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Abstract

The research presented is part of the evaluation of Rural Development Programmes (RDP) in seven German “Länder” (federal states).Innovation is often mentioned as an important pillar of the development of rural areas. One part of Rural Development Programmes, which explicitly addresses innovation, is LEADER: a bottom up-oriented, participatory approach with cooperation by local actors in rural areas. In LEADER, a Local Action Group (LAG) with stakeholders of different institutions and origins comes together as a kind of a public-private partnership and decides about the financial support for regional projects. The LAG can be seen as a kind of new “network of practice.” In this context it is important for the LAGs to assemble people with various backgrounds and to foster a good communication and cooperative climate. A survey of LAG-members shows positive results: there are improvements in the “cooperation beyond administrative borders” (respectively, narrow village boundaries), in the “improving of understanding views from other groups” and in the „cooperation between different groups.” Thus LEADER is an example of how an external programme can connect actors from different interest groups who would, without this programme, in part not have met. In addition, LEADER offers the possibility to try out new approaches, as the regions have access to their “own” funding budget to implement their ideas. But in practice the possibilities of funding experimental or innovative projects via LEADER depend very much on the extent to which the RDPs are able to provide a suitable framework to fund projects outside the standard menu of measures. The assessments of the LAG-managers show that the real possibilities are limited, particularly compared with the former funding period (LEADER+). But despite these limitations, we found LEADER- projects fostering innovation in very different fields.

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