4.1. The Three Dimensions of Justice in the LDS Process
Discussions about and statements on questions of representation, distribution, and recognition were to be found in all types of data from the more evaluative, meta-level expert interviews to the workshop sessions and the official documents. In the following sub-sections, we present the sub-topics identified for each of the three dimensions. For each sub-topic (highlighted in italics), we firstly refer to the relevant regulations and guidelines, secondly to the interviews and the official documents, thirdly to the newspaper articles and fourthly to our observation field notes. In some instances, this order was slightly changed for a more logical connection of topics.
The representation of different societal groups was problematized in all analyzed sources for the context of the LDS process, for the LAG and for the project promoters. While the EU regulations remain vague in relation to the participating public, they require the LDS to contain “a description of the community involvement process in the development of the strategy” (EUR01, p. 356). The European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) emphasizes the necessity “not only to involve the community in the development of the LDS but also to demonstrate how and how effectively that has been done” (EUD03, p. 19). It is not specified, however, who should represent ‘the community’. In another guideline, the ENRD is more explicit and stresses the LDS process as a window of opportunity to attract new people and organizations to participate but adds: “An open-door approach is not enough, there can be many barriers, distance, transport, timing, child-care, school hours, even language can discourage people. People need to be invited in, to have permission to contribute. Think it through, how can you help people to contribute, what tools, methods and mediums can you use?” (EUD04, p. 8). In this document, the ENRD does not explain why these efforts are necessary. In the LEADER region under study, the regional management published calls for participation in the LDS process in the two regional newspapers. For the launch event, all “committed citizens” (GMR01, n.p.) were asked to join. After the event, the level of participation was positively evaluated: “[the region] has indeed had a remarkably positive turnout, i.e., a high level of participation, a very, very high level of participation. We hope that this will continue through the process” (GE01, Pos. 4). Additionally, the diversity of people and actors in this first event was highlighted, mentioning citizens, LAG members, representatives of associations and interest groups (GE07, Pos. 31–32). However, the high number of participants dropped after the first meeting and over the course of the process (GE07, Pos. 31–32). In terms of social structure, more men than women were taking part in the process (GE03_01, Pos. 80–83), and young people were seen as underrepresented (GE07, Pos. 34–36). Two main aspects, which were mentioned as hindering people to participate were the required spatial mobility and temporal flexibility (GE05, Pos. 57). The newly established online format of the workshops due to COVID-19 was thus mentioned as enabling more people to join. While older people were expected to have difficulties with the online format, young adults with children and long working hours were expected to join more readily (GE07, Pos. 37–38). After the first workshops, the regional manager concluded, however, that the online format did not attract new groups (GE03_01, Pos. 79). Over the course of the process, not only the number of participants, but also the wording in the calls for participation in the two regional newspapers changed. For the thematic workshops, the newspapers still addressed “committed citizens and actors” (GMR04, n.p.). For the project workshops, the wording changed to “people and organizations are now being sought who would like to realize their projects with the support of the regional management” (GMR11, n.p.). Both regional newspaper announcements highlighted the activity and commitment necessary for participation. The following online LAG meetings were announced as “open to the public, [i]nterested citizens are cordially invited” (GMR15, n.p.).
Framing the composition of the LAG, the legal regulations at European level describe “local action groups [as] composed of representatives of public and private local socio-economic interests, in which, at the decision-making level neither public authorities, as defined in accordance with national rules, nor any single interest group represents more than 49% of the voting rights” (EUR01, p. 355). Our interviewees’ opinions on representation within the LAG were complex and partly contradictory. LAG members were described as people who are active anyway, but nevertheless a diverse group (GE01, Pos. 9–10). The LAG was also understood as a circle of people open for interested applicants (GE06, Pos. 50), but many current members were characterized as similar regarding their professional backgrounds as former mayors (GE06, Pos. 59–60). The maximum quota of 50 percent for municipal actors in the LAG was stressed as breaking up top-down structures and thus as a positive influence on representation (GE03_02, Pos. 67–68). For the LAG under study, representatives of the social sector and the environmental sector were seen as underrepresented, even though the latter gained representatives over the last years (GE06, Pos. 20). In terms of social characteristics, the LEADER manager mentioned that while the LAG was male dominated, the percentage of women involved was not as small as in other LAGs (GE03_02, Pos. 77–78). Several interviewees highlighted the lack of representation of adults younger than 30 (GE03_01, Pos. 80–83). Other characteristics such as migration background or residential locations of LAG members were not discussed, and neither was the inclusion of people with disabilities.
Representation in the group of project promoters is not addressed in any of the legal documents. The regional management commented on unequal representation in this group regarding gender, age, and migration background: “Not only women, but also people with a migration background, that’s the same topic. I don’t think we’ve had any project promoters yet [laughs dryly for a moment], to be honest. So, ehm, yes. So, the diversity of society is not really reflected in LEADER—at least not in our region” (GE03_01, Pos. 89). Reliability, available time, and experience with administrative work were mentioned as features project promoters should have (GE02, Pos. 31; GE03, Pos. 57). In one of the newspaper articles, a local mayor was quoted describing project promoters as “people who realize dreams with perseverance, courage and a willingness to take risks” (GMR21, n.p.). The residential locations of project promoters and workshop participants were addressed in interviews with the regional manager (GE03_01, Pos. 39; GE03_02, Pos. 64) and highlighted by participants during workshop sessions (GN01, Pos. 40, 43; GN03, Pos. 14, 80).
Questions of distribution were addressed in all types of data, mainly along three sub-topics, including the distribution of funding, with a focus on the actor groups and projects eligible for funding as well as the spatial distribution of funding within the LEADER region. The other two identified sub-topics are the distribution of knowledge, both on the LDS process and on LEADER funding regulations and opportunities and the distribution of work to volunteers necessary for LEADER projects.
The federal state law declares funding recipients to be LAGs or partners with a legal status, other legal persons of public and private law as well as natural persons (GR01, S. 10). In the interviews, the distribution of funding was mainly discussed in relation to volunteers, who in Germany are often organized in associations and clubs. The two interviewed LEADER managers underlined that LEADER funding in their regions should especially support associations and volunteers and their ideas instead of importing ideas from elsewhere without any local rooting (GE01, Pos. 8, 16, 34). According to the LEADER managers, small amounts of money can motivate volunteers to continue (GE01, Pos. 34) and initiate further activities: “out of the [LEADER] project, an association was founded […]. And they are now running another LEADER application via the association […]. And that is actually quite nice to see when something like this develops in a place from such a relatively small investment […]” (GE03_01, Pos. 51). Several interviewees, however, highlighted the difficulties for volunteers in accessing funding as they have lesser resources to deal with increasingly complex bureaucracy compared with, for example, municipalities or economic stakeholders (GE01, Pos. 16). “That is why it is becoming less and less attractive for associations, because they do not have the necessary capacities to handle all that. It is incredibly bureaucratic, and you can make a lot of mistakes” (GE07, Pos. 19–20). The focus on funding for volunteers and associations was consciously chosen by the LEADER management and the LAG (GE01, Pos. 36). The two regional newspapers mirror this focus, as all presented LEADER projects were led by local associations (e.g., GMR09; GMR18; GMR21; GMR23). In the observed thematic and project workshops, this focus was also visible with most participants representing associations (GN01–GN07). In the project workshops, struggles with the complex funding regulations and requirements were expressed by several potential project promoters (GN06, Pos. 7–13; GN07, Pos. 6).
Questioning which actors should receive funding is inextricably linked to defining which projects are eligible for funding. European regulations require LAGs to develop a “non-discriminatory and transparent selection procedure and objective criteria for the selection of operations, which avoid conflicts of interest” (EUR01, p. 37). The federal state law requires funding to be applicable for “projects within the frame and on the basis of the respective LDS of the region” (GR01, p. 9) and the selection to take place “in the LAG according to the criteria laid down in the LDS” (GR01, p. 10). Additionally, the main purpose of LEADER funding in this German federal state “is to support balanced regional development through the implementation of regional development strategies (LDSs) in rural areas which help their regions to shape the transition to a sustainable future” (GR01, p. 9). In the interviews it became apparent that in the region under study, clear selection criteria for projects had not existed during the previous years. The criteria which were introduced for the new funding period also encompassed accessibility, gender equality and sustainability. Another aspect relevant for the selection is the impact of a project on the locality and population, which was illustrated with the negative example of funding a prestigious building: “of course we don’t want to put all our LEADER money into a tower. That’s not the kind of thing that has a sustainable effect on society or anything like that. What we always want to pursue to some extent is that somehow something happens in the individual villages in terms of quality of life, cohesion” (GE03_01, Pos. 49). The regional newspapers reported on two project ideas which were directly related to sustainability: one aimed at starting a sustainability-related regional consultation service and another one at creating an inclusive space for environmental education for different age groups (GMR12; GMR13; GMR23). The latter thus addressed problems of accessibility, which was also undertaken in another project, for which the sanitary facilities were planned to be accessible for everyone including individuals with disabilities (GMR18).
The spatial distribution of LEADER projects is not clearly defined in European regulations, which only specify that “[c]ommunity-led local development shall be […] focused on specific subregional areas” (EUR01, p. 355). In Germany at the federal state level, projects for the region as well as transregional and transnational cooperation projects are listed as eligible for LEADER funding (GR01, p. 9). Intra-regional distribution of funding and projects is generally not prioritized in LEADER (GE05, Pos. 79). Depending on their histories, some LEADER regions nevertheless informally emphasize equal distribution between villages, towns or parts of the region, also with the argument that this strengthens the community feeling (GE05, Pos. 79). According to the facilitating planning agent, LEADER funding can generally be used to support projects which benefit many people within the region and even beyond, while others might only be beneficial for the population of a few villages (GE07, Pos. 44). Both the planning agent and the LAG chair stated that the distribution of funding within the region should be spatially just (GE06, Pos. 29–30; GE07, Pos. 50). However, they highlighted the difficulties related to this goal, as the funding is dependent on the activity of local actors. Municipalities have to provide co-financing for projects (GE07, Pos. 45–46). The LAG chair criticized the priority for local village projects in the LEADER region under study and was in favor of supporting more regional projects (GE06, Pos. 34). Closely related to this idea of prioritizing the region over individual villages is the vision of spatially concentrated, but also outstanding services such as leisure centers, touristic offers, etc. to make the best out of the available financial resources in the region (GE06, Pos. 36). In the observed thematic workshops, topics such as the road, cycle and footpath network as well as housing and vacancies were discussed on a meta-level for the entire region (GD04, p. 1). In the project workshops, the majority of the presented project ideas were, however, related to one town or village (GN06, Pos. 33) or mainly beneficial for one association (GN05, Pos. 14; GN06, Pos. 23, 28; GN07, Pos. 6). Only one project spanning several LEADER regions was presented in one of the project workshops (GN05, Pos. 17). Spatially just distribution of funding within the LEADER region was also addressed by the LEADER management in relation to the definition of LEADER regions in federal state regulations and the question whether bigger towns could also receive funding or not. A change in this regulation resulted in towns with up to 75,000 inhabitants being eligible for LEADER funding (GR01, p. 9). Even though the LEADER management generally questioned the inclusion of urban centers, it was considered to be positive in their case: “It is good for us that [the biggest town in the region] is also part of it now, because there was always a bit of resentment that they somehow didn’t quite understand: why aren’t we part of it? We have the same challenges, the same difficulties, we are also a rural area and have always felt a bit disadvantaged” (GE03_01, Pos. 39).
We identified the distribution of knowledge
as the second sub-topic. It was not discussed with as much controversy as the distribution of funding. The federal state law explicitly lists costs for public relations work as eligible for LEADER funding, including “raising awareness among local actors, training (participants or organizers), events, networking activities within the LEADER networks” (GR01, p. 9). The interviewed LEADER manager addressed the importance of distributing knowledge during the LDS process to inform people about the possibilities to participate, about decisions and about projects. For the launch event of the LDS process, information was mainly shared via two e-mail distribution lists—one of them being administered by the LEADER management and the other one being a broader newsletter for associations and volunteers in the entire administrative region. According to the regional manager, the two main newspapers in the region were “only an addition” to these forms of knowledge sharing (GE03_02, Pos. 37–42). For the public, however, the newspapers were the main source of information on all stages of the LDS process. Additionally, basic information on the LEADER program was shared in these newspapers. While almost half of the analyzed newspaper articles were written by the regional management and advertised participation in the LDS process, others informed readers about recent activities, decisions and funded projects and were written by journalists (see Appendix A
). The regional manager also highlighted that knowledge on funding regulations, procedures and successfully funded projects should be distributed even more, but explicitly only mentioned municipal administrations, mayors, associations, and project promoters (GE03_01, Pos. 59; GE03_02, Pos. 61–64). One of the LEADER evaluators stressed that in most regions, knowledge on LEADER is only available to a small group of people (GE05, Pos. 9), and during the workshops, different forms of knowledge provision were requested by the participants (GN03, Pos. 30–32; GN03, Pos. 72–75).
The third sub-topic identified was the distribution of work to volunteers to ensure a functioning LAG and the implementation of LEADER projects. According to the LEADER evaluators, the reliance on volunteers is generally not problematized by the involved actors, but in many LEADER regions, a concern was expressed about whether the younger generations will be willing to volunteer in the future (GE05, Pos. 66). Several interviewees criticized that the work for LEADER could not be performed by everyone due to the necessary knowledge and time (GE01, Pos. 56), which was also problematized by the interviewed project promoter: “You have to imagine that I am now a successful or unsuccessful pensioner, I have a bit of time for [doing a LEADER project] and I enjoy it. But if you have someone who is a tiler by profession or works at the tax office and has to do all this after work and doesn’t know the people, how difficult it is for him. That is a problem” (GE02, Pos. 31). The resulting trend of single persons doing most of the work for LEADER projects was problematized by the LEADER manager and contrasted with a rare group of volunteers running several connected LEADER projects in one village (GE03_01, Pos. 57).
Recognition of individuals based on certain characteristics played a role whenever questions of representation and distribution were addressed. The categories that we identified as being used to distinguish groups include age (young, mid-age, old), gender (men, women), health (physical limitations yes or no), educational background (academic, non-academic), profession (jobs in administration or manual professions), residential location and citizenship (German citizenship yes or no). In addition to these, some categories were used to refer to different actor groups in the LDS process. These include the main thematic orientation of the actor (economic, social, or environmental) and the legal status (private or public).
The European regulations demand member states to “ensure that equality between men and women […] [is] promoted throughout the preparation and implementation of programmes […].” Additionally, “appropriate steps to prevent any discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation during the preparation and implementation of programmes” should be taken, especially ensuring “accessibility for persons with disabilities” (EUR01, p. 342). These regulations are also referred to in guidelines for the design of LDSs by the European Network for Rural Development, together with arguments for why equal opportunities are important: “This is important, not just in upholding citizens’ rights, but also in ensuring that all available talents and abilities are harnessed” (EUD03, p. 17). The federal state regulation for LEADER funding does not explicitly mention the goal of equality of societal groups, but generally refers to the European regulations (EUR01 and EUR02 in this paper) as applicable law (GR01, p. 9). In the ‘old’ but still applicable LDS of the LEADER region under study, paragraphs on gender mainstreaming and non-discrimination were included: “the LDS […] gives all people the same opportunity to participate in the development of the LDS and in regional development in general. The LAG will continuously review the equality of interests and non-discrimination during the funding period” (GD01, p. 98). In the interviews, recognition was less directly problematized compared with representation and distribution but was rather indirectly addressed when these two dimensions were discussed. The LEADER manager highlighted that recognizing the needs of different societal groups was a bigger topic in the neighboring region with a university city, while a transfer of these ideals into the region under study could already be observed (GE03_01, Pos. 91). Different age groups were frequently addressed by the LEADER managers, the planning agent, and the LAG chair, acknowledging the different needs and perspectives of young people compared with older ones (GE03_01, Pos. 25; GE03_02, Pos. 78). The complexity of older people’s needs and comparisons of their situation in a village context as opposed to an urban neighborhood was, for example, reflected against the background of the aim to enable them to stay in villages. In this context, the general assumption that older people in rural areas would automatically need support was questioned: “these are things that are always in the minds and often also in the minds of those who come up with funding programs, because this is- this is- the problem group. But is this really the problem group?” (GE01, Pos. 64). Another characteristic which was considered by some of the interview partners was the residential location of people and their local needs. Equality for men and women was also addressed as an aim in most interviews in relation to the LDS process, the distribution of projects and the representation in the LAG (GE03_01, Pos. 89–91; GE07, Pos. 49–50). From the evaluators’ perspective, gender equality in representation and distribution should be considered over the whole course of a project (GE04, Pos. 52). People with disabilities and their needs were mainly mentioned in the context of the distribution of funding for projects, with the appeal to address their needs in LDSs and through projects (GE06, Pos. 23–24). Only the planning agent also reflected on their inclusion in LEADER processes: “in regional management, there’s the topic of inclusion. I think that addressing these target groups, i.e., people with disabilities, is still very unequal. It hasn’t really taken off yet. But it also depends on the region. Other regions are much further along and are working on it much more. Unfortunately, that is not yet the case here” (GE07, Pos. 50).
The newspaper articles mainly referred to citizens of the region and to local actors, sometimes only using the masculine version of the German words: “Bürger und Akteure aus der Region” (GMR15, n.p.). In reports on project ideas presented in LAG meetings, age-related groups such as pensioners and pupils were mentioned as beneficiaries of projects (GMR13, n.p.). The needs of future generations were not made explicit, even though it can be assumed to be one main motivating factor for projects related to sustainability (GMR12, n.p.; GMR13, n.p.). Taking all sources into consideration, more marginalized groups, such as disabled people, were considered as groups whose needs should be acknowledged by LEADER projects but were not considered when it came to representation in the LDS process or the LAG. Other groups were not considered at all, especially socially disadvantaged people without economic and social capital and non-binary people. Migrants and refugees were mentioned only once by the LEADER manager.
4.2. Challenges to and Justifications of the Status Quo
We identified different ways in which actors challenge or justify the status quo related to representation, distribution, and recognition in all phases of the LDS process (see also Figure 1
and Table 2
). In this section, we aim to analyze the potential of the LDS process to open ‘windows of opportunities’ for actors to challenge or justify the status quo. In Section 4.2.2
, we highlight how actors explained unjust representation, distribution, and recognition with structural constraints and external dependencies outside of their sphere of influence. In Section 4.2.3
, we subsequently look at responsibilities assigned to regional actors for ensuring just representation, distribution, and recognition. Based on these analyses, Table 2
provides an overview of all phases of the LDS process with a focus on the main aims for representation, distribution, and recognition that were addressed in our materials and the associated opportunities and constraints.
4.2.1. The Different Phases of the LDS Process as Windows of Opportunity
Taking all our data into consideration, we see the LDS process as a series of ‘windows of opportunity’ for the involved actors to address issues of representation, distribution, and recognition. In the official guidelines, the LDS process was associated with potentials for diverse representation, resulting in a better and more widely legitimized LDS for the region based on the incorporation of diverse types of knowledge (EUD03, p. 4). Our observations as well as the interviews underline that each phase of the process presents an opportunity to realize these potentials, but our interview partners also referred to challenges in doing so.
These opportunities strongly depend on the conceptualization and implementation of the process as well as prior announcements. In the preparation phase of the LDS process, the LEADER management planned the events, including their format, timing, and their announcement to the public, trying to find a balance between practicability and efficiency on the one hand, and diverse representation on the other hand. The decisions of the LEADER management were then listed as requirements for the planning agency. Very detailed requirements left little room for creativity in the implementation through the planning agents, and the entire preparation phase was limited in terms of time resources. According to the facilitating planning agent, under different circumstances, the process could have been designed to represent more diverse people. The short time frame and the online format of the workshops were described as especially problematic (GE07, Pos. 31–32). The communication about the process can either openly address the population of a region or directly address certain people in advance to ask them to participate, as for example, young people (GE07, Pos. 36–38). The launch event, which took place in person, was the first occasion for people other than LAG members and the LEADER management to discuss and brainstorm ideas and share their views on the region and the population for a SWAT analysis. Through their presence and their contributions, participants thus had the opportunity to challenge the status quo related to representation, distribution, and recognition in the process itself and for the upcoming funding period. A challenge for the LEADER management and the facilitating planning agency was seen in motivating as many people as possible to continue their participation in the following workshops, while being honest about the actual possibilities through LEADER (GE06, Pos. 57–58). During the thematic discussions in the first round of online workshops, participants again had the opportunity to contribute and potentially challenge the status quo. The field notes taken during the workshops illustrate how one participant repeatedly referred to his societal and geographical position to raise awareness about unjust representation in the workshops. The criticism included the overrepresentation of inhabitants of the larger towns as opposed to villagers, the underrepresentation of inhabitants from the western as opposed to people from the eastern part, and most participants having an academic background as opposed to practical professions. The participant thus indirectly also pleaded for the recognition of different types of knowledge in the discussion (GN01, Pos. 40, 43; GN03, Pos. 78–80). Several other participants addressed goals for recognition and non-discrimination in relation to the distribution of funding to projects. These were integrated into the working documents in a transparent way, visible for all participants because of a shared screen (GN01-GN04). The chair of the LAG, for example, demanded that people with disabilities should also be able to participate in social life (GN01, Pos. 48–50). Accessibility was then added as future goal to the topics of “road, cycle and footpath network” (GD04, p. 1) and a lack of “accessible private and public space” (GD04, p. 2) in the region was identified. Parallel to the workshops, individuals with project ideas contacted the LEADER management about their ideas and were encouraged to do so in the regional newspaper articles (GMR10, n.p.; GMR11, n.p.). The feedback provided in these one-to-one meetings served to ensure the quality of the project proposals and the coherence with the LDS and the official funding regulations (GE06, Pos. 14) and to evaluate whether LEADER was the best funding program for the proposed project (GE07, Pos. 24). During the following project workshops, the people who presented project ideas all referred to these consultations with the regional manager (GN05, Pos. 14; GN06, Pos. 23–26; GN07, Pos. 6),
For the project workshops, honest communication about funding regulations and requirements was mentioned as an important task for the LEADER management and the facilitating planning agents (GE07, Pos. 16; GE06, Pos. 57–58). One point of uncertainty and criticism by the participants, especially representatives of associations, was the rule of having to pre-finance projects before receiving refunds (GN06, Pos. 7–10). The LEADER manager announced changes in funding regulations at the federal state level and potential resulting injustice, about which some of the participants expressed their discontent (GN07, Pos. 6), as mentioned by the LEADER manager: “And that, yes, I don’t find quite comprehensible, because with that—just this unequal treatment” (GE03_02, Pos. 11–12). In the discussions, practical and legal details were more present than the actual aims of the projects and the aims for the region that were previously identified in the thematic workshops (such as gender equality or climate mitigation). Following the chair of the LAG and the LEADER management (GE03_02, Pos. 57–60), more focus on these aspects could have been expected: “That is our task. Accessibility is an important goal, so when someone comes along and has an idea, we make sure that they somehow take it into account in some way, if it is somehow possible” (GE06, Pos. 24). Towards the end of each workshop, the facilitating planning agent generally encouraged participants ‘to stay true to the process and to join the LEADER network’ (GN06, Pos. 35; GN07, Pos. 20).
After the last project workshops, the LDS was finalized in a consultation meeting including the board of the LAG, the LEADER management, and the facilitating planning agents. According to the LEADER manager, the funding criteria and the corresponding minimum score for projects were the only controversially discussed topics, as finding a compromise between ensuring the quality of projects without excluding any project promoters proved difficult (GE03_2, Pos. 54). Formulating and communicating clear criteria for project funding was seen as necessary (GE03_01, Pos. 49). For the LAG meetings, invitations were shared in the newspaper and on the website of the LEADER management, where the minutes of the meetings were also uploaded. In the meetings, the decisions were based on the recently introduced procedure of finding majorities through blind votes, which ensures transparent and fair decision-making in the LAG (GE06, Pos. 50–54). The results were all documented in the official minutes of the meetings that also indicated the votes for municipal actors and economic and social partners separately (GD09, p. 11). With a focus on each of the phases in the LDS process, we observed how different actor groups can and partially have used these as windows of opportunity to bring up debates about or directly influence aspects of representation, distribution, and recognition in the LEADER region.
4.2.2. Structural Constraints and External Dependencies in the LDS Process
One way in which actors justified the status quo related to representation, distribution, and recognition was to stress the structural limits of LEADER and existing dependencies outside of their sphere of influence. The limited financial importance of the LEADER funding was repeatedly mentioned to relativize unequal distribution of funding: “The funds that are available in the LEADER funding pot or in the LEADER pot of a region are, yes, I don’t want to say vanishingly small, but they are very small” (GE07, Pos. 19–20). The limited financial means were also used as a general explanation for why not everyone in a region could be “reached”, implying both the distribution of knowledge and the representation of certain groups in LEADER boards and processes such as the LDS process: “Of course, many civil groups that are important for rural development or that are problem groups cannot be reached. But this is also due to the approach of having a committee with a few million euros for a region with 100,000 people. This is due to the task definition, so to speak” (GE05, Pos. 9).
Besides the addressed financial limits of LEADER, some of the regulations at the European and the federal state level were commented on based on their potential to strengthen or threaten representation, distribution, or recognition. One example for a regulation at the federal state level, which was perceived as fostering representation, was a minimum binding quota for the representation of women in LAGs (GE07, Pos. 49–59), but the exact percentage was controversial in debates (GE04, Pos. 45; GE05, Pos. 46). Another example receiving positive comment was a maximum quota for the public stakeholders represented in the LAG for breaking up top-down structures (GE03_02, Pos. 67–68). For the distribution of funding, similarly clear regulations were not in place and were deemed as nonsensical (GE05, Pos. 82), but regulations for co-financing were seen as impacting the distribution of funding indirectly. The project promoters’ resulting dependency on their municipalities was the subject of varying comments among our interview partners. The viewpoints ranged from seeing the necessary municipal financial support as a way of ensuring local acceptance of projects (GE06, Pos. 46) to critiquing the spatially unjust distribution resulting from mayors’ attitudes towards LEADER (GE03_02, Pos. 68–74). Based on the latter critical observation, the possibility of creating a co-financing pool for the region was brought up, which would be helpful whenever the responsibility for co-financing was unclear (GE07, Pos. 45–46). However, installing a co-financing pool was seen as problematic because of other regulations between the municipalities and the federal state (GE03_02, Pos. 68). Some of the interviewees also critically commented on the changing regulation for the upcoming funding period related to the taxes paid for expenses for LEADER projects, which was anticipated as having an unjust effect for associations (GE06, Pos. 24; GE07, Pos. 16). According to our interview partners, the mentioned structures and dependencies thus partly contributed to and partly hindered just representation, distribution, and recognition. In case of hindrances, some of the regional actors took structural constraints for granted and used them as an explanation for existing injustice, while others reflected upon ways of overcoming these constraints.
Another form of dependency which was used to explain unjust representation in the LAG and the group of project promoters was described as resulting from the voluntary basis of these time-intensive and complex roles. Relying on the commitment of volunteers who are able and willing to take on these roles, while the funding provided by LEADER also must be spent within a certain time frame, left little room for thoughts on diversity (GE03_01, Pos. 15, 25, 83; GE02, Pos. 31).
4.2.3. Constrained Responsibilities for Issues Related to Representation, Distribution, and Recognition
Besides the structural constraints discussed in Section 4.2.2
, individual responsibilities for dealing with inequalities and resulting injustice were addressed in the interviews. Our interview partners both assigned responsibilities to others and reflected on responsibilities they perceived as being assigned to them. Reflecting potential injustice in the different phases of the LDS process
was stressed as a task for the regional actors, especially for the LEADER management (GE07, Pos. 50; GE04, Pos. 52). Having a good overview of all local actor groups and recognizing their individual needs was mentioned as necessary to working towards just representation, as well as being able to determine which groups were of relevance in a given context (GE01, Pos. 56; GE04, Pos. 54). Another responsibility assigned to the LEADER management was to counteract the underrepresentation of certain groups of people
in the workshops, the LAG, and the group of project promoters—especially the younger age groups—through actively lowering barriers to participation in cooperation with the planning agency (GE07, Pos. 34–36; GE05, Pos. 82). The regional actors’ potential impact on representation was relativized, however, by highlighting how unjust representation was a common feature of all forms of participation and could not be avoided (GE05, Pos. 55). Unequal representation in the LAG was also commented on with the comparison that “as always in society”, tasks are shared with some taking the lead and responsibility, while others are quieter (GE06, Pos. 50). Being passively open for new participants and members without encouraging people to participate was the other proposed strategy, which was described as ensuring participants’ motivation and will to implement projects: “if someone has an idea and they’re on fire for it, then they find- […] they find their way to our LAG” (GE06, Pos. 37–38). With this strategy, the responsibility for representation in the group of project promoters can be interpreted as being shifted to the population in the region. For the context of women’s and young people’s underrepresentation in the LAG and as project promoters, the LEADER manager also admitted not taking responsibility to combat the existing imbalances: “I am aware of that, somehow. We sometimes talk about it on the LAG board, but we don’t try to actively make it more diverse. We say: ‘OK, everyone has the possibility, we don’t restrict or anything. But it is not actively demanded that more young people apply, or more women, ehm, exactly” (GE03_2, Pos. 78). The responsibility for ensuring just distribution of funding
was mainly seen to lie with the regional managers and the LAG, who need to weigh up and make trade-offs between the various relevant aspects for selecting projects (GE05, Pos. 82). The partly contradicting aspects were also used to justify the status quo of how funding had previously been distributed. In this context, the LDS and the defined thematic foci can provide orientation, even though the diversity of a region and different locally specific needs are not necessarily recognized within the LDS (GE07, Pos. 49–50). Additionally, contributing to quality of life for everyone was not seen as realistic considering the limited financial means of LEADER. Distributing funding to projects with the aim of benefitting certain groups—such as disabled people—was therefore seen as a potentially helpful strategy (GE05, Pos. 55). The LEADER management and the planning agency were also seen as responsible for distributing knowledge and facilitating knowledge exchange
in a way that reaches diverse target groups (GE03_01, Pos. 29; GN03, Pos. 30–32). Information on changes in funding regulations and advice on how to deal with such changes should, for example, be passed to the LAG and the project promoters (GE07, Pos. 14). More difficult, however, was reaching out to groups which had not been interested in or supportive of LEADER so far, including young people and some of the municipalities in the region. As one example, the LEADER manager described taking responsibility for negotiating with and informing the municipal actors about LEADER whenever a municipality declined to provide co-financing for a project—with limited success so far (GE03_02, Pos. 70–74).