Timisoara- building capacity for high quality CLLD in urban areas
Join us in-person in Timisoara on June 7-9 where we will deliver a capacity building event dedicated to community-led local development (CLLD) in urban areas.
CLLD in practice
Urban CLLD came into existence in the 2014-2020 programme period and from a standing start grew to approximately 221 Local Action Groups in 7 Member States. However, the growing pains were at times difficult with many tensions between Managing Authorities and Local action groups about how to interpret the regulation. Sometimes poor design of the delivery system led to delays in approving strategies, projects and this in turn slowed up absorption.
For those who had been involved in rural and fisheries CLLD, these problems were nothing new. The same regulation or article in a regulation is often interpreted differently across the Member States. It came as no surprise that CLLD in urban areas faced similar problems that had been experienced in these longer standing programmes.
In essence, the core of the problem can be put down to trust. Particularly, how can a Managing Authority cede control over the selection and administration of projects to local action groups that are not constituted as public authorities. In terms of risk, this could mean that there would be no public body to reclaim payments from. For Local Action Groups there were often frustrations about how slow and how bureaucratic the whole process had become.
Clearly, there is a need when spending public money for value for money, full transparency, and for audit trails. Anyone dealing with European funds knows that the procedures can be heavy. For CLLD, there are many examples of how these delivery systems have been improved and streamlined without compromising on accountability and probity.
The meeting in Timisoara is intended to offer a platform to bring together Managing Authorities and their intermediate bodies, cities that play host to CLLD groups and the Local Action Groups (LAGs) themselves that are in the driving seat of helping to transform their local areas.
Urban CLLD in its second programme period
CLLD in urban areas has grown from a standing start at the outset of the last programme period in 2014 to 221 LAGs in seven Member States by its end. This will change for the new period (2021-2027) with the loss of the UK following Brexit and both Portugal and Hungary ceasing to use CLLD for urban areas. The other Member States that were involved in delivering urban CLLD in the last period will continue and Lithuania, Poland and Romania are looking to increase the number of urban LAGs.
The thematic focus of these urban LAGs varies across the EU. In Portugal and Romania, the focus has been on social inclusion. For Romania, this includes a concentration on Roma communities with high levels of exclusion. In the Netherlands, the LAG in the Hague focuses on energy efficiency as a means of addressing climate change.
Despite the growth of CLLD in the last period, there was no organisation supporting cities using ERDF or ESF for urban CLLD across Europe. For rural and coastal/fisheries types of CLLD there has been a long tradition of network support organisations going back to when they first started. This support is currently provided by the European Network of Rural Development and FAMENET. The meeting in Timisoara is a first step in providing capacity building support to practitioners from all levels associated with CLLD funded through the recently launched European Urban Initiative which has capacity building for territorial tools as one of its core missions.
For LAGs in cities isolated practice is often the main problem
Urban CLLD LAGs are often isolated and receive no dedicated support at national level, although informal networks have grown up. For example, in Romania, the 35 surviving LAGs out of the 37 that started formed a federation of urban LAGs.
At EU-level, there has been some informal contact between LAGs. Meetings of Urban LAGs took place in the margins of the CLLD conferences in Győr (Hungary) in 2017 and in Brussels in December 2019. In November 2022, a group of six Romanian LAGs visited Lisbon to meet their Portuguese counterparts and to learn about their activities.
The Capacity needs of Cities and LAGs
People participating in LAGs need a whole range of skills and capacities to contribute effectively to the process. These range from designing, convening and moderating LAG meetings, to working on local development strategies, building up the local partnership, record keeping, budgeting, developing and supporting local projects, monitoring projects, and finally evaluation. The range of tasks that a typical LAG might be involved includes inter alia:
- Forming a local partnership
- Defining territories, model of governance and strategy
- Organising the Local Action Group (governance, procedures, terms of reference)
- Preparing a local development strategy
- Selecting projects (preparing scoring criteria and procedures)
- Advising on the eligibility of projects - what can ESF and ERDF be used for and what not? (formal eligibility is the responsibility of the Managing Authority and its intermediate bodies)
- Budgets, reporting and modifying the budget
- Monitoring and evaluation - using the cohesion policy results framework
- Working with non-Cohesion Policy funds (EAFRD, EMFAF, JTF)
- Peer learning with other LAGs
- Innovating at the local level
- Organising formal cooperation activities between LAGs at transnational level
The list is demanding and requires a step-up in knowledge of the cohesion policy and how to bring it down to local level in a digestible form. This requires a range of capacities which the meeting in Timisoara seeks to address.
Support needs of Managing Authorities
Managing Authorities are still grappling with how to deliver CLLD through Cohesion Policy even when they are starting their second programming period using the territorial tool. Managing Authorities can also benefit enormously from being able to meet other MAs and also LAG coordinators and board members in a trusted and moderated setting. Some of the tasks that MAs have to address in the delivery of urban CLLD include
- Design of delivery system: What should be the requirements for local strategies? How will local strategies be approved? What monitoring arrangements should be put in place? How will payments be organised?
- How to speed up absorption of funds?
- Working with LAG local development strategies
- Aggregating results and outputs from individual LAGs into reporting at programme level
- Using the cohesion policy results framework for Simplified Cost Options
- Eligibility of projects - what are the rules for eligibility? What is not eligible? How to explain this to LAGs and when to intervene?
- Building links to other parts of Cohesion Policy. Links to other measures in the same programme, links to other programmes (e.g. Interreg, ESF/ERDF)
Many of these issues relating to the efficient operation of the delivery framework are covered in a recent report on CLLD in cross-border Interreg between Italy and Austria. This report highlighted the importance of Managing Authorities and City LAGs keeping to their own responsibilities and avoiding duplicating the work of the other.
What is in it for urban areas?
Cities and towns benefit from CLLD approaches in their urban areas in a number of ways. Most importantly CLLD can address problems that mainstream policies find hard to tackle. Some of the most intractable issues in cities and towns can only be addressed by bottom-up approaches. This has been amply demonstrated over the years by innovative approaches such as Quartiers management in Berlin where 34 deprived neighbourhoods each have their own neighbourhood committee which is able to select and implement local projects. Lisbon has used the urban CLLD approach to provide additional support to 67 deprived neighbourhoods in the city in which its innovative BIP/ZIP initiative awards small projects every year.
For urban areas, CLLD brings finance to address local challenges. This can range from improving a local park, making a childrens playground to supporting women who are victims of gender based violence.
How can capacity be built?
Our experience of working with LAGs, cities and Managing Authorities over three decades suggests that people build capacity by experiential learning, learning by doing and by reflection. In this sense capacity is like a muscle. It gets stronger by being used and by being worked. We have designed an active curriculum with this in mind so that the participants will be at the centre of the action in workshops. We will also be visiting two neighbourhoods in the city of Timisoara in which Local Action Groups are implementing local strategies that focus on social inclusion. There will be an opportunity to talk with members of the LAGs and to see some of their projects on the ground.
Urban Community-led local development is based on a simple idea. That by bringing decision-making on the drawing up and implementation of local development strategies to the local level the results will better meet the needs of local communities than the top-down approach. However, doing this in practice is invariably more complex. By building the capacity of all the actors in the delivery chain to understand their tasks and roles both efficiency and effectiveness can be improved so that quality of life in neighbourhoods really improves. This is what the capacity building event in Timisoara is all about. We hope to see you there.
This article has been delivered by an external expert contracted by Ecorys for the EUI Permanent Secretariat. The views set out in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the European Urban Initiative.