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Community Agents emerging in the EU

This page outlines the self-defined role of the voluntary, community agents who help to implement a European Union rural development initiative in Scotland.

bulletThe EU’s programme for community-led rural economic diversification
bulletThe Rural Inverness and Nairn LEADER Programme
bulletDetails on the role of the LEADER Agent
bulletDetails on the guidelines for LEADER Agents
bulletFurther Information

The EU’s programme for community-led rural economic diversification

The European Union’s (EU) Directorate of Regional Development funds a variety of programmes to help regions which are lagging behind others to catch up.

One of these programmes is LEADER II (a French acronym for ‘Links between Actions for the Development of the Rural Economy’). This programme is designed to promote innovations for diversification of mainly agricultural communities. The programme supports over 800 Local Action Groups (LAG) in those parts of Europe which have been granted Objective 1 and 5b development status.

LAGs contain representatives of the private, public and voluntary sectors in a given geographical area and are responsible for formulating intersectoral strategies for, and mobilising local communities towards the planning and implementation of, innovative programmes and projects aimed at economic diversification. Most LAGs employ LEADER II Project Officers on a full time or part time basis to facilitate the ‘animation’ of communities and to oversee the management of local level projects.

In Scotland the LAGs fall under the umbrella of Local Enterprise Companies (LEC) which are fully owned subsidiaries of either Scottish Enterprise or Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) both of which have a remit from the Scottish Office to promote social and economic development in their respective areas. The LAGs are funded by public and private sources and this is match funded on a 50:50 basis by LEADER II.

There are ten LECs in the HIE area which, amongst many other duties, oversee the work of nine LAGs. The budget for these ten LECS has amounted to 19.2 million over the last 5 years with 50% coming from the EU.

Three of the nine LAGs in the HIE area make use of largely voluntary Community Agents to fill the gap between Leader Project Officers and communities. Two of these three LAGs have sub-contracted independent support-teams to help build the capacity of their Community Agents.

The dual management/funding structure is briefly outlined in the following table:

Scottish Office

European Union

Highlands and Islands Enterprise

LEADER II Programme

Local Enterprise Company

Local Action Group

Project Officer

LEADER Community Agent

Local Community Groups

The papers which follow were prepared by a group of LEADER agents with the assistance of their Support Team. They demonstrate how the self image of these supported Community Agents has been evolving.

Rural Inverness and Nairn LEADER Programme

Prepared jointly by the LEADER Agents and the LEADER Support Team, 26 May 1998

This note provides guidance on the role of the LEADER Agents in rural Inverness and Nairn. Agents are geographically based which enables each of  19 Community Council areas  the opportunity to appoint an Agent. All Agents work on an unpaid voluntary basis. The LEADER programme however reimburses their small sundry expenses (telephone, postage and travel). In addition a small honorarium is paid for attendance at LEADER training days and for the completion of an Annual diary.

Characteristics of Agents

LEADER Agents are selected firstly because they are active and motivated individuals who have a strong commitment to and interest in their local area’s well-being and vitality. This positive outlook enables these individuals to engage in a locally led process, which can be broadly defined, as community work. Agents need to devote time to this work and to the specific tasks that LEADER requires to be undertaken. The amount of time and effort that individual Agents devote is open to negotiation.

Agents are busy individuals who have many dimensions to their lives. Therefore each Agent brings a variety of personnel skills, knowledge and individual traits to the LEADER programme. These personal attributes contribute to the diversity of ways in which each Agent functions in their particular local area:

bulletthe role they play,
bulletthe activities they pursue and
bulletthe individual contributions that they make to their community, the LEADER Programme and to the Agent Network.

The work of a LEADER Agent necessitates both a high degree of flexibility and a strong personal commitment. In addition Agents must demonstrate a willingness to share information and be prepared to work with other Agents and members of the LEADER programme in a friendly and collaborative way.

The Need for Agent Guidelines

The diversity of individuals who perform the function of a local LEADER Agent has led to the need for a clearly defined role and set of guidelines. These are outlined in the sections that follow.

Role of the local LEADER Agent

LEADER Agents have two key roles:

bulletTo act as a point of contact about the LEADER programme for their local area
bulletTo liase with community organisations, the Agent Network, the LEADER support team and the Local Action Group

And where circumstances permit LEADER Agents often undertake the following roles:

bulletTo promote rural development and encourage community activity in their local area
bulletTo increase their knowledge of the local area and its various communities

Guidelines for LEADER Agents

There are three important guidelines that assist LEADER Agents to perform their role in an effective way. These are:

bulletKnowing how the LEADER programme works
bulletBeing an active and effective LEADER Agent
bulletKnowing the limits of an Agent’s responsibilities and when to seek assistance

Details on the Role of the LEADER Agent

To act as a point of contact about the LEADER programme for their local area by:

bulletPromoting and raising awareness of the programme
bulletProviding information and advice on the programme
bulletPublicising and distributing information on the programme
bulletExplaining the basics of LEADER and what funding schemes the programme operates
bulletReferring inquiries to the LEADER Project officer

To liase with community organisations, the Agent Network, the LEADER support team and the Local Action Group by:

bulletPlaying an active part in the LEADER Agent Network through regularly liasing with other local Agents particularly in areas where community boundaries and interests overlap
bulletCommunicating the views of their local areas to the LEADER Agent Network and vice versa
bulletDeveloping the capacity of the Agent Network’s consultative role in preparing and presenting ideas to the LEADER Support team and the Local Action Group

To promote rural development and encourage community activity in their local area by:

bulletUndertaking an information and advice role
bulletActing as a conduit for local aspirations with regard to the LEADER programme
bulletActing as a catalyst for local development
bulletMaintaining the confidence and trust of local people

To increase their knowledge of the local area and its various communities:

bulletIts culture, natural heritage, local associations and clubs
bulletThe interests of different age groups
bulletEmployment and unemployment issues
bulletTraditional industries (farming, crofting, forestry and fishing)
bulletLandscape, geography and tourism
bulletHousing and transport issues
bulletLocal services (post office, shops, sports facilities, health and social services, etc.)
bulletEducation, social life, recreation and history

Details on the Guidelines for LEADER Agents

Knowing how the LEADER programme works by:

bulletBeing knowledgeable and keeping up to-date about LEADER activities and schemes
bulletUnderstanding the LEADER grant assistance criteria and conditions
bulletKnowing where to access information about other sources of funding

Being an active and effective LEADER Agent by:

bulletMaintaining regular contact with the LEADER staff
bulletRegularly attending the Agent Information days and contributing to the Agent Network
bulletBeing accountable to the Community Council where appropriate
bulletReporting LEADER matters regularly to the Community Council
bulletParticipating in relevant community seminars and local training events
bulletUndertaking regular self-monitoring using the six LEADER performance indicators

Knowing the limits of an Agent’s responsibilities and when to seek assistance by:

bulletMaking use of the technical know-how of the LEADER support team, the staff of Public Agencies, knowledgeable local people and voluntary sector workers
bulletGetting to know what other Agents are doing and drawing inspiration from them through networking and sharing good practice

 

Further Information

More about the EU's LEADER II Programme

email for more about the Inverness and Nairn LEADER Agents

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