Public institutions Institutions

Updated December 1997

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations United Nations Capital Development FundInternational Fund for Agricultural DevelopmentGerman Agency for Technical CooperationSwiss Agency for Development and CooperationWorld Bank

16-18 December 1997
Technical Consultation on Decentralization

Local partnership as a key tool for participation and decentralization

by Samuel Thirion
Intercooperação Desenvolvimento (INDE)
The views expressed in the following paper are those of the author and are not to be attributed to any of the TCD sponsoring organisations.


The decentralization of decision making, is not synonymous of the participation of the population. It could even be an obstacle , if reinforcing some regional or local powers, by reducing the possibility of expression of the population and of their local organizations. But it is also true, that decentralization is an essential tool for a genuine participation of the local actors in the development process. Through this presentation, I would also like to tackle some topics for reflection upon the conditions which might guarantee the local participation, in a decentralization context of the decision powers. This will lead me to introduce some tools which were conceived in that sense, and that have also proved their effectiveness, both locally and in the framework of supporting policies.

1. The difficulties and the implications of the local participation

a) The prospects created by decentralization

The decentralization of the decision making powers creates important prospects in terms of development, namely: It allows a better adaptation of national measures to the specificities of local contexts. Take the example of Cape Verde here.
In Cape Verde, decentralization has enabled to elaborate specific rural land planning, adapted to each area. These plans can be defined with the local actors, whereas until recently these plans were decided uniformly at the Central level. So all the planning executed in the framework of the drought compensation workfront, namely the Acacia Prosopis plantations (80.000 ha throughout the Country) have worked this way. This brings about not only a better rationale in the application of funds and resources available but, it also ensures a real appropriation of the investments made by the local populations. It allows the launching of a reflection process at the local level, through the acquisition of new skills for the development and the creation of new links between the local actors. For these two reasons, it carries innovations, initiatives and development.

b) The need to separate functions at the local level

However, very often, existing local or regional powers, have the tendency to concentrate in their hands, functions, other than their own function of decision making, namely: Those that come before the decision: the functions of reflection and making proposals, those that come after: the functions of funding and of execution.

Such a concentration of functions is contrary to any idea of participation and it may represent an obstacle to development. Actually, the more the local and regional elected powers possess an indisputable legitimacy to assure the power of decision making that they are responsible for, the greater the importance that the functions that come before and after the decisions. are carried out by other local actors that are in a better position to implement them.

The participation of local organizations (women and farmers organizations, local ONGs, cultural associations etc.) in the reflection and proposals that come before the decision, is an enriching powerful factor for the development processes.

The participation of specialized institutions in the financing process attracts funds other than public ones, often very limited (local savings, immigrants, companies, etc.).

The participation of local organizations and companies in the execution of the projects, values the local skills which are technical, and also helpful in terms of management of the project- and effective in its execution, etc.

b) The need for a territorial approach

The segmentation that is most often found in rural societies, leads each institution or social group to have a partial and sectorial view of the reality according to their economic, social and cultural situation.. These views are often divergent, even opposite and conflicting.

Rural development cannot be envisaged without a full approach at the level of each territory. This supposes a confrontation, as wide as possible, of the viewpoints of the different actors and of the existing interests at the territorial level in order to reach a "consensualization of objectives" around a common strategy of local development indispensable to ensure the effective participation of the local actors. Namely, the participation and the defense of the interests of the most disadvantaged populations (women, young people, and the poorest populations) is a fundamental tool for social cohesion and rural development.

2. Local partnership as a participation tool in a decentralization context

What tools are available today that have proved effective in responding to the needs that have been identified? Here, I would like to talk about a tool that was systematically tried out in Europe and in a less systematic way in some southern countries ,that is, local partnerships. A local partnership is the constitution at a local level of a structure (formal or informal) gathering the largest possible and the most diversified number of actors, playing the role of an association or of a local development agency. The creation of such a structure, enables the systematization of confrontation as well as the "consensualization of objectives". In other words, it establishes a bridge between public and private actors, between associations and businesses, between those who possess the means and those who have the skills and creates the conditions to integrate the poorest populations in the development process.

However, local partnership is neither a sufficient solution in itself, nor a uniform one. To be able to function, a local partnership needs a professional team of local animators formed within that local partnership Specific support programmes must also be prepared, at least in an initial phase of several years.

Local partnerships take on very diversified forms according to the specific local contexts, as it can be seen in the LEADER programmes of the European Union.

The local partnerships are gradually built and require time. They are the outcome of a process that takes different forms as well.

Thus, there are local partnerships whose starting point is the initiative of individuals or of associations of individuals, that are progressively joined by private and public institutions. In other cases the initiative will come from the public powers, that steadily will invite the private ones to join. Finally in other cases ,it is the private enterprises that are at the origin of a partnership.

These starting points do not totally emerge at random, they depend on the local contexts. For example in southern Italy, where there is much suspicion in relation to every thing that comes from the public sector and from the associative environment, due to the Mafia long action, very often private entrepreneurs are the initiators of a local partnership and gradually, as soon as trust is reestablished, the public powers and the associative milieu can join in.

Behind this diversity of forms and processes a general trend to extend the partnership to all the actors of the local level, is noticed.

3. How a support policy favoring local partnerships: the experience of LEADER in Europe

a) Introduction of the LEADER programme:

The leader programme is an integrated rural development programme for European rural areas experiencing difficulties and confronted with the need to find alternatives to agriculture. This programme should therefore, be able to come up with solutions applicable at the local level for each rural micro-region. From this perspective, the programme was designed according to the following guidelines:

Thus, LEADER programme is based upon a totally new relationship between the central and the local level: the central level defines only general budget lines and the eligibility criteria corresponding to the general goals whereas the application lines of these lines are defined at the local level based on a diagnosis. Both the diagnosis and the strategies are discussed and defined within the local partnership.

b) Results of the programme LEADER

Amongst the most important results of the LEADER, namely in the case of the less advanced countries we include:

The fact of encouraging reflections on strategies at the local level; of shading light on local potentialities, creating the conditions for local mobilization, causing the emergence of local projects and initiatives, federating the local actors around common projects and around a common identity and of having changed mentalities.

The fact of having created an exchange network of know-how and of very dynamic experiments coming directly from the local initiatives.

Many other results of LEADER program could be presented. Synthesizing, what is the most important in these results is that LEADER allowed the realization of ideas which already existed in the mind of the local actors and persons but that they never had the possibility to concretize. "LEADER has introduced the possibility to realize our dreams, what we always thought impossible", many people working within these programmes say. For this reason LEADER program has a great ability of local mobilization and participation. For this reason too, LEADER program results in many innovative initiatives. Innovations are the main result of LEADER so that when LEADER 1 was extended to LEADER 2, observing the capacity of local innovations of LEADER programs, the European Commission decided to introduce innovation as a eligibility criteria for LEADER program.

LEADER program had a great success in European Union, so that when the program LEADER 1 was extended with LEADER 2, the number of groups increased from 213 to approximately 800 in the 15 member states. LEADER, which was considered as a small program for marginal rural areas, became one of the main reference for the European Commission.

However, LEADER program faced many difficulties. As a main obstacle, the "bottom up" approach that LEADER program introduced was in contradiction with the general way of working of public administration. This has been a big obstacle for LEADER program, but in the same time it because a great result: through this confrontation with the administration, LEADER program begun changing the administration working, introducing a new reference and changing progressively the vision and the habit of all public services, not only directly working with LEADER program but also public administration of other sectors which began to use this kind of approach.

b) Some lessons about support policy

Many lessons can be learnt from LEADER program. We would present here only two main lessons:

About the first point, LEADER program is an application of a "bottom-up" approach articulating different functions at different geographic levels, always to give the best opportunities and mobilize the lower level capability and to ensure the maximum of flexibility and efficiency, namely:

Based on a 6 years' experience with LEADER program, relevant levels can be defined for theses different functions. For instance:

c) Using this approach in developing countries

Can the approach introduced by LEADER program in European Union, based on local partnership, be used in developing countries? What could be the interest of this approach for these countries?

First of all it is clear that such an approach could not be applied in a situation where democracy is not effective. But in the same time, it can be a very good opportunity to consolidate and valorize a democratization and decentralization process. For, building a large local partnership in every small territory and negotiating and financing a local development strategy and plan elaborated in the framework of this partnership creates strong local mobilization and participation, with concrete social and economic results so that the democratization and decentralization process become consolidated and non-reversible.

Experts or governments often think that this kind of approach has been conceived Europe and is adapted only to rich countries. Actually the opposite situation can be seen in Europe: This approach had a really greater result in the poorer countries of European Union (objective 1 countries) where the democratic process is more recent (as in Spain, Portugal or Greece) because it corresponded to a real necessity: to reinforce the capability of local authorities through partnership with all local civil organization, to create local capability for development management, to keep technical teams in rural areas and create the conditions for a real mobilization and participation of people.

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