A new definition of local development
Clare Romanik Русский/Russian
18 July 2011 - UNDP recently assessed 126 of its local development projects in 22 European and CIS1 countries, to understand what assets could be used for moving to a new stage of local development for the region. In this new stage, local development objectives should encompass collective action for judicious use of natural and other resources and developing human capital (from basic education to management skills and entrepreneurial abilities) to the goals of adequate service delivery, maintaining cultural heritage and environmental assets, and creating sustainable livelihoods
Compared to other regions, the CIS context for local development is particularly challenging because, prior to the 1990s, there was no recent tradition of democracy or market economy. This has implications for what can be done in a certain timeframe. Social capital constituting entrepreneurs, active communities, trust between communities and local governments, confidence of local governments, and member associations are some of the essential elements for transitioning to the next stage of development.
UNDP assistance in this region has created these missing elements through support to SMEs and other income-generating activities, and participatory decision-making, particularly in micro-projects. The micro-projects have addressed critical service delivery needs through small infrastructure investments, often with matching contributions from beneficiary communities. To UNDP’s credit, the projects have been customized to particular local contexts; project staff members have built a rapport with local stakeholders.
Achievements included improvements in service delivery and basic infrastructure, and a greater understanding on the part of local officials of the need to include the community in budget and investment decisions. Another result is a stronger capacity of local governments in terms of efficiency and accountability. Collectively, these achievements form a base for moving forward.
The pilot legacy
In many cases, however, communities or local governments cannot sustain initiatives begun under UNDP projects because they do not have the needed resources (human, technical, financial, physical), and they are unable to attract non-donor resources. The metaphorical chicken gets fed, but the area around him cannot support it in the future. In practice, scalability or replication rarely happens; many beneficiaries seem to have the problem of sustaining their own achievements through time and as processes clearly embedded in the dynamics of their development.
The assessment found that these projects typically focused on a particular municipality or set of municipalities, without creating institutional, financial and/or economic links for supporting these initiatives. The most common stakeholder was the local government (75 percent of projects). Less than one third of the projects simultaneously engaged stakeholders at levels above and below local governments, such as district or regional government agencies, local civil society organizations or business associations.
Much of UNDP’s work has been with small, rural municipalities that have little hope of moving beyond donor assistance if they remain isolated from the economic dynamics of the region in which they are located. Do municipalities have knowledge of labour and product market trends in nearby urban areas? Can they benefit from more sophisticated human and technical resources in neighbouring municipalities, e.g., for monitoring land degradation, delivering services, or processing agricultural produce? In the new stage of local development, there must be a concentrated effort on connecting them to resources in other municipalities as well as public and private institutions at the meso and national level.
Projects employing the value chain approach (such as a regional aid for trade project in Central Asia and a value chains employment project in Bosnia and Herzegovina) make this connection through private sector actors. However, they do not always involve relevant government counterparts that could support with infrastructure, resource conservation strategies or agricultural extension services. Several Western Balkan countries have employed inter-municipal cooperation tools to create meso-level conditions for achieving economies of scale not possible at lower levels. Inter-municipal cooperation connects local governments, but can also involve private sector actors such as through a concession or contracting out of services.
In a few cases, longstanding projects have evolved from the implementation of micro-projects to creating financially sustainable solutions involving the private sector or working with meso-level government bodies on developing the region’s comparative advantages. In the case of the Crimea Integration and Development Programme, private district-level water service companies provide community water associations with advanced technical support, while districts are using renewable energy to solve infrastructure obstacles to non-coastal tourism.
An interlocking design
Although different methodological approaches to local development are used in the region, they have much in common, including a focus on community participation and the intention to move from a pilot to programme model and become integrated in approach. What is sometimes missing, however, is a thorough analysis of the set of problems particular to a territory that is incorporated into the programme design to make clear how synergies will be created among the different programming areas. In addition to fleshing out synergies, attention must be paid to the sequencing of interventions based on human or social capital prerequisites.
The assessment found that numerous activities happening at the local level were not connected. Instead of programmes addressing multiple development dimensions—economic productivity, participation and inclusion, energy management, environmental protection—projects were more typically dedicated to a single dimension. Only a third of the projects encompassed two or more dimensions. Some of these multi-dimensional projects addressed economic issues together with service delivery improvement or planning and budgeting. Other projects addressed energy management or environmental protection together with planning and civil society development. By contrast, the Bulgarian project ‘Grassland biodiversity conservation through support for the traditional local economy’ was one of only a few projects that looked at environmental and economic issues together.
The fragmentation of project objectives was recognized and addressed in some countries even before the assessment was undertaken. For example, the Communities Programme in Tajikistan has from the first sought to integrate UNDP project activities conducted in the same geographical area. Coordination among activities was initially improved by designating staff to be focal points of all activities in a particular region. This was followed by the realization that coordination was only the first step, and that conceptual links among these projects were needed. For example, because municipal service delivery, job creation, and sustainable livelihoods required energy, promotion of small-scale renewable energy became a cornerstone of local development activities. The lesson learned is that to get to the next stage of local development, the project design needs to not just identify components, but connect these components to a specific territory and identify causal relationships between them.
From micro to meso and national
The Crimea Integrated Development Programme shows that projects focused on community level activities can evolve so that they engage meso-level stakeholders. In contrast, the engagement of meso-level stakeholders was part of the project design of the community-based approach to local development in Ukraine; buy-in from meso-level stakeholders was a prerequisite for working in a particular district. By requiring commitments from regional- and district-level governments not only in terms of staff and office space, but also certain processes, the project created a platform that has been used in non-project contexts as well to identify and support priority investments at the village level.
These interventions should also be supported by national level policy reform, to create financial incentives for replication and legitimize what is being done at the local level. Sectoral projects have the advantage of working on priority issues with a dedicated ministry to set up systems that will support the interventions. The ‘Sustainable management of peatlands’ project in Belarus, for example, was able to develop comprehensive national-level policy support, including an action programme, technical codes, and methodological recommendations, for sustainable peatland management.
Many local development projects that focus on a particular region do not focus on creating the policy structure to maintain the initiative. This is most likely to succeed, however, when there is an intention from the beginning to create methodological or policy support for ongoing interventions. For example, in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the ‘Support for decentralization reform’ project set as a goal the creation of a methodology for preparing regional development plans; the methodology was adopted by the government and utilized for other regions beyond the pilot regions assisted by UNDP. However, this happened after the end of the project, which emphasizes that the typical project cycle is insufficient to create a sustainable policy framework to support initiatives.
Governance as a connecting thread
The assessment found that involvement of multiple stakeholders in projects was generally for isolated activities, and therefore did not create national and local level policy linkages. Vertical integration can be strengthened by working with public and private sector organizations that can lobby for national policy change. With this in mind, the ‘Joint integrated local development programme’ in Moldova is helping the congress of local authorities to play a more active role in the country’s decentralization process. By reflecting the needs and capacities of its members nationwide, member associations play a critical role in scaling up initiatives.
As the challenges being addressed under local development initiatives expand, so must the scope of the accompanying work on participatory and legitimate governance. Communities may become empowered by implementing micro-projects and learning about participatory budgeting. But are they consulted in decisions regarding the community’s land, water, and other natural resources? A greater emphasis on local environmental governance would strengthen citizens’ understanding of the economic and health dimensions of their natural resources and environment—and the risks posed to it by economic development. The ‘Conservation of biodiversity and sustainable land use management in Dragash’ project in Kosovo is involving the local community in developing a management plan for a neighbouring national park that may expand to their municipality’s territory. This is a typical case of good laws on public participation not being implemented without an extra push, in this case from UNDP.
Investing in development
New challenges posed by climate change must be reconciled with more traditional challenges of inclusive economic growth and accountability in governance systems. Future work would benefit from several investments in this respect. First, as part of designing a new project, an assessment of assets from previous projects should be combined with a multi-dimensional analysis of the developmental processes (and critical obstacles) particular to that region. Second, a programmatic approach should be adopted to bring a long-term view to the partnerships, capacity development, and social capital needed to support development goals. This entails greater complexity in project design, in order to identify and measure intermediate results (and their interrelationships) that lead to final outcomes. It also includes defining the role of meso-level partners to achieve scale, sustainability and a supporting national policy framework. The local government remains the central stakeholder as the logical institutional entrée to engaging communities (including the business community), but assistance provided should mature to focus on systemic improvements at the departmental level. Third, the capacity of those implementing these initiatives needs to be developed so that they bring a multi-sectoral understanding of potential and constraints.
Clare Romanik is UNDP Policy Specialist for Decentralization and Local Governance.