Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The challenges ahead in local development By Dr. Eileen Humphreys

Dr Eileen Humphreys

Dr Eileen Humphreys has written an article about local development in Ireland that is as up-to-date as you’ll find.

‘Local Development in Ireland: Review of the Current Position, Lessons and Future Challenges’ was published in August.
  
Dr Humphreys penned the piece for www.LDnet.eu which brings together views from across Europe on how best to support local development work. 

The UL and Thurles-based lecturer began by pointing out that co-operative working has been at the heart of rural communities in Ireland for a long time.

Over recent decades, the EU’s influence grew and it pushed “local development” which evolved to encompass social inclusion work while continuing to seek ways to support local enterprise and employment development. Local development work now also means supporting citizen and community participation in decision-making on public policy.

Dr Humphreys’ article brings readers through recent changes and the likely future role of local development in Ireland including what she describes as its recent “institutionalisation”. In reviewing the Local and Community Development Programme she says it’s early days yet, but already there are lessons to be learned, issues to face up to. She also talks about the challenges ahead.

To read the full article, go to LDnet.eu. Here we publish the bulk of her concluding remarks under the title ‘Lessons and Issues’:

"While there are new structures, a new programme and new procedures in place, it will take some time to see how well these will function in promoting local development and social inclusion.

…There is likely to be more pressure to show “hard” impact on the problems and, with deeply embedded problems and less favourable economic conditions, it may be more difficult to do so. In the interest of greater accountability, models of development which are less flexible and are not particularly amenable to the spirit of local development (taking local initiative) and innovation are now in place.

There are great challenges here.

The structures are established as not-for-profit bodies and so too is the central intermediary body, Pobal, responsible for management of these initiatives. To a large extent in the public mind, these are seen as an extension of the state apparatus. It could be argued that overdependence on state funding is incompatible with the role in promoting civil society development and, over recent years of social partnership, the whole approach was based on a consensus model.

Over-dependence on state funding has led to sterility in local development. This may be the result of local development being treated as a delivery system for public programmes?  It has certainly evolved in this direction.
Linked to this and the new governance debate, the civil society agenda and the role of advocacy are likely to be diluted in the local development structures. However, it could be argued that the more strategic structures (local partnerships) were not strong on this in recent years.

This space may be filled by more political activation, led by elites working to mobilise people from the grass roots - e.g. platforms to promote organisation and engage citizens, promote protest and alternative policies especially now linked to the substantial cuts in public expenditure on services and increased taxes associated with the EU/IMF bailout.

More engagement by citizens and communities is desirable.

It can be argued that genuine change requires a move away from consensus politics led by organisations almost totally dependent on state funding. In changed circumstances, community engagement might not be so elusive but different processes may be required to develop it? This is a further challenge.

The wider reform of local government is still outstanding. There is a view that when this happens, the local development structures will be brought within the control of local government. At present, this is not a scenario favoured by the local development sector as it is considered that the sectors (local development v. local government) operate with very different institutional cultures.

The latest reforms of local development (cohesion) may be one step before formal absorption into the state. The structures are clearly moving in this direction. The knowledge drawn from the past seems less relevant in these times when the solutions to employment problems and social cohesion are much less obvious but have an even higher place on the political agenda. 

It is not just about creating jobs but social, community and environmental sustainability and how we go about collective decision-making into the future. Perhaps there was never a greater need for social innovation and the re-invention of the spirit of local development?"

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