Haris Martinos

1.   Introduction

The Local Development E-Book has many innovative aspects, ranging from its all-encompassing look at local development to its method of development and production. In introducing the book, we therefore need to discuss, however briefly, several issues: what we understand by “local development” and a “local development approach”; what are the purpose and functioning of an (international) local development network (LDnet); what role does this book play in the activities of the network; and what are the structure and content of the book.

2.   What are “local development” and the “local development approach”?

“Local development” (or “LD” for short) is a complex notion which cannot be explained in any single definition. This is in large part the result of the way it emerged in the European public policy landscape.

In the beginning, LD was a spontaneous phenomenon that arose mostly in response to an economic crisis which had thrown up “Local Employment Initiatives” (LEIs). This phenomenon was identified and analysed by the OECD LEED Programme and was nurtured over a number of years by the action-research and networking activities of the European Commission’s LEDA Programme. It thus became a generic model of area-based initiatives by local partnerships with a whole host of social and economic development objectives. The Historical review of LD chapter charts this evolution from the early 1980s to the 2000s.

The emerging LD model went through various processes of adaptation and adoption into public policy, both at EU level, within several parts of the European Commission, and at national and regional level in many EU Member States. With LD written into various policy areas from employment and rural development to social inclusion, addressing hot issues in both urban and rural areas, the result has been a plethora of different interpretations and variants of LD as implemented through public policies and programmes. This is illustrated in the Recent Research Studies and Lessons from LD in Practice chapters.

Notwithstanding the richness and diversity of LD in the European policy landscape, there is a fundamental characteristic that is common throughout: the co-existence of a bottom-up dimension and a top-down dimension: there is local initiative, but state institutions determine the rules of local development and provide extra resources for it, and local actors in turn respond to offers of money, calls for proposals, etc.

The “European Model”

There is often talk of a European Model of local development and this is described in terms of its area-based and local partnership-led approach, and other such features. However, this model also assumes, albeit implicitly, a “right balance” between local initiative and external/top-down support. Extreme cases of LD which is spontaneous and relies only on local resources are now most uncommon in the EU, but there are plenty of instances at the other extreme, where LD has been treated merely as a delivery system for particular EU policies. The prominent role played by the European Court of Auditors in the recent debate on the merits of delivering rural development policy through Leader is symptomatic of the latter (Court of Auditors report on LEADER).

Put another way, the potential of LD as a spontaneous and self-organising initiative that relies on indigenous (human, financial, etc.) resources has limitations as to how far it can go towards achieving territorial cohesion, i.e. equitable or fairly distributed development throughout the national and European territory. The EU provides significant external resources through the structural funds (ERDF, ESF, etc.) for actions at sub-national level, and their successful use depends to a large extent on local capacities, leadership and initiative. These points are debated in more detail in the Theoretical Perspectives chapter.

Local development is not, of course, confined to the European Union. Much has been happening in both developed and developing countries. In developed countries (i.e. non-EU OECD countries) there are perhaps similarities with the EU in policies and programmes addressing development issues in urban and rural areas, but without the multi-level governance of the EU or the systematisation of the LD approach seen in Leader. In developing countries, there are significant differences from the EU and the other developed countries, both in the main focus of the development effort (poverty reduction) and in the institutional and cultural traditions, and much of LD can be still a spontaneous activity not covered by public policy. Nevertheless, there are points of contact, ranging from elements of common thinking (e.g. endogenous potential) to an increasing number of exchanges and cooperation projects.

Working definition and scope of LD

The LD approach is a philosophy, strategy or type of policies for development, which in practical terms needs to be seen in a particular socio-economic and institutional context, as does the European Model. A key reason for this is that local development and the LD approach do not follow any particular theory, although they have been influenced by, and have in different ways contributed to, various bodies of thinking, such as community development, social economy and endogenous development.

On an empirical basis, LDnet uses the following as a working definition for the purposes of the network and this is also a reference point in this book:
'Local development' is an important approach to regional development, rural development, social inclusion, and other policy fields. It applies to both urban and rural areas, is characterised by area-based strategies and local (often community-led) partnerships mobilising large numbers of local stakeholders, and is associated with long-term objectives and structural change, orientated towards sustainable development.

The scope of the local development approach is normally seen in comprehensive terms, reflecting a systemic or holistic view of LD. In a public policy context this is expressed as a multi-dimensional and integrated approach covering economic, social, environmental and sustainability objectives, and goes beyond conventional sectoral approaches.

An operational definition of a comprehensive notion of LD has been achieved in the context of LEADER – the former Community Initiative of the EU – which since its LEADER+ period (2000-2006) has codified the “Leader approach” in terms of seven principles or features. Indeed, LEADER+ underscored the integrated, multi-dimensional and innovative nature of the local development strategies it supported by including strategic priorities such as improving the quality of life and making best use of natural and cultural resources. Since 2007, with the incorporation of Leader in the “main programmes” run by government structures steeped in the “old school” traditions of the Common Agricultural Policy, this is proving much more difficult to achieve.

There are many instances of a partial application of the LD approach. First, when not all of the Leader-type characteristics are observed. For instance, a partnership approach is followed but not necessarily an area-based approach, as in many LEIs. Second, when LD is introduced in particular policy areas (e.g. tensions between a sectoral approach and LD in fisheries under the current EFF programmes). Third, when a particular institutional aspect of the way LD is implemented clashes with other principal characteristics, such as the pre-eminence of local government (“the mayor”) or state institutions and officials versus local strategy and partnership.

The new proposals of the European Commission for the post-2013 period, although not yet fully spelt out or agreed, reverse this trend. They refocus LD as Community Led Local Development (CLLD) that will be area based and driven by local people, and will be able to draw support from all the relevant EU funds - ERDF, ESF, EARDF, EMFF - in a coordinated way (LD and the EU funds 2014-2020).

3.   LDnet and the aims of the e-book

After almost 30 years of local development ideas and practice in Europe, LD had lost its vibrancy, having either become “part of the furniture” e.g. in rural development and Leader, or been more or less forgotten in other fields. However, since 2010, there has been a revival in interest in local development at both EU and national levels. This is the result of the need to respond on the ground to the effects of the financial and economic crisis, echoing the early steps of LD, as well as other factors, such as the interest generated by the introduction of LD approach in new areas (e.g. fisheries) and the whole process of preparing for better coordination and more effective use of the EU funds in the 2014-2000 period.

In the framework of this revival, a need has been strongly felt to revisit, share, develop further and make use of the knowledge that has been gained over all these years in different contexts. On the one hand different departments of the European Commission launched formal studies, e.g. ADETEF Study, into the methods and contribution of LD. On the other hand, a group of experts, who had been instrumental in the introduction of LD in Europe in the 1980’s and in its subsequent development, created an international local development network (LDnet).

LDnet develops a knowledge base on LD – bibliography, abstracts with links, reviews, case studies and practice examples – and provides a forum for sharing information and knowledge among experts, researchers and all those active in local development. It has the ambition to act as an independent think tank whose work can inform stakeholders and contribute to policy development and implementation, and, generally, to benefit all those involved in local development in Europe and beyond. 

The aim of the e-book is to wrap up recent “revival” work and to offer a broad and consolidated view of:

  • where LD stands now in the EU and, to a lesser extent, in the rest of the world;

  • the current challenges for and future prospects of LD.

In this way the Local Development E-Book comes to play a key role between, on the one hand, the more basic knowledge base of LDnet (archives, bibliography, short reviews) and, on the other hand, a number of potential position papers or similar outputs by the network or groups of its members (conclusions, syntheses, overviews, etc. addressed to different audiences) that can build on the book.

4.   The development and production of the e-book

LDnet started to create the e-book in the Summer of 2011. It conceived the initiative as a “wiki-book” involving an open process in which any author or contributor from the network can freely write, comment and edit online any of the chapters of the book.

By October 2011, following various ideas and suggestions using the LDnet wiki-site and e-mail, and a meeting in Brussels, the scope, structure and method of working had largely been settled. The sharing of files was moved to Huddle with which more of the participants were familiar. The process shifted from an entirely open wiki approach to a more structured one. Some twenty participants continued in the project forming:

  • a writing community of authors who draft chapters and contributors who offer shorter papers (think pieces) which are incorporated in chapters or are published as articles on the LDnet site;

  • a reviewing community in which some of the participants review and validate the drafts (with Paul Soto and Toby Johnson leading non-author reviewers of the present first edition);

  • a coordinating editor (Haris Martinos) who facilitates the whole process, offering suggestions on content and making essential editorial changes to the texts.

It has been decided to publish the book online, step-by-step, in a special section of the LDnet wiki-site. This initial edition (September 2012) contains ten chapters, and marks the start of an on-going process with the intention to add new chapters, and to update or even replace chapters from time to time, through an enlarged process in which anyone registered in the LDnet site can partake. It has also been decided that in each chapter (or thematic area) there could be more than one paper published by different authors, under a common introductory note by the reviewing community and coordinating editor.

To a large extent, the LDnet knowledge base and the e-book will evolve at the same time. Referencing in the chapters of the e-book will rely more and more on internal links with the bibliography and reviews of an expanding and better-structured knowledge base. And both the e-book and the rest of the knowledge base will offer a platform for different teams or communities of LDnet members and other users to develop and publish conclusions and positions on LD matters.

5.   The structure and content of the e-book

The structure of the e-book and the content of the main chapters, including those in preparation or planning, are briefly described below. Overviews like the present one, and conclusions or synthesis papers will also be produced from time-to-time to accompany the main chapters.

Learning from the past and present

This part aims to round off the historical review of local development which has been presented in recent studies and to go on and present the current state of play in LD, in terms of research, practice and theoretical perspectives.

Historical review of LD. This paper builds on recent studies, especially the DG REGIO / ADETEF study report of 2010 and the extensive bibliography that exists on local development. Its structure follows the chronological development of LD. It covers the 1980's and 1990's, the years of exploration, discovery of local endogenous potential and subsequent proliferaton of LD programmes. It then deals with the 2000's with sectoralised programmes and a decline of local development, up to the end of the previous EU programming period (2007). It concludes with some lessons from the past, reassessing policy tools and added value.

Recent Research Studies. A number of studies of direct relevance to LD have been completed since 2010 and are presented in this chapter. They fall into three groups:

  • studies carried out for the European Commission generally on LD (e.g. by ADTEF, see above) or in connection with specific EU funds, e.g. on ESF actions to promote LEIs and on the contribution of LD in ERDF interventions;
  • ex-post evaluations of EU Initiatives (Leader+, Urban); and
  • selected monographic studies (e.g. “Territoires et solidarités : un enjeu européen” and “Cities of Tomorrow”).

Although these studies vary in their remit and raise diverse points, they also underline the key features of LD (such as area-based, wide partnership and local remit), its broad scope (“beyond economic development”), and great potential which, however, is difficult to fully evaluate.

This chapter focuses on EU research and it is expected that other papers covering academic research and non-EU studies will be included in future editions.

Lessons from LD in Practice . The bulk of formally implemented local development strategies and action plans in the current EU programming period, 2007-2013, is in rural areas through the mainstreaming of the Leader approach in rural development programmes throughout the EU under the EARDF, and its introduction in fisheries areas under the EFF. This paper considers the early feedback from these experiences, generally in the EU and specifically in the New Member States, and compares the concept and the practice of the Leader approach.
Its analysis suggests that LD can be effectively applied in different contexts but that legal frameworks and delivery mechanisms play an important role in the way LD works on the ground.

A complementary paper on Urban development and Local Development considers urban development and the way programmes and initiatives, notably under EU cohesion and regional policies, have evolved to address ‘the urban question’. It explains how different policy approaches have evolved, recognising that socio-economic problems and growth are part of a joint “urban agenda” and relying on an integrated approach, both to policy and policy delivery, for addressing them. Good examples of this integrated approach include the URBAN initiative and mainstream programmes like the UK’s Merseyside Objective 1 programme. Policy innovation in the urban mosaic is continuing, with URBACT networks playing a leading role.

Much of what is happening in the field of urban development has the attributes of local development approaches; it relies on partnerships and community involvement, and often builds on local strategies. Nevertheless, although commonly used, these are informal approaches, while the formal regulatory framework for EU programmes in the urban context lacks an explicit requirement for a systematic local development approach, unlike the EU programmes for rural development.

Theoretical Perspectives. This paper places “local development” and “territorial approach” in the broader context of theoretical perspectives concerning “development”. It discusses the nature and the (functional and fuzzy) boundaries of local development, their relationship with different understandings of development and growth, and the components and indicators that make a difference between traditional and innovative development policies. In doing so, the paper takes into consideration recent EU strategies (Europe 2020) and current proposals for programmes in the 2014-2020 aimed at fostering area-based local development and territorial cohesion.

We acknowledge that other theoretical perspectives need to be recognised and taken into account. Some LDnet contributions are already moving in this direction. For instance, Fernando Barreiro's article Towards new ideas for the local development approach focuses on the role of LD in achieving territorial cohesion. It discusses the limits of the potential contribution of local development towards territorial cohesion and the need to complement LD strategies with other policies for redistributing and equalising development. We envisage that additional papers on theoretical perspectives of local development to be included in future editions.

The future of LD: EU and national level debates

This part covers a number of debates that are unfolding on the future of local development in the context of medium-term EU strategy and programmes, and in different countries and regions.

The broader context of the EU level debate is provided in the above paper on “Theoretical Perspectives”. A separate paper on “LD and Long-Term EU Strategy” is planned for a later stage.

The place of LD in EU programmes post-2013 is “work in progress”. The European Commission has published its proposals for the EU funds and programmes for the programming period 2014-2020. These proposals mark a turning point in favour of local development. They provide for “community-led local development” which can be supported by different EU funds. However, there are still major outstanding issues on how the proposed provisions in the proposed new regulations will be applied on the ground (Community-led local development: making it a success). A paper on LD in EU Programmes, 2014-2020 will be published in a later edition after the consultation period on the Commission proposals.

A series of chapters concern current debates at national or regional level in EU Member States and are at different stages of planning and preparation. In the present edition we have published papers on LD in Ireland, Italy and Spain. These debates fall into two broad categories:

  • Some concern mainly the new thinking on local development that is led by researchers or practitioners (e.g. on “residential economy” in France) or is promoted by government initiatives (e.g. “Big Society” / “localism” in the UK).

  • Some are focused on policy design and delivery, including ways of implementing EU and national policies and programmes regarding local development (e.g.  Ireland).

LD in Ireland: from innovation to stagnation... but what next in times of crisis?. This chapter reviews the long and solid experience of Ireland in local development, its origins and evolution, as well as the issues now facing LD in a particularly adverse economic climate and lessons for the future. 

The story of LD in Ireland is one of a very early and quick transition from bottom-up initiatives to formalised / mainstreamed programmes delivered through local partnerships. LD in Ireland was built on multi-purpose structures with multiple objectives (social inclusion, economic development, etc) and multiple sources of funding. It fostered a culture of innovation and produced a wealth of experience and an abundance of soft results (but outcomes that were difficult to quantify). However, since 2005, a lengthy process of state imposed rationalisation has been taking place leading ultimately to a single programme for local development and organisational uniformity, with less emphasis on social partnership.

Among the lessons and issues raised, one notes signs of greater tolerance towards LD in boom times and the use of LD as a substitute for social protection and redistribution. The state, society and the economy are now operating in much more challenging times and LD may not be offering obvious solutions to problems of unemployment and social cohesion. Moreover, key governance issues are still outstanding, notably the wider reform of local government and active citizen participation, compounding the uncertainties about the future.

LD in Italy: Rich Experience and Big New Challenges. This paper reviews the emergence and evolution of local development in Italy, and discusses current challenges and policy orientations. The paper begins by sketching out the still evolving institutional landscape at national, regional and local levels. It then presents a brief history of the three main components that contribute to local development in Italy: the gradual transformation of a top-down development approach focused on the “Southern Question” to widespread participatory planning and use of territorial pacts; the industrial districts - from a spontaneous phenomenon to its institutionalisation; and, the multiple and important roles played by the large and complex cooperative movement. The paper then considers the new challenges for local development arising from the main socio-economic impacts of the global financial crisis, as well as of the relevant austerity packages, and concludes with an attempt to identify policy trends that may support local development in the future.

LD in Spain: A Myriad of Initiatives and Innovations Confronted by New Challenges. This chapter provides an overview of local development (LD) in Spain, which presents a very rich texture of programmes, initiatives institutional arrangements, reflecting the processes of decentralisation in Spain and the extensive support the country has enjoyed from EU funds in the last 20 years. It begins by discussing the emergence of LD in Spain and its early stages of development and expansion. These early steps tended to be associated with national programmes which were implemented in a similar manner at the local level by municipalities and other local organisations.

The new capacities and motivation created in this first phase of Spanish LD combined with the strong regionalisation and decentralisation processes led to a remarkably wide range of diverse programmes, initiatives and innovations. That period has allowed for the development of an institutional framework (local-regional) focused on promoting LD, the existence of professional knowledge, and new local capacities.
All these assets need to be fully exploited in the new phase that started under the current economic crisis and which presents huge challenges for local development. A whole host of thorny issues need to be addressed such as the unprecedented levels of unemployment to the balance between LD policies (developing each area through local actors’ initiatives) and social and territorial cohesion policies (through a coalition of national, regional and local actors).

LD outside the EU

All the above chapters concern primarily or exclusively local development in the EU context (“the European Model” of local development). Although the same degree of attention cannot be given in this e-book – at least in its early editions – to other parts of the world, it is important to contextualise its Europe-focused analyses with references to other experiences. This will be attempted for both highly developed countries of the OECD, with a separate chapter on LD in North America and for other countries outside the EU known, in the broadest sense, as “developing countries”, which also have a chapter of their own in the present edition.

LD in Developing Countries. This paper addresses the scope for considering LD in such a vast field, which is facilitated by initiatives and programmes seeking to disseminate the “European Model” and to promote cooperation. It then considers specific LD experiences - issues, approaches and results - in Africa (e.g. Mozambique and Cape Verde), Latin America and Europe outside the EU (e.g. Russia and Bosnia).

It notes that there are two key issues which strongly differentiate LD in developing countries from that within the EU (and other highly developed countries): governance and poverty. Overall, it can be argued that at a very general level there is a common thrust in LD in developing countries, based increasingly on a territorial approach and local partnership, and striving for better/local governance and poverty reduction. However, in seeking to share relevant experiences and good practices on specific themes, it will be necessary to do it with reference to particular contexts.


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