a second meeting in October last year in Glasgow.
They presented the initial findings, on the basis of which the direction
of future work ideas on the measures to be taken and ways to put these
into practice will be suggested to the politicians. Always at the forefront,
local partners will have a key role to play in disseminating the project's
results. "They are often the pioneers of good practices and they help
ensure these are included in local development policy," notes Sabine Weck.
"This project will be a success if it manages to bridge the traditional
divide between those who make policy, those who implement policy, and
those who assess its results. Such a link will require close cooperation
- and constant feedback - between these various parties."
include the beneficiaries themselves. "In each country, it is essential
to adopt an approach designed to include the most underprivileged groups
in the decision-making process," concludes David Chevalier. "To my mind,
this goes beyond the field of integration and strategies for local economic
development. Above all, it is a question of local, regional, national,
and even European democracy."
Evaluation of Local Socio-Economic Strategies in Disadvantaged Urban Areas
was launched in 1998, for a two-year period, under the Targeted Socio-Economic
Research programme (Fourth Framework Programme).
(2) The IDIS Foundation (http://www.cittadellascienza.it/)
is a non-profit organisation whose main aim is to produce socially relevant
initiatives promoting scientific culture and technological innovation.