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Summary of IFUL Report 9/2008

Summary


In Denmark, 55 local action groups (LAGs) have been formed to carry outparts of the rural development programme and the fisheries programme 2007-2013 as a continuation of the former LEADER+ programme in EU. During 2007-2008, the Danish LAG groups established their own area-based development strategies. From now on and until 2013, they are going to implement their strategies by allocating economic support to projects as well as initiating own projects.

This report presents results from two questionnaire surveys, which in electronic form were sent out to the voluntary board members and professional managers of the newly established LAGs in Denmark. The report is a first step towards getting an understanding of, and making visible, the active persons of the LAG boards. Hitherto, it has not been possible to find investigations of this kind in the scientific literature on LEADER. Neither has it been possible to get a grasp of the subject by addressing the national networks. Apart from empirical evidence, the report presents different theoretical models of democracy and democratic network governance. The purpose of these models is to place the LAGs in a relevant theoretical context.

454 LAG members and 46 managers have completed a questionnaire. This makes up respondent rates of 64.5 % and 90.2 %, respectively. The socio-economic background of the board members reveals that only ⅓ of the board members are women. Furthermore, that the average age is 53 with about ⅔ of the members being more than 50 years old. As regards the managers, the distribution between the sexes is almost equal and the average age is 46½ years. Almost no persons born outside Denmark are represented as board members or managers. Almost ¾ of the board members live in rural areas, that is, in the open land or in villages with up to 1,000 inhabitants. This is only the case for a little less than half of the managers. The group of board members is further characterized by having a high number of self-employed persons. Both board members and managers have high educations. It is a remarkable result that the education level is highest in LAG boards in peripheral rural areas. Concerning the composition of the Danish LAG boards, they are not dominated by public authorities, since only 14 % of the members represent public authorities in the board. 61 % of members answered that they represent a specific organization/enterprise/authority. However, when asked to go into details about the subject, the board members inform that they are active in several other contexts. The two main motives for joining the LAG boards are to work with rural and coastal development and to exert influence at a structural level. Creating new contacts and learning new things are some of the most important motives of the professional managers of the LAGs. 92 % of the LAGs have a manager. The large majority of managers are, however, only hired by the LAG half time or less.

There have been many and highly visible activities in the initial period. The questionnaires also reveal that many hours have been put into the work. A little more than ⅓ of the LAG boards have arranged social gatherings. The need for more social gatherings is highest among managers. Formulation of the development strategy and making decisions about project grants are the activities that most board members have participated in. The process of establishing a development strategy is described as good by 46 % of the board members and 39 % of the managers. The working atmosphere of the LAG groups tends to be traditional rather than innovative. In this context, one should note that most board members have previous experience from work in associational boards.

The ordinary members of the LAG associations are not much included in the work. The local population is informed about the work of the LAG board through the media and the homepages of the LAGs. Attraction of new residents and business development has the highest priority among board members. This is followed by environmental issues. There are low indications that the boards intend to start their own projects. Also gathering of knowledge about rural and coastal development in other countries has a low priority. The target group for the work of the association is considered to be local associations and the rural population. According to the respondents, the most prominent result that had been obtained hitherto was the development of a good strategy. Moreover, ⅔ of board members feel that they have supported good projects. And, finally, many members feel that they have created a good working climate in the board.

The cooperation between the boards, municipalities, regions and the hosting Danish ministry (The Ministry of Foods, Agriculture and Fishery) has varied in the initial phase. There has been most cooperation between LAG boards and municipalities, even though board members find that cooperation has been less widespread than managers. There have been meetings with municipal representatives, and the municipalities have provided secretarial assistance. There has been significantly less cooperation with representatives from the five Danish regions. Still, three regions stand out as having been in closer cooperation than the other two. However, following the chairmen of the LAG boards, the level of cooperation is rising. There are, however, also examples of representatives from the regions, who only appear rarely at the board meetings. Managers clearly have the most developed relationship to the ministry/the network unit, while only few board members make use of the counseling service of the ministry/national network. Many respondents find that the rules and regulations related to the LAGs are too bureaucratic.