Evaluating LEADER: canonical, endogenous and systemic learning

High, Chris and Nemes, Gusztav (2006). Evaluating LEADER: canonical, endogenous and systemic learning. In: The Rural Citizen: Governance, Culture and Wellbeing in the 21st Century, 5-7 Apr 2006, Plymouth, UK.


In this paper, we touch on a key theme in rural overnance 'the reconciliation of centralised procedures and the embedded institutions of rural society – through the lens of the evaluation procedures embedded in the European LEADER programme. LEADER is in many ways a highly
devolved European initiative, true to its origins as a progressive rural laboratory in terms of innovation, stakeholder engagement, social learning and systemic methodology for addressing rural needs. The design and operationalisation of national and local LEADER programmes and projects is tailored to local circumstances, and aims to direct LEADER funding to local needs while building the institutional and social capital that underpins successful rural development. Yet while the delivery of LEADER embraces heterogeneity, programmatic evaluation is centralised and learning at the national and local level is subservient to the need to defend the LEADER approach in
Brussels. This requires evaluation to be held at arms length from delivery organisations, even though there is evidence that where local evaluative capacity is robust, centralised evaluation is enhanced.
This paper reviews progress to date on improving the canonical forms of evaluation employed in LEADER, based on cumulative feedback from previous iterations of the programme. We then consider alternative evaluation traditions that engage with endogenous capacity for sense making,and the extent to which they might be taken up within LEADER. We conclude by proposing that more attention needs to be paid to institutionalisation of systemic evaluation within LEADER,which could engage with a much wider range of perspectives in rural development, across different scales of governance and national and regional contexts. This would require the reconciliation
canonical and endogenous forms of evaluation, but would align LEADER evaluation with the values and methods embodied in the rest of the programme.

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